Have you had a chance to see the movie “42,” yet? It’s a biographical sports film that tells the story of baseball player Jackie Robinson, who wore jersey number 42, and became the first African-American player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
Written and directed by Brian Helgeland, it stars Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as Brooklyn Dodgers’ Branch Rickey. Released in mid-April, the movie is in local theaters and is well worth seeing. It’s a reminder of the ugliness of racial discrimination as well as the strength of character that it takes to face it down.
There are several familiar faces in the movie. Law and Order fans will recognize Chris Meloni portraying Leo Durocher. Pee Wee Reese is played by Lucas Black and his distinctive voice is still recognizable as that of 12-year-old Frank Wheatley whom he portrayed in Sling Blade. Hamish Linklater, Matthew on The New Adventures of Old Christine, shares a comic “open-mouth-and-insert-foot moment with Boseman/Robinson in the locker room.
And, for the really sharp-eyed, you might even catch a glimpse of someone who once lived in Johnson City and comes back often, as he did Mother’s Day weekend, to visit his mother, Mattie Mullins. Listed as Umpire Number 3 in the credits, Andrew “Andy” Mullins got the chance of a lifetime last year when Hollywood came to Chattanooga.
A friend had told him about a movie to be filmed in Chattanooga and that they were looking for umpires. Mullins, who’s “been officiating forever,” is a high school, college and professional umpire, certified through Triple-A. So, he applied and was told to go to Atlanta for an interview. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards, an 88-mile-an-hour fastball snapped his collarbone. With the resulting ambulance ride from the field, surgery and hospital stay, the interview slipped his mind and he didn’t give it another thought.
About a month later, after a weekend of playing phone tag with someone from C.L. Casting, he finally got the word that the merits of his resume had earned him a position as an umpire on the movie”42.” And, before the excitement of that news even sank in, the voice on the phone said, “Oh, by the way, you’re supposed to report at 5 a.m. tomorrow.”
“What? I’ve got a full-time job. It’s 10 o’clock on Sunday night. I’ve got to have some notice,” said Mullins, who’s with Aflac Insurance. “So, we just gave you notice,” said the voice.
It was a scramble to rearrange his life, cram in a few hours of Internet research about umpiring Major League Baseball, circa 1946-47, and shave off a mustache he’d had since he was 16 years old – a mustache his wife had never seen him without -- but he decided to give it a try and planned to be at Engel Stadium, former home to the minor league Chattanooga Lookouts, at 5 a.m. Monday.
As he headed out the door, he told his wife, “Tonya, I’m going down there, but I may be right back.” He worked 17 straight hours and when he finally walked back through the door, he told her, “I love you. I’m going to bed. Wake me up at 4 o’clock.” That became the pattern for the next 17 days. “I left in the dark and I came home in the dark,” he remembers.
He’d been told to just show up and everything would be supplied. Three-hundred-fifty people were in line for hair and makeup that first morning, but the umpires, of which there were eight including three or four actors with no umpire experience, were pulled to the front of the line since they were in scenes to be shot first that day. Hair was trimmed in what Mullins said was a “military-type cut” and color was added if needed. There were 1,500 extras in all and 20-25 hair and makeup experts were on hand to see that every aspect of their appearance was true to the late ‘40s style.
Mullins was made chief umpire and helped the moviemakers make sure that the mechanics were as authentic to that time as possible. He didn’t hesitate to speak up when the scene wasn’t true to what umpires would have done in 1946-47. “One interesting thing that they left alone and didn’t change was putting four umpires on the field. They wanted it that way, but it’s wrong. In Major League, all the way through the regular season, they still only used two umpires,” said Mullins. “Then they went to three umpires in play-offs and World Series only. It wasn’t until late ’47 for the World Series that for the first time Major League Baseball used four umpires.”
“So, even though its regular games, we’re showing four umpires,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing that wasn’t 100 percent accurate.” Mullins was impressed with the level of attention to detail and desire for authenticity everyone connected with the movie displayed. He said Major League Baseball had four historians working for over a year to verify as much as possible. They had pored over old 8mm and 16mm film, Major League and Hall of Fame archives, material from the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the Robinson family for documentation. Pete Smith, former Braves pitcher, was the movie’s baseball consultant.
Production designer Richard Hoover used old blueprints and digital imagery to turn Engel Stadium into the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ebbets Field, even though Ebbets was demolished 53 years ago. That same digital wizardry turned Engel into facsimiles of Shibe Park in Philadelphia, Crosley Field in Cincinnati and Forbes Field in Philadelphia, requiring the construction of a 60-foot green screen around Engel’s field upon which to project the surrounding cityscape of each location.
Meticulous attention was given to the advertisements and sponsorships of the different stadiums. Signs had to be changed to show the different field lengths for each stadium represented. The scoreboard had to be manually operated from within and it was hot, hot, hot work. Overnight, railings were painted to correspond to the color of the different stadiums and might even be wet the next morning with Mullins and his fellow umpires reported for work. Wearing vintage 100-percent woolen umpire uniforms, “you’d better not brush against them,” he recalled.
Asked what he thought his lasting experience from working on the movie would be, Mullins answered, “A new appreciation for film. . . One scene I was in was shot 42 times from four different angles and ended up being eight to nine seconds in the actual movie. We’d spent nearly three eight-hour days on it.”
Legendary Films plans to make six sports films. “42” is the first. The next one will be about Hank Aaron’s 1974 season and Mullins has already been contacted about working in it next year when it’s shot in Atlanta.
Andy Mullins hits the big screen in “42”