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Contributed Photo Courtesy of the Braddock Family

ONE OF THE highlights of the LA premiere for Jay Braddock was meeting the man who played his grandfather on the silver screen. With makeup, Russell Crowe so closely resembled James J. Braddock it gave the younger Braddock chills. But, he said, all the Hollywood “big shots” were incredible – both in their roles and in person.

Braddock Family
Enjoys Premiere

By Jeanne Sager
NORTH BRANCH — June 10, 2005 – It’s not every day a Sullivan County resident can turn on the television and hear their name – no matter the channel, no matter the time.
But James J. “Jay” Braddock III isn’t your everyday Sullivan County resident.
The part-time North Branch resident is the grandson of James J. Braddock, the central character in “Cinderella Man,” the movie already being hailed as “the” film to see this summer.
Directed by Ron Howard, the film follows the elder Braddock from his days as a young man living the good life, with good investments in a growing taxicab company in New York City, to the days of the Depression.
“The next thing you know, the taxi is gone, the house is gone . . .” Jay Braddock explained.
But James J. Braddock was a fighter – literally and figuratively.
He headed to the docks daily to keep food on the table for wife Mae and their three children, Howard, Rosemarie and James Jr. (Jay’s father).
And when he could get a fight, he headed into the ring to let his fists earn his keep.
The man who would eventually go on to become the heavyweight champion of the world in a rags-to-riches, Cinderella-like story (as the movie’s title implies) is shown just the way Jay and his family remembers – as a man with strong moral fiber and a desperate love of family.
Flown out to the Los Angeles premiere with much of his family two weeks ago, Jay Braddock got his first glimpse of the film in its entirety.
“We were all just thrilled,” he said. “The way they portrayed my grandfather, the way they portrayed my grandmother, my father, my uncle, my aunt . . .
“It’s all true to life,” he said. “My uncle, Howard, said he doesn’t remember being quite that poor, but they change things a little.
“As far as the fights, all that is true – Max Baer, people dying in the ring, only getting one day’s notice before fighting Corn Griffin . . . it’s all true,” Jay explained.
James J. Braddock’s boxing story, which is interwoven with the tale of his family’s survival during the Great Depression, is one of true determination.
The son of Irish immigrants, Braddock was athletic as a kid, and he was known to throw a punch or two on the playground, just for fun.
His first “real” fight put him up against a police officer from Fort Lee, NJ, named Tommy Hummell.
Then boxing as Jimmy Ryan, the fighting Irishman and his battle were written up as the best of the evening’s card.
And three years later, when Braddock turned pro in 1926, he was overwhelming the competition right and left, securing victories against guys like Jimmy Slattery and Pete Latzo that sent him to the light heavyweight championship bout in 1929.
And that’s where his story took a sad turn.
In a heart-breaking 15-round decision, Braddock lost the title fight to Tommy Loughran. Two months later, when the stock market plummeted, Braddock lost everything else.
The fighter who’d been at the top of his game and on top of the world was suddenly struggling to find a fight and feed his family.
The movie, with Russell Crowe as James Braddock and Renee Zellweger as his wife, Mae, captures their story perfectly, Jay said.
And the real “surprise” of the film is Paul Giamatti who plays Braddock’s loyal manager Joe Gould.
“He’s absolutely amazing,” Jay noted.
Gould never gave up on Braddock, even when he lost 16 of 22 fights and shattered his right hand landing a punch.
Eventually, Gould would prove to be a fairy godmother, securing Braddock a fight on a day’s notice against John "Corn" Griffin.
The match was the under-card fight for that evening's heavyweight championship fight between Max Baer and Primo Carnera, and the money would mean the Braddock family could pay off their bills.
That night in 1934, Braddock did something no one imagined. He knocked Griffin out in the third round.
He was given another chance to fight, but once again critics weren’t giving him a chance of winning.
This time, Braddock was victorious after 10 rounds with John Henry Lewis.
And he was on the path to the heavyweight championship match against the feared Max Baer, a man who’d killed in the ring, a man who many feared would kill James Braddock.
Training for that fight, Braddock brought his family to Sullivan County.
He worked out in Loch Sheldrake, and the family rented a home in North Branch (next door to the house they eventually bought, a house the family still shares today with Jay spending much of his time there).
The country air and the time to train proved to be the key to victory.
A 10-to-1 underdog walking into the title fight, Braddock defeated the world’s heavyweight champion, Max Baer, on June 13, 1935 in Long Island City.
The scene in the movie, choreographed based on actual footage of the Braddock-Baer fight, has been touted by critics to be one of the most intense in boxing movie history.
It’s a scene Director Ron Howard has told folks was incredible for him to direct – because it was the first fight his father ever heard, a story he told over and over to his young son.
For Jay Braddock, who attended some of the filming of the fight scenes, all shot in Toronto, it’s the cap to an excellent movie that pays tribute to an amazing man.
“To see it from filming to onscreen is kind of overwhelming,” Braddock noted.
His family has played a role since the beginning, with Jay’s father, James Jr., Uncle Howard and a cousin, Joe (the only living relative who attended the Baer fight) all telling their stories to screenwriter Cliff Hollingsworth back when the process started in the 1990s.
Cousin Rosemarie DeWitt, the daughter of Jay’s aunt, plays Sara Wilson in the movie, a neighbor of her grandfather and wife of James J. Braddock’s friend Mike.
A theatre actress, this was her first real break into big-time movies.
“She was unbelievable – we’re all really proud of her,” Jay noted.
But the person Jay is most proud of is his grandfather, his namesake.
“I’m just very proud to be part of this family,” Jay said. “People are really looking up to my grandfather.
“On the Website, people are writing in and saying, ‘We need more men like James J. Braddock.’
“It gives me a lot to live up to,” James III said. “I carry the name, so I’ve always tried to carry on like him.”
Jay, the youngest grandchild, has always been fascinated by his grandfather’s story. He’s the unofficial family historian, buying up pictures of his grandfather the fighter and researching his story on the Internet.
With the help of cousin John Van Vugt, a Web designer, Jay manages his grandfather’s Website, www.
Now that Website is being promoted on the Universal Pictures Website, www.cinderellamanmovie .com, as well.
Watching his family’s story play out on screen has been an incredible experience for Jay Braddock.
“I had this small out-of-body experience,” he confessed. “Here’s your family, onscreen, that’s your grandfather up there.”
And watching that story, the story of his grandfather, touch a nation, has touched his heart.
“It’s made me appreciate the family I have and my grandfather’s legacy.”
Although James. J. Braddock died in 1974, Jay Braddock sees that legacy will live on.
Here in Sullivan County, residents who remember their most famous neighbor fondly are preparing a party to celebrate the premiere of the film at the Callicoon Theater in early July.

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