Posted by: Jerry Garrett | April 1, 2013

Where Was The Movie ’42’ Filmed?

The “42” cast poses for a group shot in front of Luther Williams Field in Macon, Ga., in mid-June 2012. (media.macon.com)

HOLLYWOOD

The movie “42” follows Jackie Robinson through the events surrounding his experience breaking baseball’s racial “color barrier” as a player with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

In an earlier bio-pic of Robinson’s life, Robinson actually played himself in the movie. But Robinson died in 1972; most of the people who played major roles in his life are now also gone – as are virtually all of the ballparks – most notably Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field – where they played…and history was made.

Period details - down the team bus. (media.macon.com)

Period details – down the team bus. (media.macon.com)

So, in re-creating that era, the filmmakers had to re-create almost everything about it: from clothes, makeup and hairstyles, to entire ballparks and downtown Brooklyn.

So, where was “42” filmed?

Let’s explain the “City Island Park” photo, above, first. This was among many scenes in the movie shot in Macon, Georgia. Although there was virtually no connection in Robinson’s lifetime with Macon – he was born in Georgia, but raised in Southern California – the filmmakers used historic Luther Williams Field as one of the three ballparks selected for “location” shoots.

City Island Ball Park, home of the Daytona Beach Islanders, circa 1946. (Floridamemory.com)

City Island Ball Park was built on an island in the Intra-Coastal Waterway in Daytona Beach, Florida, back in 1915. Daytona Beach holds a special place in Jackie Robinson lore, as it was the first city in Florida that allowed Robinson to play during spring training in 1946 when he was a member of the Montreal Royals of the International League.

After both Sanford and Jacksonville had invoked segregation laws, and had refused to let Montreal play an exhibition game in either of their towns against the Brooklyn Dodgers, parent club of Robinson’s Royals, Daytona Beach agreed to the game. It was played on March 17, 1946. As a result, the Dodgers moved their spring training camp to City Island Ball Park. (In 1948, the Dodgers built Dodgertown, farther south in Vero Beach, Florida, for future spring training use.)

City Island Ball Park still exists, although it’s name was changed in 1990 – to Jackie Robinson Ball Park! In 1998 it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It was not used in the movie because it has been modernized and no longer looks much like it did in 1947.

Luther Williams Field today (note "Peaches" name missing from marquee)

Luther Williams Field today (note “Peaches” name missing from marquee, next to “Home of Macon…”)

Now back to Macon…Luther Williams Field, named for a former mayor of Macon, was built in 1929. It is now reputed to be the second-oldest minor league ballpark still existence. More importantly for filmmakers, it still looks like an old-time ballpark, thanks to its 1930s-era covered grandstands. The ballpark has been used in a couple of movies prior to “42”, including, “Bingo Long’s Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings” in 1976 and more recently in 2012’s “Trouble With The Curve“.

The Macon ballpark doubled as old Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey (demolished in 1985 for a waterfront condo project), where Robinson played his first regular-season AAA International League game (Monarchs vs. the Jersey City Giants) in April 1946. The Dodgers actually played 15 “home” games there in 1956 and 1957 while club owner Walter O’Malley was feuding with NYC planning guru Robert Moses about where they might be relocated when Ebbets Field would be torn down (as it was in 1960, after the Dodgers had re-located to Los Angeles).

For the film, Williams Field, once home of the Dodgers minor league franchise called the Macon Peaches, also was re-configured so it could used as a “stand-in” for other ballparks. Macon itself doubled as downtown Brooklyn in 1947, and some exteriors were shot in Central City Park and at Terminal Station, which was re-made into an airport terminal of the day.

Engel Stadium decorated as Ebbets Field for “42” (Times Free Press)

Another major location in “42” was Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This is another old classic ballpark, which was built within a few months of Macon’s ballpark, in 1930. It is named after Joe Engel, a Washington Senators scout who was sent down to locate a minor league franchise for the team in Atlanta; he wound up in Chattanooga, built the ballpark that bears his name, and ended up remaining there for 34 years.

For “42”, filmmakers meticulously re-created the confines of Ebbets Field, right down to the period-correct billboard advertisements, scoreboard and Bulova clock. They even re-located the playing field inside the park. (And removed the local “Lookouts” minor league team name from the outfield.)

The City of Chattanooga has spent quite a bit of money preserving, restoring and modernizing Engel Stadium – and most of that was for naught, for this movie anyway, as the filmmakers covered up or tore down most of the new stuff. (They restored it after filming was over.) The filmmakers depicted the ’47 Dodgers playing teams such as the Philadelphia Phillies at Ebbets; in the grandstands, hundreds of extras were used, dressed in period costumes – as well as thousands of inflatable dolls!

Filmmakers also shot a number of scenes on covered sets in Chattanooga, as well as a railroad station scene or two.

Rickwood Field (wikipedia)

Lastly, the filmmakers also used historic Rickwood Field, America’s oldest (surviving) professional ballpark, in Birmingham, Alabama. Built in 1910, it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was also used for filming “Cobb” in 1994.

Rickwood, a nickname for its builder Rick Woodward, was originally going to be used in the film for re-creations of old, now-gone major league parks like Crosley Field in Cincinnati, and Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. But when “42” writer-director Brian Helgeland found out Robinson had actually played at Rickwood when he came to town with the Kansas City Monarchs to play the Birmingham Black Barons in a Negro League game in 1945, he revised the script to include that bit of baseball lore.

So, for a few scenes, Rickwood gets to appear as Rickwood.

But that’s about as far as it went for “actual” locations in “42”.

Jerry Garrett

April 1, 2013

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