The Cleveland Browns probably lost the championship of the Eastern Conference of the National Football League on the playing fields of Beechwood Park School for Boys near London last week. That is where Jim Brown, the best running back in the game for the past nine years, announced his retirement.
Brown was on location for his role as Robert Jefferson in the movie The Dirty Dozen. Dressed in combat fatigues, Brown called a hurried press conference, read a brief, rather formal statement during the lunch break at the studio, then answered questions for a few minutes before returning to the business of making a movie.
The next day, working outdoors in a stockade, which is the set for part of the motion picture, Brown was relaxed and genial as he discussed his decision. He sat slouched in a canvas folding chair with his name on the arm and on the back, while the movie crew worked on shots involving other actors.
"It was the right time to retire," he said thoughtfully. "You should get out at the top. And in the last three years, with Blanton Collier and Art Modell, I have been able to do all the things I wanted to do. Now I want to devote my time to other things."
"Do you want to be an actor?" he was asked.
"I am an actor," Brown said irritably. "What does it take before you are an actor? One picture? Ten? Twenty? I have one picture under my belt, and I'm working on this one. I am being paid for it. I belong to the union. What the future holds for me as an actor depends on my producers.
"I've got a lot to learn," he continued, "but I'm working on it. I'm lucky. I've had two real good directors, and directors are everything to me. First Gordy Douglas and now Bob Aldrich. Gentlemen. They do things quiet and easy. And I'm fortunate to be working with what you might term the big boys, starting with Lee Marvin. But I've got a lot of the little things to learn on my own. When you're in a scene with another actor, it's competition, baby. You're competing with him. The oldtimers know all the tricks, and they'll do things to surprise you or to take the attention away from you."
The scene was completed and a new one was begun. Brown turned the conversation back to football.
"I think the Browns will be all right." he said. "They may be even better without me because they will have a more diversified attack. Leroy Kelly will get a chance to play more now, and that's all he ever needed. And Ernie Green is a fine back. I'll be in touch all the time. Most of them are my boys, anyway, so I'll know what is going on. I may miss the action on Sunday afternoon, watching and thinking of the things I could be doing, but that's all. It would be different if I were out of touch, but they are my friends, and Mr. Modell and I are still friendly."
Robert Ryan, who plays a colonel in the movie, was on camera now. He is a heavy in this picture, and he delivered a short, ominous speech, which Brown listened to with admiration. "Now what I want to do." he said when it was over, "is spend time with my organization. That's the Negro Industrial and Economic Union. I'm chairman of the board, and John Wooten [an offensive guard for the Browns] is president.