• Bill Althaus: Actor is right man to play icon

  • I guess I'm not the only one who attended last week's gala red-carpet premier of the Jackie Robinson biography “42” who didn't really know what to expect.

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  • I guess I'm not the only one who attended last week's gala red-carpet premier of the Jackie Robinson biography “42” who didn't really know what to expect.
    “This is all new to me,” said Kansas City Mayor Sly James, as he walked the red carpet that led from the parking area to the front doors of the BarryWoods 24 Theater off Barry Road in North Kansas City, “but I like it.”
    When asked if this might be the first of many move premiers in the metro area, he said, “Well, we want to keep them special. So this might be the only one we have for a while.”
    The reason the powers-that-be behind “42” selected Kansas City for a premier was simple: It benefited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which is a stone's throw from the site of Jackie Robinson's start in professional baseball.
    One of the first scenes of the movie beautifully shows a young Robinson getting off a Kansas City Monarchs bus in the deep South. He goes to use the gas station's restroom and is warned that it is, “For whites only.”
    Robinson keeps his cool and tells the attendant to stop pumping gas because the Monarchs would buy the 99 gallons of fuel to fill their bus elsewhere.
    Guess who was allowed to use that restroom?
    Branch Rickey certainly did pick the right man to break baseball's color line.
    The late, great Buck O'Neil told me that same story many times when I served as the co-host of the Negro Leagues Baseball Luncheon series that attracted former Negro Leagues stars and present-day major league stars.
    It was always one of my favorites.
    It was so important that Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, selected the right man to break the color line. He wanted a player, “Who had the guts not to fight back.”
    And it was important that producer Thomas Tull select the right actor to portray Robinson in the biopic that wowed audiences over the weekend to the tune of $27.2 million – the largest weekend box office opening for any baseball movie in history.
    As Chadwick Boseman – who portrays Robinson – walked the red carpet, I asked the young man if he felt a responsibility for portraying someone who played such a dramatic role in the history of both sports and the civil rights movement.
    “That is a very good question,” Boseman said, breaking stride and stopping to think about his answer. “I wanted to get it right. That was very important to me. And there were so many people associated with the film who knew Jackie Robinson, so it was a bit intimidating.
    “I wanted their approval, but I also wanted to be true to my portrayal. I want anyone who sees the film to know what it was like to be in Jackie Robinson's shoes.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I want to take them inside the game, I want them to feel like they were up close and personal with Jackie Robinson.”
    He certainly accomplished that. It was thrilling to meet the young actor, then watch his masterful portrayal of a man I had only seen in black and white news clips on television.
    “When you watch Chadwick,” said Derek Phillips, who portrays Robinson's teammate Bobby Bragan, “you forget about watching an actor portray Jackie Robinson. You feel like you are watching Jackie Robinson. We wanted to pay close attention to detail and I think we accomplished that.”
    Thomas Butch, the director of the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission, grew up in Pittsburgh and said a scene where Robinson hits a home run in old Forbes Field brought back many memories.
    “When I saw that scene of Jackie in Forbes Field, it reminded me of my childhood and watching games in that stadium,” said Butch, who was instrumental in getting the premier in Kansas City.
    While the film belongs to Boseman and Robinson, a screen legend turns in a performance that should earn him an Academy Awards nomination.
    Harrison Ford is perfectly cast as Rickey, the elderly Dodgers official who has the guts to break baseball's color line and hearts of many of his closest – and most bigoted – friends in the game.
    I asked Ford if the role was special because of the place it would hold in baseball history.
    “They're all special,” he said, referring to a wide variety of iconic roles that range from Han Solo to Indiana Jones and Dr. Richard Kimball, “because that's how I make my living.”
    He punctuated the answer with an arched eyebrow – that was far less bushy than those he wore while portraying the irascible Rickey.
    “This movie brings to life an important footnote in history, and I'm proud to have been a part of it.”
    With that, he left the red carpet, greeted a howling gathering of fans, signed some autographs, and made more than a few dreams come true.
    It was that kind of an evening.

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