Harrison Ford turns out for KC screening of Jackie Robinson biopic

04/12/2013 12:24 AM

08/06/2014 12:55 AM

Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford, swashbuckled his way onto a Kansas City red carpet Thursday evening, and for at least a few hours we got to pretend we were Hollywood.

OK, so there wasn’t any actual swashbuckling or raiding of lost arks, but Ford fans didn’t seem to care.

A whoop went up when the movie star was first spotted in the parking lot of the AMC Barrywoods 24 theater in the Northland, site of a gala screening of “42,” the new movie about how in 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball.

Ford, in a dark suit and sporting a silver stud in his left ear, looked pretty darn good. Of course, he was minus the padding and prosthetics the film employed to turn him into Brooklyn Dodgers bigwig Branch Rickey, who recruited Robinson from the old Kansas City Monarchs.

Ford made his way down the carpet gamely doing media interviews, a big guy with an earpiece close by, but at one point he broke away to greet fans behind a barricade. Many thrust movie posters and pictures at him to sign.

Appropriately or not, the temperature was right around, yes, 42, when the celebrities and dignitaries started arriving at 5:30 p.m.

But a persistent breeze kept the red carpet chilly. Dozens of people with tickets for the sold-out event pressed behind a velvet rope alongside reporters, probably to gawk at stars but maybe just to keep warm.

The official premiere of “42” (Robinson’s jersey number) went down Tuesday in Los Angeles, but Kansas City — where Robinson spent a year playing for the Monarchs of the Negro Leagues — had the honor of hosting what was basically a second premiere. The event raised about $200,000 for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the Kansas City Sports Commission. The movie opens nationwide today.

This film marked the first time Ford has played a real-life person. Asked if there are others he’d like to take on, he told The Star, “It doesn’t work that way. What matters is, this was an interesting person, an interesting character. This is a very important film. I hope young people see it and try to carry on the important work that’s left to be done.”

Other “42” cast members were also on hand, chatting up the crowd. Star Chadwick Boseman said it was an honor to play the baseball legend, and he did plenty of research for the part — learning Robinson’s moves on the field and getting to know the family, especially widow Rachel Robinson.

“She’s hard not to love, you know?” he said. “She’s stately and beautiful and wise. And very kind to me. My heart opens up every time I see her. When you do something like this, you share a bond with each other.”

Andre Holland, who plays sportswriter Wendell Smith, said he had a tough time learning to work a 1940s manual typewriter for the film — the keys are fussy and spaced far apart. But on screen, he said, he was actually typing the words of Smith’s real newspaper coverage. “That’s the ‘method’ actor in me,” he said.

Derek Phillips, who plays Dodgers catcher Bobby Bragan, said he seems to be typecast as an athlete. He’s best known for co-starring in the TV football drama “Friday Night Lights.”

In a ceremony on the red carpet, Boseman and Ford presented a Monarchs jersey from the film to Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues museum. The stars were scheduled to visit the museum today for satellite television interviews with national media before leaving town.

But no barbecue? “Oh, that sounds good,” Holland said. “Maybe we’ll do that tonight.”

Special guests on the red carpet included David Robinson, youngest child of Jackie and Rachel Robinson, as well as a handful of former Negro Leagues players.

“I thought it was excellent,” David Robinson said of the movie. “It was honest. It was historically accurate. It was inspiring, and hopefully it will be empowering.”

Kansas City Royals players past and present walked the red carpet, too, including greats George Brett, Frank White and Willie Wilson.

Wilson, who spent 15 years with the Royals after his debut in 1976, also stressed the importance of “42” reaching a younger generation.

Robinson “gave me an opportunity in baseball,” Wilson said. “I think the young kids need to find out exactly what he went through. I know if it was me, I wouldn't have been able to do it.”

Among current players on the red carpet, Billy Butler and, especially, Eric Hosmer caused the biggest stir along the rope line. When Hosmer, vivid in a pink-and-white checked shirt and patterned gray slacks, looked as if he wasn’t going to pause near the end of the carpet, a cry — and dozens of cellphone cameras — went up.

Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson said he came “to pay my respects for a guy who went through a lot to get African-Americans in baseball. He means a lot to me and my family.”

About 1,350 guests attended the event, which included an auction of memorabilia from the movie, signed by the cast. Ford made appearances in all three auditoriums before the film started.

Around 5 p.m., a couple dozen or so fans without tickets waited patiently for a glimpse of the star. “We have very few opportunities to be this close to Harrison Ford,” said Teri Wright of Merriam.

Ellie Dulchinos, 18, came with three friends from Immaculata High School in Leavenworth. She fell in love with Ford watching the “Star Wars” and Indiana Jones flicks on DVD.

But does she know how old he is? “Doesn’t even matter,” Dulchinos said. (He’s 70.)

Heather Anderson Feagans of Kansas City was holding a sign: “Harry Ford, U carpooled with my dad, Maine Township 1960.” She explained that Ford and her late father, William Anderson, were high school friends at Maine Township High School in a Chicago suburb.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James, bow-tie dapper as always — this was a “business attire” event, not black tie — said the Robinson biopic “shines a light on all of Kansas City.”

He blamed the cold weather on the city manager. “When I’m in charge of the weather, it’s sunshiney and warm,” he joked.

How did our city come to host this almost-premiere? Connections. Legendary Pictures, which made the movie, is a holding in one of the mutual funds managed by KC-based Waddell & Reed. Legendary’s chairman and CEO, Thomas Tull, invited some Waddell & Reed executives to a screening of “42” last December in Pittsburgh. (Tull is also a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.)

At the screening, “We mentioned to him the presence here of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum,” said Tom Butch, executive vice president of Waddell & Reed Financial and chair of the Kansas City Sports Commission.

Butch said the fundraising event in Kansas City came together thanks to the willingness of Tull and distributor Warner Bros. and the combined efforts of his company, the Negro Leagues museum’s Kendrick, the Royals and AMC Theatres, which is based here.

That Ford and Boseman chose to come “is really high praise for Kansas City and its role in Jackie Robinson’s life and for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum,” Butch said.

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