In advance of "42," the Jackie Robinson biopic that opens Friday, legendary pitcher Don Newcombe spoke with the Bay Area News Group about his onetime Brooklyn Dodgers roommate.

Newcombe, now 86, is helping to promote the film because he wants people -- even Giants fans -- to know more about the man he still refers to as "my idol."

Newcombe debuted in 1949, two years after Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, and would go on to win the rookie of the year award, MVP and Cy Young awards (both in '56) and became the first black pitcher to win 20 games in a season ('55).

Is the Jackie Robinson we see on screen the Jackie Robinson you knew? Did that guy look familiar?

Brooklyn Dodger infielder Jackie Robinson poses in May 1952. (AP Photo)
Brooklyn Dodger infielder Jackie Robinson poses in May 1952. (AP Photo)

Yes. And the guy on the screen, his name is Chad (Boseman). I congratulated him this morning when I met him for the first time. What a fine-looking young man he is and how well he represented Jackie Robinson. I told him, "You are representing my idol."

And Harrison Ford, they made him so close to Branch Rickey facially that I thought it was him when I saw him in the film. I said, "That's Mr. Rickey." With that the one eye of mine I had to look again to make sure it wasn't him.

So they got the casting right.

Oh, yes. The lady who plays Rachel (Robinson, Jackie's wife) — her name is Nicole Beharie — helped made it a great, great story about two young black people who were in love and it just so happened that baseball came along and their lives became a historical thing, an international thing.

When did you first meet Jackie Robinson? I'm guessing you were well aware of him by the time you met face-to-face?

You're right in what you say. I had heard of him — because of his football. But I didn't ever think I'd meet him because I hadn't gotten into the Negro Leagues until 1944. I was 17 years old trying to start a career in baseball and a friend of mine introduced me to Effa Manley, who owned the Newark Eagles. And I went over to her and she sent me to training camp in 1944.

And then when 1945 came along, we were going to play the Kansas City Monarchs in an exhibition series in Ruppert Stadium in Newark, New Jersey. Jackie was on the team with Satchel Paige.

But Mrs. Manley didn't mention Jackie so much — she mentioned Satchel Paige because she had an idea in her mind that maybe Youth against Old Age would be a good thing to get some people into the stadium.

This would be Don Newcombe at 18 years old against Satchel Paige, who we didn't know how old he was, but he was going to be Old Age. Lo and behold we got rained out and it never came along.

So much of the movie is about Jackie's journey through the Negro Leagues and through the minor leagues. How much were young players, young black players, aware of what Jackie was doing?

He was in the newspapers all the time — especially the black-run newspapers. They had Wendell Smith and Sam Lacy, two black newspaper writers, one from Baltimore and one from Pittsburgh, and they traveled with Jackie all the time.

Wendell Smith is shown in the movie with Jackie. He was in training camp with him and all those things when Jackie first started. Wendell was with Jackie all the time.

You and Jackie both played in a golden era of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry. How did that affect your relationship with the Giants' pioneers like Monte Irvin and Willie Mays? Were you friends?

I don't want you to forget — because you haven't mentioned his name yet — I don't want you to forget Roy Campanella.

We were the best friends. When I say "we" I'm talking about Willie Mays and Hank Thompson and Monte Irvin. We had dinner together. We'd have a few drinks together.

Willie didn't drink anything — but I did. Monte did. And Hank Thompson did. And we would have dinner at the place we used to hang out at on 37th Street and 7th Avenue in New York.

Jackie, too?

No, Jackie would go home. He never cared about socializing with carousers like we were. He would go home to his family. He was a family man, oh yeah.

But we were friends. We had a manager with the Dodgers in 1951 and '52 and his name was Chuck Dressen. And Chuck Dressen used to tell the pitching staff, "If Willie Mays hits the first pitch on you, it's going to cost you $50."

Now, I didn't make any money. And I was a pitcher. ... So I told Willie, because we were such good friends off the field, I would tell Willie, "Look, Charlie Dressen is going to fine use $50 if you hit the first pitch. So I'm going to knock you down."

He said, "I don't care. Knock me down. You're going to knock me down anyway. Knock me down and I'll hit the second pitch." And he would. That's the kind of player Willie Mays was.

Jackie didn't socialize off the field, but was he friends with Mays?

Oh, yeah. He'd joke with Willie out on the field. But when I talk about socializing, after the game Jackie had his own people he had dinner with and stuff like that. Jackie didn't drink, didn't smoke and as a result he'd go home to his beautiful family and have dinner with them and enjoy them.

He was a very strong family man. I want you to believe that and don't you forget that.

It's nice to hear that someone so widely admired was a family man.

Let me ask you a question now: Did you ever read anywhere where there was some problem about Jackie Robinson and some of the things he did off the field?

Never once.

Never once, did you? OK. Now that answers the whole question. Anybody who has anything on their mind, tell them Don Newcombe wants you to show him where Jackie Robinson was embarrassing to his family and to baseball — and especially to Branch Rickey, a God-fearing man — because of his actions off the field.

It seems like the movie put a lot of emphasis on the look of 1940s baseball, with the ballparks and the uniforms and the style of play.

I think they did a great job of going back into history and trying to capture what happened.

I find some things (to quibble with). Like one thing: I didn't know Ben Chapman with the Phillies, but I don't think Ben Chapman called Jackie the N-word as many times as he did in the film. I don't think he did it because I don't think the commissioner would have allowed it. He would have suspended Ben Chapman.

When do we get to see the Don Newcombe story on screen?

That ain't going to happen. I'm trying to get '42' to sell.

Jackie Robinson is the man that deserves it. He's entitled to it. And I hope the people go see it and draw their own conclusions about whether or not they like the picture, whether or not they feel it was truthful and then give their own opinions. But I think it was a great effort on the part of Warner Bros. and the people responsible.

If I didn't tell you already I'll tell you again: Whenever I talk about Jackie — if I go out and give a speech somewhere — I stand up on the stage and I cry about some of the things that people tried to do us because we wanted to play baseball like any other American.

I served my country like any other soldier during the Korean War. And Jackie did, too. And I'll tell you, it seems a pitiful thing for the country as great as the United States to allow that to go on in baseball for so long.

I'm glad that Jackie was the man to tear those walls down, along with Branch Rickey.