Debra Winger left ‘A League of Their Own’ because Madonna was cast

Red carpet International Jury - 6th International Rome Film Festival

I loved A League of Their Own when I was a kid. I probably watched it dozens of times throughout my teenage years. It’s a perfectly enjoyable true story of the all-female baseball league during World War II, and the film starred Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Hanks, David Strathearn and Bill Pullman. It’s one of those movies which works well on television too, because it’s not dirty or full of curse words and the story is pretty wholesome, in general. It’s also arguably Madonna’s “best performance” as an actress. She played a supporting role and she sang the hit song for the film too. As it turns out, Madonna’s casting was the reason why Debra Winger left the film – Winger was originally supposed to play Geena Davis’s role (Dottie Hinson).

There might not be crying in baseball, but based on Debra Winger’s story surrounding her experience with Madonna, there is quitting in baseball. During an interview with The Telegraph, the 66-year-old Terms of Endearment star recalled that she had spent three months training with the Chicago Cubs to prepare for Geena Davis’ role in A League of Their Own, but that she quit the project after Madonna was cast in another lead role.

Debra explained that she believed director Penny Marshall casting the pop star was a sign the movie would become “an Elvis [Presley] film,” and so she decided to bow out.

“The studio agreed with me because it was the only time I ever collected a pay-or-play on my contract,” the three-time Oscar nominee said. “In other words, I collected my pay even though I did not play, and that’s very hard to get in a court.”

Debra went on to say she doesn’t think the film succeeded in its effort to tell the real-life athletes’ stories. “As entertaining as [the final film] was, you don’t walk away going, ‘Wow, those women did that,’” she shared. “You kind of go, ‘Is that true?’”

She also said she didn’t think most of the stars did enough training and that Geena “did OK” in the part Debra was set to play. When asked to comment on Madonna’s performance, Debra added, “I think [her] acting career has spoken for itself.” Ouch.

[From E! News]

That’s pretty harsh! Especially since director Penny Marshall really didn’t cast Madonna as co-lead or whatever. It was an ensemble film with Geena Davis as “the lead.” But I get Winger’s point that she thought she was making a straight drama about this interesting historical blip for women’s sports. That apparently was not Penny Marshall’s vision – she wanted to make a crowd-pleasing drama-comedy and she hired a group of actresses who happened to “gel.” Honestly, I’m glad Geena played Dottie, that’s one of my favorite Geena Davis films.

As for the shade about Madonna… I’m not going to cape for Madge, she’s a truly terrible actress. But she was cute in this one movie.



Photos courtesy of Avalon Red and promotional photos courtesy of ‘A League of Their Own.’.

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72 Responses to “Debra Winger left ‘A League of Their Own’ because Madonna was cast”

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  1. janinedm says:

    A lot of that quote was harsh, but at that point Madonna’s most recent movies were Dick Tracy and Shanghai Surprise. She nearly pulled Warren Beatty and Sean Penn into a vortex of suck.

  2. MsIam says:

    This is probably the reason why people keep asking “Whatever happened to Debra Winger?” Yikes!

    • Tiffany says:


      I mean…her rep in the past wasn’t just a rumor.

      • AlpineWitch says:

        One of the few actresses who was ‘difficult’ for real. Back in the day when she was everywhere she came across really obnoxious and arrogant in printed interviews. I haven’t missed her at all and it’s no mystery to me she disappeared.

        A league of their own is one of my favourite movies, I don’t like Madonna either but she was perfect in the role, as was Geena.

        Winger has a case of sour grapes.

    • bananapanda says:

      She was notoriously difficult on the set of Terms of Endearment with Shirley Maclaine. Seems she has not mellowed with age.

    • Intheknow says:

      She’s also been having an affair with Coronel Jack Jacobs for 40 years — both of them meet up once a year and cheat on their spouses. Yes, *that* Coronel Jack Jacobs….

    • Darla says:

      She’s an awful person. I read something she said about Roman Polanski years ago and was done with her. Nothing I’ve ever read since has caused me to rethink my low opinion.

  3. Escondista says:

    I loved this movie too. It’s probably the only role where Madonna was absolutely perfect. I’d say Debra missed out but everything worked out just fine and Davis played Dottie so well as a fairly humble and extremely talented ball player.
    I can’t wait to watch this with my daughters. I really want to dress them up as the peaches for Halloween but i don’t want to do the whole “halloween for my vanity” experience. They get to pick their own things! Maybe they’ll decide to be peaches with me someday!

  4. ItReallyIsYouNotMe says:

    Ooh the claws are out! I see her point about Madonna but bashing on Geena Davis’ performance sounds like sour grapes. I loved that movie as a kid too and while it was cutesy, it also had some emotional depth, especially in the relationship between Geena Davis’ and Lori Petty’s characters.

  5. LadySwampwitchGivsneaufux says:

    Not only is she a horrible actress but she is a mean abusive person. I would have quit too especially someone of Debra Winger’s caliber. Life is to short to spend time with a narcissist like Madonna.

    • Haylie says:

      Debra Winger is one of Roman Polanski’s biggest defenders re: child rape. Madonna us a lousy actress but let’s not kid ourselves about Debra Winger not being a shitty person. No matter the caliber of her acting.

    • minx says:

      Debra Winger’s caliber? She’s had a few good roles but she’s hardly above criticism. She also talked about Me Too and being concerned about the backlash for men. Her sons are 34 and 24! Long out of the nest. I think she did herself more harm than good in this interview, I came away liking her a lot less.

      • Sigmund says:

        Yeah, I don’t see this interview making her look good. A League of Their Own was well-received and is still viewed pretty positively performance-wise. Geena Davis especially was great. Debra Winger leaving didn’t take anything away from this film, if anything, it added something to it. If I were her, I wouldn’t be putting that out there. It just makes her look bad.

  6. Lawcatb says:

    Debra seems kind of salty about the whole thing, but she tells no lies about Madonna. Madonna was okay enough to not drag the whole film down, but she was not good, and the fact that this is one of her best acting performances speaks volumes about her abilities in that arena.

  7. Andie says:

    This is one of my favourite all-time movies from my youth, right up there with Now and Then.
    Madonna was cute in it, and Geena Davis had the 1940’s bombshell LOOK as Dottie plus the no-nonsense farm raised demeanor. I don’t think anyone including Debra Winger could have done better.

  8. WithTheAmerican says:

    Debra Winger is a brilliant actress who expected to be treated like a professional. She is one of many women kicked to the curb by the Boys Club because she was “difficult.” She was difficult, but so are most leading men.

    Even here, she doesn’t play. That’s why she doesn’t work much.

    • MsIam says:

      What has she gained by acting this way though? Part of being a “professional” is adapting to your circumstances and not being a pain to everyone. She is a wonderful actress, I’ve enjoyed Debra Winger in every movie I’ve seen her in. But her attitude sucks, which is why she’s not appearing anywhere except her bathroom mirror.

      • WithTheAmerican says:

        Do you work in film? It is not part of anyone’s job, and she clearly was not willing to do it even if it was, to be expected to be abused and mistreated and then be silent about it because she’s a woman.

        You’re suggesting she should have been more accommodating of abuse. I can assure you there are a lot more excellent actresses not working because they have “big mouths.”

        Try watching “Searching for Debra Winger.”

        “Searching for Debra Winger is a 2002 American documentary film conceived and directed by Rosanna Arquette. The film presents an interview with actress Debra Winger, about why she suddenly retired from the film industry at the height of her career. It also features interviews with other leading actresses, who discuss the various pressures they face as women working in the film industry “

      • Merricat says:

        I agree, MsIam. I don’t care how talented you are, if you can’t work with anyone, no one wants to work with you; and it is unnecessary and unprofessional to trash your co-stars and former co-stars.

      • Kkat says:

        Winger is a huge supporter of a child rapist, she is a shit person

      • Sigmund says:

        @Withtheamerican: But she definitely “plays” with the Boys Club and supports abuse. She supported Roman Polanski.

    • Gaah says:

      Yes but she had a female director in League. It wasn’t as much a Boys Club so there was no reason to be so difficult. She could have torpedoed the directing career of a female director. I am sure if Penny Marshall were still here that there would be more to this story from her perspective. The fact that they let her go with full pay says a lot as well. Studios are not known to waste money on female talent.
      (And yes, I used to work in film/tv so I understand the business).

    • Rose says:

      Never heard of her.

      And after hearing her slam the actress who picked up the part she couldn’t be bothered with, I can see why.

  9. Barrett says:

    Great tea!

    This was Madonna’s only ok role.

  10. Jan says:

    She was paid for it, why be so bitter.

    • Tiffany says:

      The film went on to be hella successful and it is now apart of cinema history.

      She was wrong and she will continue to be wrong and that is why she is bitter.

  11. Helonearth says:

    Lori Petty was the stand out performance in this film. The others were great and thankfully Madonna didn’t have a major role .

    I get what Debra is saying about the expectation of a more serious film, as initially the women had to put up with a lot of abuse from the media, but it is a feel good film that o enjoyed.

    • Becks1 says:

      Honestly I do think its a pretty serious film overall, so I’m not sure what she was expecting? Its certainly heartwarming and has some feel good moments, but I do think there are some really serious storylines (I mean the scene with the telegram? that gets me every time.)

      I will also say in a cheesy way that the movie made me look at my grandparents (WWII generation) differently – I was around 10ish when it came out so my grandparents just seemed so old to me – but watching that, especially the end with the players when they are old and then the exhibit with all the pictures of them playing when they were younger – just really made me think of what my grandparents were like when they were young, and the stories they had to tell, etc. It was also what started my love for history, just because it made me think of history as more than just black and white pictures or posed portraits or words in a textbook.

      So yes I’m a League of Their Own fan, LOLOL. Madonna was one of the weaker ones in it and while I liked Geena Davis in it, I also think Debra Winger would have been excellent as well. But i’m just confused as to what kind of movie she wanted to make vs what was made?

      • badrockandroll says:

        I would like to understand how she thought that Penny Marshall was going to make a serious film …

      • Louise says:

        I think she expected the Hidden Figures of baseball.

      • Katherine says:

        Louise I think it is comparable to hidden figures though. Maybe some different thematic beats and more humor but I think the narrative thread is relatively serious/inspiring. The challenge of war and women doing and succeeding at something unexpected. By the end you’re 100% invested in their success. And I know for me, a fellow childhood lover of the film, I went through a phase of being very interested in the AAGPBL. My dad even took me to the Baseball Hall of Fame to see more about them. I think Debra Winger is sort of weirdly implying it was slapstick or something and despite some very humorous scenes it also makes me tear up and cheer. Even the Tom Hanks character who starts as very heavy comic relief becomes more invested (if not necessarily more serious) by the end. A really satisfying movie experience IMO and I’m not sure what Winger is gaining by trashing it and the people in it 30 years later.

    • Christine says:

      I completely agree, Helonearth, Lori Petty broke my heart in “A League of Their Own”!

  12. lunchcoma says:

    I can understand not wanting to work with Madonna, for a few different reasons. I can understand shading Madonna, who’s certainly done plenty to deserve it.

    Why criticize everyone else’s training, though? It doesn’t sound like Winger got to the point where she actually trained herself, and I don’t see any reason to beef with the rest of the cast.

  13. Smalltowngirl says:

    A League of Their Own is one of my all-time favorite films. I quote “there’s no crying in baseball” all the time. I adore that movie and Geena Davis is perfection in that role. My mother hates Madonna and even she admits she is good in that movie and that role. But Madonna was definitely not the lead, it is all Geena and Tom Hanks with an excellent supporting cast.

  14. Mtec says:


    I’m so glad she bailed on the film because I truly believe Geena Davis was perfect for it.

    Both these women Debra is bashing went on to have great careers, so I think Winger’s bitterness has only been detrimental to herself. Don’t understand why after so many years she feels she needs to drag them, people like her really cannot be pleased unless they’re tearing others down eh.

  15. girl_ninja says:

    Debra Winger also crowed about how the Me Too movement has gone too far. Stating she had some & she’d been in abusive relationships and how she had to grow up or buck up and be an adult.

    She seems to struggle with compassion.

  16. girl_ninja says:

    Debra Winger also crowed about how the Me Too movement has gone too far. Stating she had some & she’d been in abusive relationships and how she had to grow up or buck up and be an adult.

    She seems to struggle with compassion.

  17. AnneSurely says:

    Sour grapes. A League of Their Own is one of the best sports movies of all time. It’s also an incredibly moving portrait of what it was like to be a woman at that time. It tackles misogyny, women’s education, racism, poverty… dismissing it as a fun little movie is… a choice, I guess.

  18. Rhiley says:

    I find this shade unnecessary especially given that she was in a series with Ashton Kutcher.

  19. Lightpurple says:

    What part of “Penny Marshall directing” made her think this film was going to be something other than what it was. She apparently did her baseball training but did no research on her director or even bothered to read the script.

    • MissMarirose says:

      What’s that supposed to mean? She’d already directed Big and Awakenings by that point. The former being a huge hit and the latter being Oscar nominated for Best Picture. Penny Marshall was no slouch as a director and proved she could do comedy and drama.

      • Ange says:

        I think it means that Penny Marshall directed generally quite genial and mainstream films. Great those those films are Debra Winger expecting it to be something other than that was a bit off base.

  20. Smalltowngirl says:

    I’ll be honest, I had to kind of stop and think who Debra Winger was..the name was familiar but I couldn’t picture her. I think I saw Officer and a Gentleman once as a child and I know of Terms of Endearment. However, I can instantly picture Geena Davis (and Madonna), so it is what it is. Besides, maybe it was a good thing because that movie was magic just the way it was.

  21. Sof says:

    Oh, I used to watch this movie all the time as a kid! It was on tv all the time, the closest I’ve ever been to watching baseball.
    I don’t know if she is this sour about the movie, but Mrs. Winger sounds really judgemental, doesn’t she? Was it necessary to critique everyone on the film? All the women, that is.

  22. minx says:

    Doesn’t Winger have any bigger fish to fry than to drag a nearly 30 year old movie? It was a wonderful movie, Winger wasn’t missed. And Penny Marshall is dead FFS.

  23. Chaine says:

    It’s always weird when actors suddenly come out with these bitter revelations about roles they tried out for or stepped back from decades ago that turned out to be hit films, like when Gwyneth Paltrow came out 15 years later acting as if she turned down the role of Rose in Titanic? It always comes across as a diss on the actor that eventually played the role, like “Oh you were just second choice.”

  24. iconoclast59 says:

    I’ve loved every Debra Winger performance I’ve seen, but oy vey, I wish she didn’t feel the need to trash her fellow actors. Her career is nowhere near what it could’ve been, because she’s had this nasty habit over the years of bad-mouthing her castmates. She told everyone who would listen how she despised Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, she’s talked about how she didn’t get along with Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, etc. I mean, I’ve has co-workers I’ve disliked, too, but I didn’t drag them. It’s called professionalism, and Debra could use some.

    • Isadora says:

      For someone who is demanding professionalism from others she hardly maintains a professional attitude herself.

      And with the misguided defence of Polanski and dumb Me-too quotes, despising
      co-workers I don’t think anyone is losing too much sleep that she left the business a while.

  25. Liesel says:

    I’m so old that this not news. It was well known at the time that Debra Winger was originally cast as Dottie and dropped out when (and because) Madonna was cast.

  26. February-Pisces says:

    Well I’m glad Debra did drop out and replaced with Geena Davis, some things are just meant to be. But Debra does sound salty, she quit because she thought it would flop and it didn’t, it’s still a great film all these years later and she sounds like she’s full of regret.

    And Madonna may not have the best acting credentials at that point, but she didn’t have a huge part in the film. considering how big a star she was especially at that time, she didn’t dominate the film at all, geena stole the show all the way. Debra was probably scared of it turning into the Madonna show.

    • Lena says:

      You are right, why bring it up now? It Just sounds like sour grapes and that’s not a good look for anyone. Although maybe she was specifically asked about that role by the interviewer

  27. chitowner says:

    I think she was on board for the movie and probably clashed with Madonna or knew she would, so she bowed out and is all sour grapes about it now because:
    a) it’s a classic
    b) it would have raised her profile significantly
    c) she missed a big payday

    I can’t imagine anyone other than Geena Davis in the role. On an unrelated note, I adore Arliss Howard. He’s great in pretty much everything.

  28. FF says:

    I saw A League Of Their Own briefly recently, as it was on TV, and I have to agree with Winger: I couldn’t get into it. And while I like Geena Davis, the cast wasn’t gelling for me.

  29. Beech says:

    Does Debra Winger like anyone?

  30. Lala11_7 says:

    I’m not taking this level of condescension from an actress that made “Wilder Napalm” regarding this movie and I LOVES me some Debra Winger…have seen damn near ALL of her films…but for her to say THIS in hindsight…makes me want to send her a WHOLE ASS CASE of “Haterade”…served ICE COLD!

  31. Jaded says:

    Debra Winger does have a reputation for being hard to work with. However, that being said, she came up in an industry and era when women had to acquiesce in order to be successful, and that she didn’t do. She and Richard Gere (who apparently is a total dick to work with) hated each other during the filming of An Officer and a Gentleman, and she and Shirley MacLaine had huge differences during Terms of Endearment. However, rumour has it that Madonna was told in no uncertain terms before shooting started on A League of their Own that this was NOT her movie and she had to tone down the “ME ME MEEEEEE” attitude.

  32. IMARA219 says:

    This movie was my all-time favorite that year! At the time I loved Madonna as a singer but the only other movie I enjoyed her in was Who’s That Girl. She killed this role. She was perfect for it. I have an automatic dislike for Lori Petty and she grated my nerves as Kit. I became a huge fan of Geena Davis after this.

  33. Lizzythe2 says:

    I love this movie so much I got the DVD a while ago. I think it’s a great movie and I did go “WOW” those ladies did that. I loved all the characters. They did an awesome job. Debra Winger, bite your tongue!

  34. questions says:

    I feel Madonna is the one person whose acting you could make fun of in an interview if you are another actress, and I would probably go “Yeah, that’s true” even if the comments are rude (and un-classy).

  35. Ange says:

    The only thing I can agree with is that the actors didn’t look like baseballers on the field. As a lifetime softballer watching their swinging kind of took me out of the movie lol.

  36. Velvet Elvis says:

    Is Madonna going to win an Oscar for her acting? No. She was good in that role though. Debra Winger just seems like a miserable person to me.

    • Agreatreckoning says:

      I think Madonna did a really good job in that character. Whether it was acting or Madonna being Madonna – she was good in the movie. Can’t imagine now anyone other than Geena in that role. Lori Petty was great in the movie. One lady I know that played on 2 different AAGPBL teams liked the movie a lot and was happy attention was brought to the league & what they did at that time for baseball.

      Haven’t looked yet, but wondering if Winger was offered to be in the Amazon series based a bit on the movie. Read something a while ago about Rosie making a cameo.

  37. Krystina says:

    I’ve never been a fan of Debra Winger. I think she would have ruined the movie, had she been in it.