The second baseman is remembered not only as a veteran of six World Series, the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947 and an inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame but especially as the first African American man to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era.
His accomplishments are many. He was the first black player to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award and was awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
In tribute, every April 15, the date the Brooklyn Dodgers started Robinson at first base, all uniformed personnel at 15 different ballparks wear Jackie’s retired number 42.
This weekend a tribute of another kind comes to theatres. The movie 42 details the Hall of Famer’s history-making breaking of the color barrier in professional baseball. The film focuses on Robinson’s (Chadwick Boseman) relationship with Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, the MLB executive who facilitated the player’s signing to the ball team.
The story is custom made for the movies. Spike Lee tried unsuccessfully to get a biopic of Robinson, starring Denzel Washington, off the ground in 1995, but others have had better luck.
Robinson portrayed himself in The Jackie Robinson Story. Filmed over the winter in 1949 – ‘50, during the off-season from the Brooklyn Dodgers, the film earned good reviews at the time, with the New York Times saying, “Mr. Robinson displays a calm assurance and composure that might be envied by many a Hollywood star.” Despite his acclaimed performance, he never made another film.
Since then he has been the subject of a variety of projects. A 1978 ABC Afterschool special called A Home Run for Love used the player—portrayed by John Lafayette—as the heart of a tale about friendship and racial tolerance.
The First was a short-lived Broadway musical starring David Alan Grier as Robinson, and both Andre Braugher and Blair Underwood have played him in television dramas.
Back on the big screen Robinson was played by Keith David in Blue in the Face, an improvised love letter to Brooklyn featuring celebrity cameos by everyone from Harvey Keitel and Lily Tomlin to Madonna and Lou Reed. In a cameo we see Robinson from behind as he talks about breaking the color barrier in baseball.
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