Summer of 2012, I interviewed Chadwick Boseman on the MacDonough Street “set” where important scenes were shot for the actor’s “42” feature film. Dodger great Jackie Robinson, the legend Boseman portrays in the film, lived at 526 in the 1940’s when he broke records and made history.
Quite frankly, Jackie Robinson is in my genealogical tree and that’s the reason I felt compelled to be on that set doing what I had done for hundreds of other productions.
Boseman appreciated the honesty and enjoyed the history talks with my cousin Graham Weatherspoon who came on location. We bonded briefly not over blood ties and the tribal kinship-thing, nor the OTP assignment.
I talked to him about what he should expect from movie company publicity units moving forward. I also told him to make sure his production companies reach out to his audience, and his press. I had heard about “42” because of OTP readers on MacDonough, most notably Valerie Durrah. I simply walked on the set and identified myself as press. I informed him that actors in lead roles should exercise their power and request publicity plans for their films. Plus the bonding with press from their communities carries over to future films in which they are cast.
He shared a secret about where he was living in Bedford Stuyvesant at that time – very near the MacDonough location. I wanted to make his reveal an exclusive for OTP, but he asked me not to. If I recall, humble Boseman said even his landlord did not know he was an actor.
He liked the idea of my focusing on the location as a co-star much better. So, here’s one of the three “42” production stories OTP ran in 2012.
The focus is his “co-star” in a small collection of interview briefs with people who met Boseman, and some who even knew Robinson. It is preceded by Grio.com’s announcement of the re-release of “42.” (Bernice Green)
Chadwick Boseman’s ’42’ to return to theaters as tribute to actor
Ny Magee, Grio.com
Jackie Robinson was the first Black player in Major League Baseball in 1947, and Boseman played him in the 2013 sports drama. AMC Theaters will screen the film in more than 300 locations starting Thursday. Tickets will cost $5 and go on sale late Tuesday, PEOPLE reports.
The actor died after a long battle with colon cancer on Aug. 28, which also happened to be the same day the MLB celebrated Jackie Robinson Day. The tribute was initially set to take place on April 15 but was pushed back when the season was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the days since Boseman’s death, fellow celebrities and fans have flooded social media with tributes. His 42 costar Harrison Ford, described him as “compelling, powerful and truthful as the characters he chose to play,” Ford said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “His intelligence, personal dignity and deep commitment inspired his colleagues and elevated the stories he told. He is as much a hero as any he played. He is loved and will be deeply missed,” he added.
The Jackie Robinson Foundation also paid tribute to Boseman.
“Chadwick was a dear friend of the Foundation – lending his time and visibility to help advance our mission,” the charity posted on Twitter Saturday. “Preparing for his starring role in ’42,’ he studied extensively and spent considerable time with [Jackie’s wife] Rachel Robinson. A consummate professional, he absorbed every story, every memory and every photo and film excerpt he could consume to help translate the soul of an American hero. And now, Chadwick will be etched in history as a hero in his own right, especially having shown millions of black and Brown children the power of a superhero who looks like them.”
Meanwhile, Boseman’s final movie, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, co-starring Viola Davis, will be released posthumously on Netflix.
As we previously reported, the film follows the rising “tensions and temperatures over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago, as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary ‘Mother of the Blues,’ Ma Rainey.”
Over the weekend, Twitter announced that Boseman’s final post was the most liked tweet ever in the history of the platform.
Brooklyn Brownstone Block Brings “42” to Life
(Reprint from July 19, 2012)
A brownstone block in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant is playing a pivotal role in the filming of “42”, the major feature currently in production about Brooklyn Dodgers great Jackie Robinson.
Just as it did in 1947 when the baseball legend became the first Black player to join the Major Leagues in the 20th century.
This week, Ebbets Productions filmed exterior scenes in front of 526 MacDonough Street, between Patchen and Ralph, where Robinson (starring Chadwick Boseman) resided, just at the cusp of his heyday years.
During July 9 pre-production week, slight changes returned 526 to its young 1940’s self. Nearby towering streetlights, large planters and other signs of the contemporary were vanished. Costumes and props, from perambulators to milk crates, scooters, Studebakers, Hudsons, Olds, metal fold-out tables, wooden crates, telephones and even replicas of old New York Times newspapers with the exact dates and news took observers and block residents back to another time.
Boseman’s portrayal of the young Robinson embracing his wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie), holding hands, running, walking, swinging an imaginary bat in the air and on the verge of something great drove home the importance of the athlete’s brief stay on MacDonough Street. It was a haven, a break from the whirlwind of forces – good and bad, sweet and bitter – that came at him like a hard ball that groundbreaking year.
Prior to the MacDonough Street shoot, other locales in the U.S., from Alabama to Georgia, doubled for Brooklyn sites, including the memorable Ebbets field where Robinson deftly stole bases. But no other place can steal the Jackie Robinson presence on MacDonough Street. He and Rachel still live there – in the stories and memories of people who played stickball with him and walked to the park with her.
“You want to know about Jackie?” advised a chorus of MacDonough Street resident solo voices, among them Sarah Brinson and Valerie Durrah. “Talk to Ray Robinson – no relation!” “Talk to Henrietta Toliver!”
The legacy of Mr. Robinson, who rests in Cypress Cemetery, very near Central Brooklyn, is alive and safe and sound on the block where he once lived, and people knew him as a man, not an icon. Here are just some of them followed by more from a reprint of a 1997 Our Time Press story.
Raymond “Ray” Robinson
Mr. Robinson (no relation) lived with his parents, in the apartment just below the Robinson’s at 526. But he’s quick to remind that the couple lived in one-room of Mrs. Brown’s apartment on the second floor. “They didn’t have a whole apartment.”
And there were a couple of reasons he really liked the Robinsons being there.
“I earned some change minding Rachel Robinson’s baby in the carriage in the front yard when she had to go to the store. Kids were different, then. Anybody could tighten you up. I did what I was told. And back in those days you made pennies anyway you could.”
“I don’t recall people around here really knew how famous he was. He came on the block during the Big Blizzard of the winter of 46-47, “where all you could see was the heads of people. That’s how I remember when the Robinson’s lived upstairs. They also had family, the Quentins, on Macon Street right around the corner.”
Mr. Robinson says he and his friends played stickball with Jackie Robinson. “He would throw balls to us and bring us gloves and balls and other things. Homeplate was the sewer cover right in front of 526. The first dent in the Cadillac they gave him was put there by a football thrown in the air, but I don’t remember who did it.”
At the moment, Henrietta Toliver lives next door to 526.
Back in 1947, she and her family lived with her parents Victoria and Allen Lawrence’s at 522 – a property which is still in the family and has been in the family since 1943.
“There were few black people on McDonough Street, so it was natural that Rachel and I would get together.
“We strolled our Victory carriages made of framed wood over to Saratoga Park. It wasn’t an everyday thing. Just something to do together with our children.
“When she moved away, I don’t recall seeing her until a couple of years ago when she came back to the block looking for the building where she and Jackie lived. She didn’t remember where the house was, but we showed it to her.”
“I used to smoke Chesterfield’s. Just started smoking Kools in 1953.” Rachel never smoked.
Jabali Sawicki, the founding principal of Excellence Boys Charter School of Bedford Stuyvesant, lives with his wife and child on the block.
He also told us that one day a little girl was caught playing stickball back in 1947 and Jackie Robinson came out and played with her. “After that the story goes, kids were allowed to play stickball.”
He also shared the story of a very important connection of the Robinson family to his life. Jackie and Rachel Robinson’s daughter, Sharon Robinson, the author and professional midwife, delivered Mr. Sawicki as a baby.
And by coincidence, the 526 building, it turns out, is owned by a Brooklyn entrepreneur. The film company approached him about shooting exterior scenes there. He agreed. The first time he thought about asking who was cast in the lead role. The next time he talked to the company, he learned that it was Chadwick Boseman – Trevor’s business associate.
by Bernice Elizabeth Green,
Our Time Press, 2012