Now, Cliff Hollingsworth and James J. Braddock III are amazed at the amount of attention they have received ever since the release of the "Cinderella Man," the Universal Pictures/Imagine Entertainment motion picture that is the life story of former North Bergen and West New York resident James J. Braddock, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world from 1935 through 1937.
Began with interviews
It was back in 1994 that Hollingsworth had the idea to write a screenplay about the life of Braddock. He had written several other screenplays in his career, most notably "Too Good To Be True," a low budget film released in 1997 starring Peter Lucas and Lisa Welti.
It's safe to say that his work involving the life story of Jim Braddock became a labor of love.
Hollingsworth began by interviewing two of Braddock's three children, Jay and Howard. The champ also had a daughter, Rose Marie, who has since passed away, much like son Jay. Howard is alive and lives in South Jersey.
During that time, when Hollingsworth was interviewing the Braddocks for his screenplay, he became friendly with Jay Braddock's son, James J. Braddock III, also known as Jay Jr.
"Cliff and I go back a long time together," Jay Jr. said last week. "It was great that he showed so much interest in my grandfather."
After writing the screenplay, Hollingsworth took his screenplay to several studios to see if they were interested in putting it on the silver screen. No such luck.
Crowe and Howard got it But when Oscar-winner Russell Crowe got his hands on the original screenplay and he delivered it to director Ron Howard, the "Cinderella Man" became reality.
And when the movie opened last month in Los Angeles, Hollingsworth, the screenwriter, and Braddock, the grandson, were reunited at the premiere.
"I went to the premiere in Los Angeles, but I really didn't want to go," said Hollingsworth, whose original screenplay was used in the movie along with the work of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who has a long history in working on Ron Howard projects. "I lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, but it was still something I wasn't used to. I never had been to a big premiere before. I thought I had seen the bright lights, but nothing like this. The best description I could give it was surreal. It really was surreal."
"I'm in the entertainment business," Braddock said. "So I had an idea about going to Hollywood, and the parties and what goes on. But this was amazing."
Since the movie's release in June, the demands on both Hollingsworth and Braddock have been intense. Hollingsworth has had several requests for interviews, but has turned most down. He's not comfortable being in the spotlight.
"I've been getting a lot of calls locally from people who are asking for me to help their son or daughter get into the movies," Hollingsworth said. "I've had other calls from people selling their movie ideas to me. I also got a few calls from strangers as well. A production company wanted to do a documentary on me, how I beat my head and struggled with this project. I was flattered by that, but turned it down. I'm kind of like Jim Braddock. I don't like the limelight."
In the middle of the process, after the movie had begun production and filming in Toronto, Hollingsworth was embroiled in a battle with Howard, Goldsman, and producer Brian Glazer about how much of the finished product he should be credited for. Imagine Entertainment tried to say that Hollingsworth used a prior published work as the basis to his screenplay, and in fact tried to use an article published in the North Bergen Reporter as proof that Hollingsworth's screenplay was adapted and not original.
But a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled last February that Hollingsworth's work was indeed original, after affidavits written by local reporters were introduced in court, saying that Hollingsworth was never contacted for the original article published in the North Bergen Reporter.
It made the process a little more trying for Hollingsworth, but he was still proud and pleased with the finished product.
"It really is a thrill," Hollingsworth said. "The whole thing, the process, was all worth it. I'd say the movie is the culmination of a long, long journey. I liked the movie a lot. It held true to the character of Jim Braddock. I know his son Howard is thrilled with the movie. We've spoken a few times since it came out. I was pleased with the way Ron Howard captured the time period. It made you feel like you were in the Great Depression."
100th and 70th anniversary Jay Braddock also loved the movie. He appeared at a ceremony last week at the North Bergen Free Public Library, honoring the 100th anniversary of his grandfather's birth and the 70th anniversary of his great upset victory over Max Baer to win the heavyweight championship of the world.
"They all did such an amazing job," said the younger Braddock, who was able to unveil a plaque that was originally given to his grandfather in 1971 at the library presentation last week. "Russell Crowe is the man. I couldn't see anyone else doing the movie. He was really amazing. We went up to see the filming in Maple Leaf Gardens [in Toronto] last summer. It was 110 degrees inside the building and about 120 inside the ring, with all the lights. And Russell never once got out of the ring. He kept going for hours."
Added Braddock, "I know my family loved it. I really loved the fact that Ron Howard captured the Great Depression as well as he did. He made a bigger impact on me than what I expected. It was an eye-opening experience for me, because I got to see what my grandparents and my parents went through during that time. It was an awesome movie. The acting was great."
Braddock's mother, Jane, was also able to attend the presentation at the North Bergen library last week. Jay said he was happy to finally see the movie get produced, after all that Hollingsworth went through to get it to the silver screen.
"It took so much time to get the story right, get it done right," Braddock said. "It really was something special. We're all very proud of the movie."
Lots of competition The American public has not embraced the movie as widely as expected. While the reviews have been positive, the movie was filmed with a budget of $88 million and it has grossed just over $50 million thus far. AMC Theaters is now offering a money-back guarantee if moviegoers don't like it. It has been pulled from many theaters nationwide, with Glazer admitting recently that it was a mistake to release it in the summertime against the major blockbusters like "Star Wars" and "War of the Worlds."
There is talk that the movie may be re-released in the fall to spark up Academy Award consideration.
But the interest in the movie and the life of the former heavyweight champion has given both Hollingsworth and Braddock a different perspective of their lives.
Braddock has made a few appearances in North Jersey, like the one last week, with people wanting to know more and more about the champ and local hero.
"People are really fascinated with the story of my grandfather," Braddock said. "Now, a gigantic portion of the country knows who he is and what he accomplished. I am amazed and blown away with the many letters and e-mails I've received. People are thrilled to know who my grandfather was, where he lived, where the house is in North Bergen. A lot of people now know about him and that's great."
Hollingsworth's life has totally changed. He's already hired a new agent. Other scripts that he had written before "Cinderella Man" are now being considered.
"I decided to sit on the other scripts I wrote until 'Cinderella Man' was produced," Hollingsworth said. "Had I known it was going to take this long, I might have reconsidered. People look at me now in a different way. I've received a lot of calls already for other things I've written. This is definitely something they can't take away from me, and hopefully, I can build on it."
And continue to build on the friendship Hollingsworth has developed with the Braddock family.
"That's another thing that no one can take away," Hollingsworth said. "I will forever be a friend to the Braddock family."