Attentive viewers of the climactic fight of Cinderella Man, Ron Howard's Depression-era crowd-pleaser, will notice a Star of David on the red trunks of Max Baer, the lethal opponent of Jim "Cinderella Man" Braddock. The star is significantly less prominent than the one that the real Baer wore in the 1935 fight. It's no surprise that Howard would obscure this detail, as it would complicate his film's Rocky-meets-Seabiscuit narrative. What's funny, and ironic, is that by downplaying Baer's Star of David, Howard may be making an accurate historical comment: Baer was the only self-proclaimed Jew to ever claim the heavyweight crown. But was he really even Jewish?
To be sure, Cinderella Man's ...view middle of the document...
It was his finest hour in the ring.
In the post-fight coverage, however, Baer's new "racial" identity raised eyebrows. As reported in the New York Times:
[Baer] explained yesterday, however, that he wore this insignia for the first time, because he is partly Jewish. "My father is Jewish and my mother is Scotch-Irish," said Baer. "I wore the insignia because I thought I should, and I intend to wear it in every bout hereafter."
Over the years, the significance of Baer's gesture has been dismissed as a publicity stunt in a sport that thrives on racial and ethnic conflict. Jeremy Schaap, the author of Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer, and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History,takes a more nuanced view. Schaap establishes that Baer's father was at least half-Jewish before arguing that Baer's manager, Ancil Hoffman, stoked his boxer's ethnic consciousness as a motivating tool. Baer Jr. confirms this view. "My dad didn't know who Hitler was. He only read the sports pages, but Hoffman kept drilling it into his head, 'You're fighting for the Jews.' "
Baer's prominent display of the Star of David came at a time of continuous bad tidings from Germany. Anti-Jewish boycotts were under way, Jews were being expelled from official positions, and Dachau had opened for...