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One Tough Baby
JOHN SCHULIAN
January 31, 2005
It may be the most troubled of sports, but boxing still packs a punch in Hollywood. The latest fight film, Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, just may be the greatest ever
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January 31, 2005

One Tough Baby

It may be the most troubled of sports, but boxing still packs a punch in Hollywood. The latest fight film, Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, just may be the greatest ever

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Then everything happened in a rush. Filming started last June and wrapped in August, two days ahead of the 40-day schedule. There was a drive to get the movie out by Christmas so it would qualify for the Oscars. And Ruddy entered the hospital for the prostate cancer surgery he had put off. He doesn't talk about it for public consumption now that he's back on the prowl for his next project, but word gets around, and when you hear it, you realize just how right he was for the movie. And for Toole.

No one can say for sure who the inspiration for Maggie Fitzgerald was. Jerry Boyd did see her, though--after he had written her story. It happened three years ago, when he was helping Huntley train a woman named Juli Crockett. Ever since she had climbed off the deck and won a bout in San Diego, he'd been telling Dub, "That white girl can fight." And then one day he was hanging around the L.A. Boxing Club, hard by a street called Hope, and he found Crockett reading Kierkegaard, the Danish existentialist champion. "Who are you?" he said.

She had a master's in experimental theater and designs on a Ph.D. in philosophy, hardly things that Maggie would have wrapped her head around. But there were other connections. Crockett, from Alabama by way of Florida, had hillbilly roots like Maggie's, and they shared missing fathers too. And the longer Boyd looked, the more he saw that she also had Maggie's build, hair and smile. There was even a sad end awaiting her in the ring, though nothing as tragic as Maggie's, just a shoulder and legs bum enough to make her quit. But before that happened, Boyd made up his mind about who she was. "I was the incarnation of this character he'd created," says Crockett, who is now in her second year of grad school. Sometimes life worked backward like that.

September 2002. Boyd and Huntley had a fighter on a card coming up in Vegas. When they walked to the parking lot behind the gym, Huntley thought they'd be talking about their guy's chances.

"I'm not going with you," Boyd said.

"You're not?"

"I want you to take care of business."

"You know I'm gonna."

"But, Dub, I want to tell you one thing: I love you."

Huntley comes from the South, and these were words he'd never imagined hearing from a white man. But Boyd was as good a friend as you get, no matter what kind of paint job he had. Watched out for Huntley when he was the only black man in a bar, brought doughnuts when they watched the fights at Huntley's place, took Huntley and his wife to dinner at the Hotel Bel-Air--and they'd never been anyplace nicer than that.

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