Robinson famously played himself in "The Jackie Robinson Story" in 1950, and the Legendary Pictures imprint will be written and directed by Brian Helgeland, the auteur behind "L.A. Confidential" and "Mystic River." Thomas Tull, the chairman and chief executive officer of Legendary Pictures, said that Robinson's story bears all the marks of great cinema.
"It really is difficult for me to convey how excited we are and how excited I am about bringing this to the screen," said Tull. "I had the opportunity to sit down with Rachel Robinson, and both she and her late husband are folks I hold in the highest regard. Rachel Robinson is one of the classiest, most graceful human beings I've ever met. We're unbelievably grateful."
Robinson, who passed away in 1972 and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, was a four-sport star at UCLA and a member of the armed forces during World War II. After his service had concluded, he played baseball in the Negro Leagues before signing with the Dodgers.
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Famed executive Branch Rickey -- played by Minor Watson in the 1950 film -- convinced Robinson to sign on with the Dodgers, and the rest was sporting and civil rights history. Robinson played for a year with Brooklyn affiliate Montreal in the International League, and then he endured slights most men could hardly imagine when playing for the Dodgers in '47.
Robinson won the National League Rookie of the Year Award that season, but his true achievement was in leveling the playing field so people of all races could play. Major League Baseball later christened April 15 -- the date of his debut -- as Jackie Robinson Day, and his No. 42 was retired league-wide. On Jackie Robinson Day, players can choose to wear it in his honor.
"The stakes were absolutely unbelievable," said Tull. "It's hard for us to imagine what Jackie Robinson went through and what his family went through and the sacrifice he made in a really deliberate way. This year, I had the privilege of being at Yankee Stadium on Jackie Robinson Day. Rachel Robinson was there, and watching every player on the field wear 42 was really special. It's hard to overstate the impact Jackie Robinson made on American culture and on the game."
Robinson, the NL MVP Award winner in 1949 and a World Series champion in '55, was elected to the Hall of Fame in '62.
Rachel Robinson furthered her husband's legacy by creating the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which is dedicated to increasing educational opportunities for minorities with demonstrated financial needs. Robinson issued a statement on Wednesday as part of the Legendary Pictures press release announcing the start of the project.
"My family and I are thrilled to have this important film on Jack produced by Legendary Pictures," she said. "We are proud of his lasting impact on our society, and we know that the legacy he left is inspiring and worth preserving."
The 65th anniversary of Robinson's debut will occur in 2012, and the Foundation is working on opening a museum in Lower Manhattan dedicated to his legacy some time in the next couple years. Tull said it's too early to tell when the motion picture will be ready, but he also said there's an entire team dedicated to making it as good as it can be.
"Right now we're working through the process and making sure we have a screen play," said Tull of the film's potential release date. "It's definitely a movie on the fast track, as long as we can make sure it's as special as we plan it to be. We will not rush it. It's one of those things where we have a sense of urgency, but that's balanced by making sure it's a fantastic movie. We're in production meetings and script meetings, and the second we know what that date is, we'd be happy to share it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.