When the screen version of the story of the first African American in baseball is released Friday, few will be happier than Santa Cruzan Craig Comstock, who spent five months in record heat waves in the south helping to bring the story to life.
The movie could do for Jackie Robinson, whose uniform number gives the film its name, 42, what Ray did for Ray Charles. It should revive Robinson, who was a household name for most of his life, and bring his trials and tribulations back into the light of day.
Robinson, who is considered a hero today for breaking the color barrier, was reviled by many when he became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball since 1889, and took beatings both on and off the field. Brooklyn Dodger owner Branch Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, signed Robinson and encouraged him to break the race barrier.
"I'm really excited about seeing it," said Comstock Thursday from Hollywood. He hadn't been able to see early previews because he was working on another project with director Sam Raimi, who previously directed the first three Spider-man movies. "I'll see it at home for the first time with my wife Pamela and son, Cooper."
The 45-year-old Santa Cruz High graduate has come a long way since he stepped out onto the basketball court at Aptos High School to try out for job on the 1986 made-for-TV movie Brotherhood of Justice, which was filmed in Santa Cruz. His first job was to stand in the lighting so it could be set for the real actors.
But the bug bit and he landed more jobs behind the scenes in such movies as The Joy Luck Club and So I Married an Axe Murderer.
"It's what I've always wanted to do," said Comstock, who never attended film school because he got more from on-the-job training. "Every day on a movie set is different."
Movies have taken him to all 50 states and around the world. His wife Pamela is a city councilmember, and works for the Scotts Valley company that makes AutoTune. He said he's been lucky to work in Hollywood but comes home to Santa Cruz all of his life. Two years ago he worked locally and lived at home while filming the surf epic, Chasing Mavericks.
"But this might be the most well-received film I've worked on."
He said the challenges included making every scene look like it was filmed in the 1940s. They had hordes of extras and filmed the Ebbets Field scenes in Chattanooga, Tenn. during relentless summer heat waves. They also filmed in small towns in Georgia and Alabama as wel as New York.
Robinson was born in Cairo, Georgia. His wife, Rachel Robinson, 90, visited the set and was happy with the movie. Baseball great Hank Aaron also visited.
Comstock said he's become used to meeting stars in his role as the director who makes sure the film sticks to schedule. But going into Harrison Ford's hotel room for this one gave him chills.
"When I went through the door, I felt it in my throat," said Comstock.
"He said, 'So you're the guy with the bad news,'" referring to the schedules. But at the end of the shoot, Comstock said Ford thanked him and said the production went seamlessly. "It was the greatest thing he could say."
Comstock said he hopes Santa Cruzans see the movie because of the important points it makes about bridging the racial divide in the country.
"It's such an important movie. Jackie Robinson is an American hero."
42 plays locally:
CineLux 41st Avenue Cinema 1475 41st Avenue, Capitola, CA1:00 4:00 7:00 10:00pm
CineLux Scotts Valley Cinema 226 Mount Hermon Road, Scotts Valley, CA 11:15am 1:00 2:15 4:00 5:15 7:00 8:15 10:00pm