published Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Chattanooga's Engel Stadium goes back to the '40s

Sarah Rittenhouse, left, and other actors in period clothing file into Engel Stadium as the production crew does camera tests at the historic ballpark on Wednesday in preparation for a movie about Jackie Robinson.
Sarah Rittenhouse, left, and other actors in period clothing file into Engel Stadium as the production crew does camera tests at the historic ballpark on Wednesday in preparation for a movie about Jackie Robinson.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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    The production crew does camera tests at Engel Stadium on Wednesday in preparation for a movie about Jackie Robinson.
    Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

On April 11, 1947, Alan Ruderman sat in the stands of Ebbets Field to watch baseball star Jackie Robinson and the rest of the Brooklyn Dodgers take on the New York Yankees in an exhibition game.

That was just one of 75 times that he would see Robinson play, he said, and that's not including the one time Ruderman met Robinson, the first black player in major league baseball.

On Wednesday, he got to be near Robinson again, if only in his mind.

Sitting in the sweltering stands of Engel Stadium on Wednesday, Ruderman was an extra for the upcoming Robinson biopic "42." Wearing 1940s-era suspenders, a tie, a dark shirt and gray slacks, he and about 40 other extras were asked on cue to cheer, or boo, for Jackie Robinson.

"I loved the man; he died too young," Ruderman said. "He may have been the best athlete of the 20th century."

"42" stars Harrison Ford as Dodger President Branch Rickey and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson.

On Wednesday, the extras were part of preproduction of the upcoming Robinson movie, allowing the camera crew to adjust the lens' focus and prepare camera angles for when real filming begins next month, extra Hunter Clowdus said. Filming is set to begin at Engel Stadium and other locations through June.

Clowdus, 20, originally auditioned for a role as one of the Brooklyn Dodgers, but was "cut from the actual team" for being too young, he said. During Wednesday's session, he was a stand-in for the actor who'll play third base, helping the film crew establish shots surrounding that actor.

"They would focus on the player in the foreground, then focus on the crowd," Clowdus said. "When everyone rolls in, things will be ready."

The extras had received calls after submitting their photos to the talent agency casting the film. The roles called for 1940s attire. Extra Jacquelyn Rogers looked to photos of her family for guidance on what to wear.

"It was great fun to play dress-up," Rogers said in her pink patch-pocketed dress and white hat, showing pictures of her parents and aunt in the 1940s. "The extras had plenty of time to talk, and it was great to hear everyone's story."

Joining Rogers and the rest of the extras were mannequins that filled up any leftover seats in the stadium, she said.

"It was quite humorous to turn around and see dummies looking forward with fixed stares," she said. "They could make a zombie baseball film right now if they wanted to."

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