Nearly three decades ago, the American public became familiar with the groundbreaking women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, who played our country’s pastime while the majority of Major League Baseball stars were overseas fighting World War II. The critically acclaimed fictionalized film, “A League of Their Own,” chronicles the early years of the league with Hollywood flare.
But the league’s most heartwarming story has been kept under wraps until now.
Netflix released the trailer this week to its coming-out documentary, “Secret Love,” about one of the real-life players in the league, Terry Donahue, and her longtime partner, Pat Henschel. The two women fell in love in 1947 when they were 22 and 18, respectively, but due to societal norms, kept their relationship secret for more than six decades. It wasn’t until the late-aughts when the two women began publicizing their love for each other, no longer referring to themselves as roommates or cousins.
The documentary is directed by Donahue’s great-nephew, Christopher Bolan, and is set to premier on Netflix April 29.
In an interview with Time, Bolan says he felt compelled to make the documentary after Donahue and Henschel had come out to him in 2009. He says the two quickly became “giddy schoolgirls” and were recounting decades’ worth of memories.
The film was shot between 2013-2018, one year before Donahue passed away at 93 years old. Bolan says she felt much freer after coming out, no longer burdened from a lifetime of living in the closet.
Unlike most other LGBTQ coming-out films, “Secret Love” examines the process of two people coming out late in life, and the dramatically different societal norms they started to live under. When Donahue and Herschel first met, homosexuality was still considered a psychiatric disorder in the U.S., and LGBT bars were frequently raided. The stewards of the AAGPBL were especially sensitive to the perception their players were gay, mandating the women wore short skirts as part of their uniforms.
The documentary serves as an uplifting reminder of how far we’ve advanced, and how much love can endure. In the film, Donahue says meeting Henschel was “one of the best days” of her life.
You can only imagine the glee they shared when they finally felt comfortable enough to share their true bond to the world.