Locals eager for premiere of ‘42’

April 10, 2013 

Turns out, he doesn’t even own a fedora. But for about two weeks last summer, Joe Kiefer of Warner Robins donned the banded hat, wool suit and patent leather shoes of the classic sportswriter on the trail of the incomparable Jackie Robinson.

Kiefer was one of about 300 Middle Georgians who served as extras for the “42,” the movie about Robinson’s life that opens Friday across the nation. It was on April 15 of 1947 that Robinson broke baseball’s color line as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The movie stars Chadwick Boseman (Robinson) and Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey).

“It was a fluke,” Kiefer said of his involvement in the movie.

Neighbor Frank Dean, who’d been tabbed as a stadium food vendor for shots at Luther Williams Field, showed up at Kiefer’s door and announced there were additional extras needed for the movie.

“What movie?” Kiefer responded.

Apprised of the details, Kiefer submitted a few head and shoulder photos to the email address the neighbor supplied. Less than three hours later, Kiefer received a call back.

“We want to use you,” one of the casting coordinators told him.

Surprisingly, Kiefer took no offense at being typecast as a sportswriter.

Casting calls came early during the 10-hour days of the shoot, but the schedule wasn’t an issue for Kiefer, who was self-employed at the time. Extras received a stipend for their time “and we were well-fed,” he said.

Kiefer counted nine scenes in which he appeared, including one taking place in the sweltering Luther Williams Field clubhouse. He said he was a finalist for a speaking part but lost out to local radio personality Todd Wilson. Of course, Kiefer hasn’t seen the movie yet, so he doesn’t know if any of his scenes made the final cut. He is in a scene from the movie’s trailer, however.

“I can’t wait to see it,” he said. “It’s a good story. It’s a very good story.”

It’s a story that carries special meaning for Kiefer, as well. His parents lived in Brooklyn and used to watch the Dodgers play at Ebbetts Field. Both are deceased, but Kiefer has a pair of uncles who have told him they’re just as excited to see the finished product as he is.

Another Warner Robins extra, Chris Dunn, is organizing a viewing pre-party at Allen’s Stone-Baked Pizzeria on Margie Drive before the Friday premiere.

Unlike Kiefer, Dunn’s involvement was no mere twist of fate.

“They called me,” he said.

The commissioner of a local adult baseball league, Dunn was already known to Hollywood types after he helped them find extras for Clint Eastwood’s “Trouble with the Curve,” which was also filmed in Macon in March 2012.

“It was a great experience and then to have two (baseball movies) back-to-back like that is unheard of,” Dunn said.

Dunn, who is a baseball coach, played one in “42.” Look for him next to Ford in a scene where Boseman enters the field surrounded by reporters, including Kiefer, looking for an angle.

Contact Chris Deighan at cdeighan@cox.net.

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