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CINDERELLA MAN

Rediscovering America's Cinderella Man
Jim Braddock rose from obscurity to become a household hero in the 1930s, but by the end of the century, his story of remarkable courage and devotion had nearly been lost. Yet for those working in the world of sports and sports journalism, particularly boxing, the legend he created continued to win fans and devotees among many who happened upon the archival press coverage of the fighter and his rise-to-fame matches.

Longtime sports and boxing fan Cliff Hollingsworth was one of those touched by Braddock's story and felt the man's driving battle to provide for his family (and unanticipated fame that resulted from his upset matches) was a great tale deserving of a big screen adaptation. Beyond the simple sports victory lay a larger tale of personal triumphs that become the stuff of dreams.

"The journey began in 1994 when I happened to think about Jim Braddock and his incredible rags-to-riches story and I thought what a great movie that would make,” remembers Hollingsworth. "I was already familiar with the story. As a longtime boxing fan, I'd read about all of the former heavyweight champions and Jim Braddock has always been my favorite.”

Through a fortuitous turn of events, Hollingsworth was able to contact one of Braddock's nephews, who put him in touch with Braddock's two sons, Jay and Howard; they then agreed to cooperate with the writer. In subsequent meetings, the Braddock sons shared stories of their famous father and later, an initial draft of the script met with the family's approval.

"The Jim Braddock story is unusual in more ways than one,” observes Hollingsworth. "He inspired the nation in 1935 and was a national hero, yet he became a largely forgotten figure. Jay told me of how he would mention that his father was once the heavyweight champion of the world and usually the person would never have heard of Jim Braddock—that was very frustrating for him. It's my hope that this forgotten hero will be remembered once again.”

Another longtime boxing fan who became committed to telling Braddock's story once he heard the gripping details of the boxer's transformation into the Cinderella Man was actor Russell Crowe. Crowe was so deeply moved by Braddock's journey—from a man on the street trying to keep his beloved family from the clutches of poverty to an invincible sports champion and hero of the common person—that he devoted himself to bringing it to the screen. Crowe saw Braddock as unique among movie heroes in that he wasn't fighting for a cause or for fame or even for personal victory so much as he was just doing everything in his power to take care of those he loved. It was this "ordinariness” that had made Braddock such a crowd-pleasing hero in the 1930s and Crowe felt today's audiences would be equally riveted by what the athlete had achieved in the name of simply being a husband and a father.

"For me, Cinderella Man is the story of how one family survived the Depression,” says Crowe, whose earlier portrait of a Roman general turned arena fighter in Ridley Scott's Gladiator won the Academy Award® for Best Actor. "Braddock went on with his life after boxing, bringing up his family, working for a living, loving his wife and watching his children grow and his grandchildren born and in 1974, dying in the house he bought with the winnings from that fight way back in 1935. I took his legacy to heart. I wanted people to hear this true American story.”

Crowe continued to be fascinated by Braddock over the next few years. Then came A Beautiful Mind, in which Crowe starred as the genius Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash, Jr., in a story about both the fragility and the triumphs of the human spirit. That film, which went on to win the Oscars® for Best Picture and Best Director, among others, was directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer and Howard.

After Crowe and Howard got to know each other better while work

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