by Chris Kamler
Platte County is known for Kansas City International Airport and maybe its “World Famous” Casey's General Store Pizza, but it's far from Tinseltown. You'd be more likely to see a Ford F150 driving the streets rather than Harrison Ford walking a red carpet, but Thursday, that's exactly what you saw at the AMC Barrywoods 24 theater along Barry Road in Platte County.
Ford, along with actors from the new movie “42” about the life of Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson premiered right here in Kansas City. Han Solo himself was joined by former and current Royals, former Negro League players and other dignitaries to pay tribute to the contributions Robinson made to not only baseball, but to the country.
But why Kansas City? Well, two years before Robinson broke Major League Baseball's “color barrier” he played one season for the Kansas City Monarch, Kansas City's Negro Leagues team. During a sneak peek for executives from Waddell & Reed, a local investment firm, their executive vice president Thomas Butch spoke with the film's producers and convinced them that Kansas City's history with baseball and the Negro Leagues' Museum would be a perfect location for the film's premier. The producers agreed, and they settled on Barrywoods 24 as the location.
So Thursday night, the red carpet was rolled out, the popcorn was popped and the paparazzi were put in place (this reporter among them.) Limos began to arrive around 6:45 for the 8 p.m. movie. One after one, the legends of Kansas City baseball began to arrive: Dennis Leonard, Frank White, George Brett, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler - one after another they walked down the red carpet and they weren't even the night's biggest stars.
Next came Kansas City Mayor Sly James followed by president of the Negro Leagues Museum, Bob Kendrick - for whom the night's event meant so much financially. It is said that the museum could make upwards of $200,000 from the premier.
As the limos kept arriving, the chilly crowd of about 200 fans behind police barriers began to hoot and holler. Stars from the movie including Chadwick Boseman, who plays Jackie Robinson, walked down and stopped for photos. Boseman told me that he didn't know much about the Robinson story when he got the part and wasn't much of a baseball player, but he had to learn the realistic mannerisms of number 42 for the movie.
Then, the final limo arrived, and out stepped 70-year-old Harrison Ford, who plays Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager, Branch Rickey. Ford stopped to take a few photos and talk with local television, but he told the assembled reporters that the movie was “an important film.” His portrayal of Rickey was to the point where he was indistinguishable as Harrison Ford, save for when he gives that classic Ford smirk that millions have seen in the Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies.
The nearly 1400 who attended the premier left with posters, and autographs and maybe a couple with sore stomachs from the all-you-can-eat candy and popcorn, but the true takeaway is the lessons learned from Robinson's stoic nature in taking the abuse that came along with being the first African-American in an “all white” sport.
“It was awesome, it was a good flick,” said Mike Moustakas, Royals third basenan. “It's a good reminder to see where he came from.” It is seeing Robinson's beginnings that resonated with several other Royals including several scenes of him in a Kansas City Monarchs uniform. “Other than the All-Star Game being here, having the premier in Kansas City was pretty awesome,” said Billy Butler, the Royals reigning All-Star.
The movie chronicles Robinson's 1946 season with the Montreal Royals, the minor league affiliate of the Dodgers and his 1947 season with the Dodgers, the first ever by an African American, and the season he ultimately won the Rookie of the Year award. The film shows the overt acts of racism levied on him by opposing teams, fans and even some of his own teammates. But it serves as an important history lesson for many who don't know the America of the late 40's.
And all right here in Platte County, known more for its riverfronts and small town charm. Royals pitcher Bruce Chen enjoyed the hospitality as he brought his parents to the event. “I thought it was great, I felt like I was in Hollywood. I was mad that nobody asked what I was wearing, though.”
And there are even a few movie critics on the Royals staff. Jarrod Dyson, Royals outfielder, wanted even more about the life story of Jackie Robinson, who was a four sport star at UCLA. Dyson said “if you're going to do a movie about Jackie Robinson, you should take your time and make it great.”
The movie is a very straightforward rendition of the Robinson story. And although it was produced by the men who made the “Hangover” movies, there was very little levity. It told a very dark story of a man pushed to the brink who took verbal punishment and whom Branch Rickey famously told, “I want a player who's got the guts not to fight back.”
Overall, the reception to the movie has been extremely positive among those I spoke with at the premier. And it all stands to help the legacy of Jackie Robinson and Kansas City's Negro League Museum. 42 is now in wide release in the Kansas City area at a theater near you.