No, no… I’m not talking about Rocky Balboa. I’m talking about the story of James J. Braddock, better known as “Cinderella Man.” It is on TV tonight, and I was reminded of how much I fell in love with it the first time I rented it (3 or 4 times!). Unfortunately, I must warn you that it DOES have some heavy foul language, although it’s PG-13. If you don’t know the story, it’s a true story of a man who was a truly regular guy. A hard working man from the depression era, who was deeply impacted throughout the period himself, a man who stood in bread lines, and later made headlines because he re-paid his handout that he had received from welfare.
I got interested in this story when I saw Cinderella Man with Russell Crowe (also the Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind), and was reduced to tears several times throughout the movie. One of Braddock’s granddaughters plays a main role in the movie, and she also played a huge role as a consultant for her family; the body language, accent, demeanor, and everything about James J. Braddock was very carefully scripted. He was of the generation of most of our Grandfathers… perhaps the strongest generation our country has ever seen. The moral fiber of this man’s life was amazingly strong. Through extreme poverty, he refused to allow his children to be sent away to relatives, and refused to do anything BUT stand up for his family. He was formerly a prize fighter, a boxer who was decent, but never amazing.
After an injury caused him to stop fighting and go to the shipyards (or wherever he could land a job), he worked for several years and totally forgot about boxing. When a top contender’s opponent quits prior to the fight, Braddock’s old manager got Braddock the fight without his own consent! The money for even stepping into the ring was more than he’d made in years and years.
To make a long story short, he stuns the crowd (and world at that time!) and defeated the top contender, with NO training, and only guts and an iron will. It wasn’t long before he was a folk hero, because he had character and class. Once in the press conference prior to the Heavyweight Championship bout with Max Baer, he was asked, “Mr. Braddock, what are you fighting for… what motivates you in this fight?” Jim replied simply, “Milk.” He was Rocky before there was Rocky. He was the people’s champion, and a force that the depression era working man became empowered by to rise out of his own circumstances. If you haven’t seen it, RENT the movie today! Oh… and he wins the heavyweight championship, stays married to the same woman through it all, and he never loses faith. It’s an incredible “cinderella” story of human will.