Tuesday, December 9, 2008


(Pictured here are Pete Conrad (left) Buzz Aldrin, Blanch Lovell, Barbara Lovell, Jefferey Lovell, Marilyn Lovell, Susan Lovell and Neil Armstrong (standing in the background). Photo by Bill Eppridge/LIFE Magazine (C) Time Warner.)

It seems, once again, I have been deceived.

Spent some time this week reading Lost Moon, by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger, the book on which Ron Howard based his film Apollo 13. One of my favorite aspects of the film -- and one with which I have teased one of my nephews mercilessly with -- has to do with Blanch Lovell, Jim Lovell's mother. You remember her -- she's the dotty old lady who said, famously, in the film "that if they could get a warshing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it," and uttered the immortal "They said he was" when she was told that Jim would not land on the moon due to the accident in space.

If I'm reading Lost Moon correctly, neither of these exchanges ever happened, as they are not mentioned in the book. Now, perhaps, they did indeed happen (as well as Blanch's question to Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong when they arrived to watch the television with her: "Are you boys in the space program too?") but I'm just not confident. Many other lines that William Broyles, Jr., used in his script -- notably Marilyn Lovell's diatribe against the news media -- "And if they don't like that, they can take it up with my husband. He'll be home on Friday" -- are in the book. So is Blanch Lovell's loquacity the truth, or does it represent Broyles' poetic license.

The book makes it clear that Marilyn Lovell never told Blanch that there was any trouble with Apollo 13 -- she didn't want to upset her mother-in-law, who had recently suffered a stroke. Blanch did indeed watch TV reports of the mission with Aldrin and Armstrong, but if such exchanges took place between them and her, or if the "warshing machine" quote had been uttered, I feel confident Lowell and Kluger would have included them in the book, as they are details that any journalist worth his salt, as I assume Kluger is, would include without hesitation. So I must come to the unfortunate conclusion that Blanch Lovell's dottiness is indeed license practiced by Broyles, Howard or someone else connected to the film. Given the other poetic and cinematic licenses taken in converting the book to a film, I have to come to this conclusion. Which is unfortunate. Because Blanch's lines are so memorable. They should have been said. But, alas, all the wishing in the world won't make it so.

This doesn't mean, of course, that I will stop saying "They said he was" in an old lady voice to my nephew Ben every time I can. Sorry, buddy.

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