Check out today’s Google doodle, which honors pioneering professional baseball player Jackie Robinson on what would have been his 94th birthday. The first black Major League Baseball player of the modern era died in 1972 at the age of 53.
Robinson will again be honored this year with the opening of the biopic “42″ on April 12, just in time for baseball season.
Choctaw-born and bred actor Ryan Merriman is taking up baseball again for the fiml, one of his biggest onscreen opportunities to date. He will play 1940s Brooklyn Dodgers right fielder Dixie Walker in the biopic “42.” The film also will star big-screen icon Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni (TV’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) and T.R. Knight (“Grey’s Anatomy”).
Taking its name from Robinson’s number, which has been retired by every Major League Baseball team, “42” chronicles Robinson’s historic breaking of the sport’s color line when he made his Dodgers debut on April 15, 1947, blazing a trail for Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and other black players.
Ford will play legendary Dodgers President and General Manager Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson; Meloni will portray the Dodgers’ outspoken manager Leo Durocher, who makes a stand on behalf of the pioneering athlete; and Knight has been cast as Harold Parrott, the team’s traveling secretary who has to deal with housing the black player during the dark days of racial segregation. Chadwick Boseman, who appeared as runningback Floyd “The Franchise” Little in the period football biopic “The Express,” will play Robinson.
Writer-director Brian Helgeland, whose credits include “A Knight’s Tale,” “Payback” and the Oscar-winning screenplay for “L.A. Confidential,” has penned and is helming the project for Legendary Pictures.
Merriman will play a significant role. One of the team’s most popular players, Walker
opposed Robinson joining the squad, even writing a letter to Rickey asking to be traded. Walker ultimately came to respect Robinson, calling him “a gentleman” and “as outstanding an athlete as I ever saw.”
“He was kind of the main bigot almost when it came to African-Americans being introduced into baseball. His reason came more from the upbringing in those times. He owned a hardware store, and he knew that that would affect his business. … But you know, Jackie did amazing things with how people treated him and what he had to go through,” Merriman told me in an interview last year before reporting to the film’s set.
“From an actor’s standpoint, Dixie probably actually has the most screentime out of the ballplayers that are on the team; unfortunately, when Dixie kind of turned around doesn’t happen until the ‘50s. So in this film, you don’t really see that change in him. But he did later in life apologize.”
Check out the latest trailer and featurette for “42,” as well as my 2012 interview with Merriman about the film: