A couple of weeks ago, my girlfriend and went to a matinee screening of “42”, the story of Jackie Robinson’s rise to fame as the first African American baseball player in the Major Leagues. This was opening day for the movie, and it was like opening day at a baseball game. The theater was packed with kids, and everyone cheered when Jackie got a hit and booed when he faced racist taunts. We realized later that we were in the middle of several school field trips that day!
It was a great film; emotionally manipulative for sure, with the director overdoing it a little bit with the Orchestral music (“we get it, he’s a hero, please lower the string section so I can hear again.”) Chadwick Boseman gave a great performance for a newcomer, and Harrison Ford is refreshingly unrecognizable in a wonderful performance as Branch Rickey, who orchestrated Jackie’s rise to the Majors.
What I didn’t realize is that this was the second time Jackie’s story had been told on screen. The first time was way back in 1950, only a few years after the events in the movie actually happened! That film was called “The Jackie Robinson Story” and it starred… Jackie Robinson?
Jackie Played Himself in a Feature Film?!
That’s right. For whatever reason, Hollywood decided to make a biopic about Jackie soon after his dramatic entrance intro baseball. And… for some reason, they decided to have him star as himself in the movie. Kind of an oddity in Hollywood’s history. Usually biopics happen long after their subject has aged or is dead. Even if “Walk the Line” was made 30 years ago, I can’t imagine Johnny Cash playing himself. Or Larry Flynt playing himself instead of Woody Harrelson in “The People Vs. Larry Flynt”.
But Jackie turns in a decent performance. If baseball didn’t work out, he could have been a successful supporting character in the pictures. The movie is actually in the Public Domain, which means you can watch it in its entirety without feeling guilty through Youtube, embedded below.
There are a ton of movies where actors play themselves to a comedic end. Neil Patrick Harris plays himself in “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”. John Malkovitch plays himself in “Being John Malkovitch” (as does Charlie Sheen!). It’s usually a cameo, and its funny.
But I was trying to think of another time Hollywood did this with a biopic, having someone play themselves in a serious role. The only thing I could think of was 8 Mile with Eminem. That’s a fictionalized version of his life, with Eminem playing a character who goes through similar things, but its not verbatim. Eminem doesn’t play Marshall Mathers. Can you think of another example? If so, comment below.