The true story of Jim Braddock was similar to the story of many Americans. He made a lot of money in the
1920s as a successful boxer, and he and his family had everything they wanted. But for Braddock, too, the good
times couldn’t last. He lost all of his money in 1929, and he experienced bad luck in his professional life when he
began to lose fights. Like many Americans, Braddock had to take any work he could find. He had to fight just to
put food on the table for his family. Most people believed that his life as a professional heavyweight boxer had
ended. The story of his second chance is one of the sport’s greatest stories.
It was a story that the writer and boxing supporter Cliff Hollingsworth knew well. Thinking that it would make a
great movie, he spoke to Jim Braddock’s sons in 1994. They told him that their father had been a national hero,
but that now most people hadn’t heard of him. Hollingsworth wanted to change that situation so “this forgotten
hero will be remembered once again.” Actor Russell Crowe became interested in making a movie of Braddock’s
story. Crowe, who was born in New Zealand and grew up in Australia, told how Braddock did everything
possible to support his family. “I just wanted people to hear this true American story,” said the actor.
Filmmaker Ron Howard learned more about the possible movie when he made A Beautiful Mind with Russell
Crowe. Howard already knew about Braddock—when he was little, his father had told him about the fighter.
It was clear to the filmmakers that Braddock’s wife and family were the most important things in his world, so
they knew that the character of Jim’s wife, Mae, was very important to the movie. Actress Renee Zellweger was
interested in playing Mae because
Mae was a strong woman at a time when many women had no voice at all. “She’s never afraid to tell Jim what’s
in her heart, even when it’s not what he wants to hear,” said Zellweger. Before the movie could be made, Russell
Crowe had a lot of work to do. After his last movie, the actor weighed 103 kilograms. Jim Braddock fought at 81
kilograms and he was taller than Crowe, so the actor had to lose weight. He did this by methods from Braddock’s
days—swimming, running, riding a bicycle, and climbing.
He also had to study boxing, working long hours at the punching bag and in the ring. He was helped by the most
famous trainer in boxing’s history, Angelo Dundee, who has worked with Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, and
the greatest champion of them all, Muhammad Ali. The trainer helped Crowe to box, and to box just like Jim
Braddock. Dundee spoke of the actor’s speed and skill in the ring. “Best of all, he has learned to think like a
fighter,” said the famous trainer.
Crowe was also not afraid of pain. He was knocked down several times and suffered loose and broken teeth; one
week before filming began, his shoulder was badly hurt. When the movie was made, some of Braddock’s
opponents were played by real boxers, who had to learn to throw punches that didn’t hurt so much. They didn’t
always remember! In one scene, boxer Mark Simmons hit Crowe so hard that actor Paul Giamatti, playing
Braddock’s manager, heard the boxing glove hit Crowe’s head. Giamatti’s look of shock in the film wasn’t acting!
“I don’t know how he continued with the fight,” said Giamatti. In the end, Cinderella Man is not just a story
about boxing. It is the story of a family who stayed together in hard times—the story of a man who fought for
what he loved and believed in.
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