Baseball tale taps Redford

Multihyphenate sees Robinson biopic as a natural

Robert Redford will play Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey in a feature that chronicles the breaking of baseball’s color barrier. The pic is an untitled drama about Jackie Robinson, Rickey and manager Leo Durocher. Deep River Prods. and Redford’s Wildwood will produce.

Deep River principals Marc Turtletaub and David Friendly are paying William Broyles seven figures to write the script. Robinson’s widow, Rachel, will be involved in mobilizing the project.

Broyles will take on the job after turning in a script adaptation of the Anthony Swofford Gulf War memoir “Jarhead,” which Sam Mendes will direct as his next picture.

Turtletaub and Friendly will produce with Redford and his Wildwood colleague Karen Tinkhoff. Pic marks Redford’s first foray into bigscreen baseball since 1984’s “The Natural”; he and Tinkhoff brought the idea to the Deep River duo, who finance each project through its development fund. Company gets its first screen credit today with the New Line comedy “Laws of Attraction”; Friendly hatched the pic as an original idea.

The Robinson story was most recently explored in “Soul of the Game,” in which Blair Underwood played Robinson. HBO pic focused on the top three players in the Negro Leagues — Satchel Paige, Josh Bell and Robinson — as baseball fans watched to see which would be first to break into the majors.

In the mid-1940s, Rickey scouted the Negro Leagues, lying that he was setting up his own league for black ballplayers when he was really trying to find a player with the resolve to withstand insults and taunts from fans, opposing players and teammates.

“The war had just ended and people were returning to their sense of normalcy, when the most normal thing in life, baseball, was the setting for this groundbreaking event,” Broyles said.

Durocher was a wild man who drank, gambled and caroused, but he embraced the idea.

“Then you had Jackie, an extremely moral and religious person who was as profoundly good as Durocher was profoundly (morally) bad. The way these three different characters came together to break the color barrier is what will give this script its thematic strength,” Broyles said.

Deep River’s strategy is to wait until a project is together before seeking a studio alignment, as it did when placing “The Honeymooners” at Paramount and “Little Miss Sunshine” at Focus Features.

Friendly and Turtletaub said the film will end when Robinson takes the field as a Dodger in 1947. This year, Major League Baseball made April 15 an annual day to recognize Robinson; in 1997, MLB retired his jersey number, 42, for all teams.

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