((c) 2005 National Public Radio, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep
with Renee Montagne.
all of its brutality, the blood sport of boxing once
offered a fairy-tale ending. It was 1935. A broken-down
boxer by the name of James Braddock walked into the ring
and took on the brutal champion, Max Baer. Sportswriters
said this fight was a mismatch and even predicted that
Max Baer would kill his opponent. Instead, in a 15-round
thriller, the fighter dubbed `Cinderella Man' became
the heavyweight champion of the world. And for many Americans
suffering through the Great Depression, Jim Braddock's
improbable rise embodied all their hopes. The movie "Cinderella
Man" opens today starring Russell Crowe. And Renee
spoke with the director, Ron Howard.
RON HOWARD (Director, "Cinderella Man"):
I got the feeliing in all of our research that Braddock
never really loved boxing as a sport. I don't think
it really defined him as a person. I think it was a thing
that he discovered he could do better than other people
when he was about 15 or 16 years old. He had never
been interested in school. He was already out of school
by then and working really as a laborer and an errand
boy and things like that. But he found he could beat
people in the ring and make money at it. He really had
no alternative, he felt.
of "Cinderella Man")
Mr. RUSSELL CROWE: (As Jim Braddock) I didn't always
lose. I won't always lose again. I can still fight.
Unidentified Man: Go home.
Mr. CROWE: (As Jim Braddock) I can still fight.
Unidentified Man: Go home to Mae and the kids, Jim.
Mr. HOWARD: He had also been battered and bruised and
really severely injured and he kept fighting hurt and,
at a certain point, they took away his boxing license.
I think in a way they did him a favor in retrospect because
he healed during that time. And when he did make this
unlikely comeback, people were shocked, but they hadn't
really seen a healthy Braddock in years. And he just--he
went on an incredible winning streak. He himself, when
asked, `Why do you think you're winning again, Jim? It
seems to kind of come out of nowhere.' And we used this
line in the film, but he said, `I know what I'm fighting
for now.' And they said, `What's that?' `Milk.' And he
said he was just tired of seeing the empty milk bottles
on the stoop.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Had he fallen that low? Was he living in a slum apartment
with-- you know, at any given moment they wouldn't have
enough to eat and children might be taken away because
they couldn't, you know, afford to feed them?
Mr. HOWARD: Yeah. And there are no photographs of that
period of their lives that we could find, but there were
some letters that- -actually the actress who plays a
neighbor woman, Sara, is Rosemarie DeWitt. and She is
Mae and Jim Braddock's granddaughter. She gave us some
letters which were incredibly poignant and moving which
described some of that, mostly gave us a real sense of
the disappointment that Braddock felt at not being able
to take care of his family.
of "Cinderella Man")
Mr. CROWE: (As Jim Braddock) Things ain't easy at the
moment, Joe, you're right. There's a lot of people worse
off than what we are. I guess good things ain't easy.
That don't give you the excuse to take what's not yours,
does it? That's stealing, right? We don't steal. No matter
what happens, we don't steal. Not ever. You got me?
Mr. HOWARD: You know, they were on the soup lines and
he was working as a laborer and there was a moment when
he thought he wasn't going to be able to keep the family
together and he despaired and he was humiliated by it,
but he was able to fight his way out.
Well, you know, one thing that was noticeable was that
Russell Crowe, who plays Jim Braddock, is actually quite
small and slender in this movie even for him. I mean,
he's not as bulked up as he was in "Gladiator."
Mr. HOWARD: Oh, no. He slimmed down because Braddock
always was a natural light heavyweight who was fighting
up when he moved to the heavyweight division.
of "Cinderella Man")
Unidentified Announcer: Braddock sinks with a left,
another left. (Unintelligible) it's a close match, folks.
(Soundbite of bell ringing)
Unidentified Announcer: And there's the bell. James
J. Braddock has exhibited a lot of pluck here; over 11
grueling rounds with the champion.
HOWARD: Russell had brought the project to me not so
long after we had finished "A Beautiful Mind." And
I knew about Braddock. I knew about his story a little
bit, because my father, you know, raised in Oklahoma
during the Depression, had been a lifelong fight fan
and the first fight that had been deemed important enough
for his father to load, you know, his then five- or six-year-old
son into the truck and drive to the pool hall, 'cause
they didn't have a radio themselves to listen to the
fight, was "Cinderella Man" Jim Braddock fighting Max
Baer for the heavyweight championship of the world.
So my dad had vivid memories of the fight and he always
held Braddock up as a kind of a shining example of,
you know, strong character carrying the day.
MONTAGNE: Now your dad was an actor as...
Mr. HOWARD: Oh, he's in the movie. He's the ring announcer,
giving the final decision.
MONTAGNE: Your father, of course, Rance Howard.
Mr. HOWARD: Rance Howard, yes. And he still acts a great
deal. But, yeah, my dad left the farm and decided he
wanted to be a singing cowboy, even though he couldn't
carry a tune, but I guess he didn't know that or it didn't
bother him. So he never became Roy Rogers but he made
a good career and continues to all his life working in
films, first in New York and then Los Angeles.
MONTAGNE: And that, though, is, in a sense, the way
you got into acting, which I gather you got into when
you were practically a babe in your mother's arm.
Mr. HOWARD: Well, I actually was carried on by my mother
into a scene, kind of a grade B or C Western that my
dad was doing, and when I was, I think, 18 months old
and they needed a baby to cry in a scene and so they
gave me a little toy tomahawk or something and left it
in my hand long enough for me to become attached to it
and then they rolled cameras and took it away. And they
got the crying that they wanted that way.
MONTAGNE: (Laughs) Is that like against the law now?
Mr. HOWARD: No. I don't think it's against the law.
MONTAGNE: Ron Howard, thank you very much for joining
Mr. HOWARD: Nice talking to you.
Director Ron Howard's movie, "Cinderella Man," opens