Monday, March 25, 2013

Reel People: Chadwick Boseman is Jackie Robinson

The film is 42. The sports biopic is directed and scripted by Oscar winner Brian Helgeland (Helgeland won the Oscar for his adapted screenplay L.A. Confidential, and was later nominated for his adapted screenplay for Mystic River).

Jackie Robinson

Jack Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919 to sharecroppers in Cairo, Georgia. His middle name was given to him in honor of the late President Theodore Roosevelt who had died earlier in the month.

Jackie was the youngest of five children, and their father abandoned the family in 1920. His mother moved their family to Pasadena, California where the family lived at 121 Pepper Street.

Encouraged to play sports by his older athletic siblings (including his brother Mack Robinson who won the Silver metal at the 1936 Olympics in the 200 meter sprint), Jackie would play sports at the varsity level including baseball, football, tennis, track and field, and basketball. From John Muir High School, he would continue to play these sports at Pasadena Junior College.

While at Pasadena Junior College, major events included being arrested for vocally defending and disputing a fellow black classmate detention, as well as fracturing his ankle. He also grew and increasing reputation for being a great athlete and an involved student.

When he graduated from Pasadena Junior College in 1939 he transferred to UCLA. Continuing his success in four sports (Baseball, Football, Track, and Basketball), he became the first student at UCLA to receive varsity letters in four different sports. Many would say that Baseball was Robinson's worst sport of the four.

As a senior he would meet his wife, then a freshman, Rachel Isum, although they wouldn't marry until years later.

In the spring of 1941, shy of graduation, Jackie would drop out of UCLA and took a job with the government as assistant athletic director to the National Youth Administration (NYA), an agency created during the new deal that had started in 1935. The agency would fall apart, during WWII, and Robinson's time with the NYA was short. He left California in the fall of 1941 to Honolulu to play football for the racial integrated semi-professional team Honolulu Bears.

On the date of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, Robinson had just been in Hawaii for an exhibition game but was sailing back to California on the SS Lurline. He would cease his career with the Honolulu Bears and begin playing football for the Los Angeles Bulldogs, part of the Pacific Coast Football League. The Los Angeles Bulldogs season ended early though as the United States entered WWII.

In 1942 Jackie Robinson was drafted to Army Calvary unit and was stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas were he became friends with heavy weight boxing champion Joe Lewis. After some protest, Robinson and Lewis were allowed into the Officer Candidate School, were Robinson would be commissioned as Second Lieutenant in January 1943. Robinson would be then reassigned to Fort Hood, Texas where he joined the 761st "Black Panther" Tank Battalion.

Robinson's tank battalion was the first all-blank tank unit to see combat, but Robinson did not go to the battle front because while awaiting test from his junior college ankle injury he ran into an ordeal with a bus driver ordering him to the back of the bus, this was escalated to include a court marshal that caused him to be transferred to another unit and delayed his service due to awaiting court proceedings. He was acquitted in August of 1944, transferred to Camp Breckinridge Kentucky coaching Army athletics until he was discharged in November of 1944.

Upon discharge he had a short stint as athletic director at Sam Houston College in Austin  Texas, where he coached the school's basketball team.

The in 1945, Robinson was offered a contract to play for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Baseball league. Disatisfied with the disorganization of the Negro Leagues, Robinson was interested in professional baseball and tried out for the Boston Red Sox, a team which ended up being disinterested in racial integration.

Instead, he ended up developing a relationship with Branch Rickey, general manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Rickey was interested in integration, and Robinson, but also wanted to ensure that Robinson would not fight back against antagonistic racial comments if signed. Rickey signed Robinson to their farm team, the Montreal Royals. This was publicly announced on October 23, 1945.

On February 10, 1946, that Robinson and Rachel Isum, whom he had met at UCLA were married.

In spring training in Daytona Beach, Florida, Robinson didn't stay at the team hotel, instead stayed with a local black politician. Johnny Wright, another black player Branch had drafted, played AAA baseball for the Montreal Royals in 1946 as well, and local authorities were resistant to allowing games be held if Robinson or Wright were going to participate. On March 17, 1946 Robinson played in an exhibition game against the Brookyln Dodgers, becoming the first black minor league player to play against a major league team.

It was in 1946 that Robinson would have his first over three children, Jackie Robinson Jr. (His other two children Sharon Robinson and David Robinson would be born in 1950 and 1952).

In 1947, six days before the start of the season, Robinson would be called up to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers where he played his first game as a first baseman at Ebbet's field on April 15, 1947. Robinson's presence on team had mixed reviews from other players on his own team, as well as others. He also received mixed reviews from fans, who were flocking to the games regardless of their opinion. Most notably, the St. Louis Cardinals threatened to strike if Robinson played. But National League President Ford Frick and Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler advised the Cardinals that striking players would be suspended.

In 1947, Robinson won the inaugural Rookie of the Year Award.

Later seasons saw a decrease in racial prejudice as other black players joined the league on the Dodgers and other teams in the National and American Leagues (Larry Doby broke the color barrier the same year as Robinson later in the season for the Cleveland Indians).

1949 was a great season for Robinson with a significantly improved batting average, he would take home the  MPV for the National League, as well as be the starting second baseman for the All-Star game.

In 1950 Jackie Robinson stared in a film adaptation of his life in The Jackie Robinson Story. Ruby Dee played his wife Rachel "Rae" Robinson. This didn't sit well with Dodger's co-owner Walter O'Malley who was not interested in this type of exploit. Around this same time Branch Rickey would leave the Brooklyn Dodgers and go to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Robinson continued to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, were he did experience racial prejudice, but also spoke out against prejudice's in sports and other areas of American life, such as hotels.

In 1955, the Brooklyn Dodgers won the world series against the New York Yankees, although this was not his best season.

At the end of the 1956 season Robinson was traded to the New York Giants, but before the trade was finalized he had retired from baseball accepting the postion as vice president and director of personnel at the New York coffee company Chock full o' Nutts. His retirement story was revealed through Look magazine.

Robinson in taking the job at Chock full o' Nutts would become the first black person to have the role of Vice President for a major American corporation.

Following his career he was diagnosed with diabetes.

In 1962, Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first year on the ballot. He was the first black baseball player given the honor.

In 1965 he served as analyst for ABC's Major League Baseball Game of the Week telecast, as well as other later television telecast of this nature.

The Brooklyn Dodgers would retire Robinson's uniform number "42" on June 4, 1972.

He continued to be active in politics and social organizations like the NAACP, encouraging integration and opportunity for African-Americans.

On October 24, 1972 Jackie Robinson would die of a heart-attack in Stamford, Connecticut at the age of 53.


The film 42 tells the story of Jackie Robinson, particularly his early days of baseball and signing with Branch Rickey to break the baseball color line.

In addition to Chadwick Boseman playing the part of Jackie Robinson, the film also features Harrison Ford as Branch Rickey. Nicole Behaire plays the part of Robinson's wife, Rachel. John C. McGinnley plays sports broadcaster Red Barber.

Baseball players portrayed in the film include Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni), Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black), Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk). Baseball player C.J. Nitkowski plays pitcher Dutch Leonard.

A relative unknown performer, will Chadwick Boseman receive award attention, maybe an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of this Reel (Real) Person?

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