Edgar “Blue” Washington featured in a Harold Lloyd short that was playing in theaters during the opening months of the 1920 Negro National League, while Washington was serving as the Monarchs’ original first baseman. Washington eventually left black baseball, evidently to pursue a career in Hollywood. But maybe he didn’t have to leave the diamond for the silver screen. As it turned out, the movies came to the Kansas City Monarchs, only a little more than a year after Washington left the team.
The film As the World Rolls On (1921), starring Jack Johnson, featured scenes from actual Negro National League games involving the Kansas City Monarchs, Detroit Stars, and Chicago American Giants. Monarch manager Sam Crawford, Stars captain Bruce Petway, American Giant manager Rube Foster, and American Giant center fielder Cristóbal Torriente all appeared as themselves, Crawford playing a particularly pivotal role.
Here’s a plot summary from the Chicago Defender (August 20, 1921, p. 7), which is considerably more detailed than other summaries I’ve seen online.
“AS THE WORLD ROLLS ON”
Complete Story of Feature Picture in Which Jack Johnson Stars
A thrilling, fast moving drama interspersed with events of unusual interest.
Joe Walker, an industrious youth, subject to sudden heart attacks, and Tom Atkins, a ne’er do well, are both in love with Molly, the faithful assistant of Dr. Saunders, the highly respected physician. Jack Johnson, a friend of all four of the leading characters, opens a new business establishment near Dr. Saunders’ office.
In a vicious fight Joe, the weaker, smaller lad, is severely beaten by Tom, but Joe resolves that some day his bully rival will go down to defeat.
A few days later while Joe is working, another sudden heart attack forces him to hurriedly visit Dr. Saunders. The doctor advises him to quit his present inside position and seek out-of-doors employment.
Joe then takes a course in night school and soon secures a better position with outdoor work.
Several days later, as Joe is going home from his new position, which route takes him through a park, Tom and his tough gang lay for him in a secluded spot. Fortunately Jack Johnson, with his two little nieces, was in the park at the famous Scout monument. He was telling them the story of Indian days that on this spot, 100 years ago, savage tribes roamed over the hills. As the world rolled on a great city developed. Just then Johnson is attracted by Joe’s cries for help, and goes to his aid. After Jack has finished with the rowdies, they are all stretched out motionless on the ground, due to the whipping Johnson has given them.
Johnson then suggests that Joe call on him for training. Joe calls on Johnson and after a short consultation and examination he advises Joe to take physical and breathing exercises. Joe immediately starts training, and here in Johnson’s gym we see the ex-champion stripped for action, with Joe as his sparring partner. Johnson here displays his powerful superhuman strength and scientific boxing ability which won for him the heavyweight championship of the world.
While training Joe lights a cigaret [sic] and Johnson upbraids him, telling him that if he expects to become strong physically he must discontinue the use of tobacco. Under Johnson’s instructions Joe becomes a healthy man and an athlete.
About this time the National Colored League baseball games are in progress at the ball park. In a game between the Kansas City Monarchs and the Detroit Stars (actual scenes) Sam Crawford, captain of the Monarchs, sprains his arm and finds himself in a tight place owing to illness and injuries to his pitching staff. He does not know how the game can be completed without a pitcher. Accidentally glancing in one of the boxes, to his pleasant surprise he sees Joe with Molly. Knowing Joe’s ability as an amateur pitcher, he appeals to Joe to finish the game. Joe agrees, puts on a uniform, pitches a wonderful game and knocks a home run in the ninth inning which wins the game.
The Elks’ lodge of which Joe is a member is so enthusiastic over Joe’s triumph that the members invite him as the honored guest to a reception given the following Sunday at the ball park. The Chicago Giants are the Monarchs’ opponents (actual scenes). During this reception Nelson Crews, editor of the leading Colored publication, presents the Monarch players with silver monogramed [sic] buckles and belts on behalf of the Elks.
A few weeks later the Clover Leaf club announces the date of its annual masquerade ball. The night of the ball Tom, enraged through jealousy because of the attentions Joe is showing to Molly, schemes to put Joe out of the way. Later the same evening Joe is slugged and thrown over a steep precipice. Molly overhears part of the plot, denounces tom and rushes to the rescue of Joe.
Tom, still retaining a vengeful feeling toward Joe, decides on another villainous scheme. Tom overhears a conversation between Molly and the doctor. He hides himself in such a position that he sees the doctor give Molly valuable papers and jewelry. He makes up his mind to try to ruin both Molly and Joe. Tom’s plans are successful. Molly is arrested and charged with conspiracy to defraud the doctor.
At a sensational trial a small boy saves her from conviction by pointing out Tom as the guilty one. Tom tries to make his escape from the courtroom, but Joe takes after him and after a fast chase, in which several shots are fired, Joe catches up with Tom. In a thrilling fight and through the training Joe received from Jack Johnson he is enabled to punish Tom severely.
As the officers, Molly and the doctor arrive Joe is finishing up Tom in good shape. Tom is arrested. Molly pleads with the doctor to release him. The doctor consents. Tom is released and begs forgiveness.
Joe and Molly then get married and go to Jack Johnson’s home for his blessing. Johnson receives them with open arms and presents them with a check for $1,000 as a nest egg.
And as the world rolls on, six years later, we see Molly and Joe in their pleasant home with—well, you can guess the rest. Roosevelt would have enjoyed seeing this scene.
The Andlauer Production Company of Kansas City, Mo., produced the play after six months’ preparation. The Burton Holmes Company of Chicago made the prints, which insures high class work in every respect.
(From Chicago Defender, August 20, 1921, p. 7)