"I have a couple of questions," I reply. "Why would a movie star play a guy who ends the movie by getting his ass kicked? And how do we explain why Max is built like Mr. Universe?"
With logic that makes me laugh to this day, he says: "Hey, if you can get Schwarzenegger, you get Schwarzenegger. The other stuff will work itself out."
A good thing does happen, though. Someone familiar with our script slips a copy to Rachel Robinson, in the hope she will give her blessings to Pepper and me taking a crack at Mr. and Mrs. Robinson's remarkable tale.
We are told who the producer will be -- he has a few noteworthy credits -- and a deal is cut. Lorimar is backing the movie, ostensibly to air on HBO.
A meeting is held in a packed HBO conference room. Rachel expresses reservations -- it does not escape her eye that there is no non-Caucasian in the room -- but life is short and she is willing to give it a shot.
"The Jackie Robinson Story" is under way. At first, we keep the title of the 1950 film, in which the title role was played by the man himself. In 1990, TNT airs one called "The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson," based on an experience in the U.S. Army. I remember Rachel being pleased by Andre Braugher's portrayal of Jack.
(Note: I have never heard Rachel call her husband by any name but "Jack.")
It is 1991. I have a full-time job -- L.A. sportswriter -- which I have made clear must come first. I spend all morning and afternoon in New York at the Jackie Robinson Foundation, conferring with Rachel and doing research. I catch a 5 p.m. flight to Pittsburgh for a baseball playoff game, cover it, catch a dawn plane to New York, repeat the previous day. I nearly collapse at 5 as I run to grab a cab. I hear my producer tell my partner: "He's not putting in enough time on this!"
Nothing is ever enough. The writers are never right. No draft is acceptable. The producer wants it one way. Rachel wants it a different way. He wants the baseball years. She wants the life beyond baseball. We write it both ways. Both hate it both ways.
We are fired. My co-writer tells me. No one else -- not the producer, not Rachel, not anyone from the studio, not our agent -- ever speaks to me again.
Worse, the film is killed.
Cut to 1994.
I read in Bill Rhoden's column in The New York Times that director Spike Lee is teaming up with Rachel Robinson to do a Jackie movie. Hey, who better? I had long thought Lee to be the right man to do the right thing by 42.
Rhoden writes that documentarian Ken Burns was to do a film, but neglected to consult Rachel first. She is quoted: "I really felt, and I still feel, that a black man can understand another black man and all the nuances of his life better than anyone else can." I do not disagree.
Cut to 1997.
I read a story on how Spike Lee's option has expired. A quote from Rachel: "He couldn't put all the pieces together -- the studios, the funds, the star, the script. It's not the first time the project has been aborted. I've been trying to get a movie done for the past 15 years and haven't succeeded. But I won't give up."
Cut to 2013.
That's right, that's how long it took.
Rachel, you made it. I know writer-director Brian Helgeland made it and Chadwick Boseman made it and Harrison Ford made it, but you made it. You persevered. You endured. You have your whole life. So did Jack.
I give it thumbs-up and, hey, I haven't even seen it.