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James John Corbett became world heavyweight boxing champion on March 17, 1897 when he knocked out John L. Sullivan in twenty-one rounds. He was the first successful fighter to use the Marquis of Queensberry rules. Good looks and a scientific method of boxing earned him the nickname "Gentleman Jim." After he quit boxing in 1903, Corbett starred in several plays, including Gentleman Jack and The Naval Lieutenant, and movies (see index to AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20). In 1886 Corbett married actress Olive Lake, and after their divorce, he married Jessie Taylor of Omaha. He died on February 18, 1933. Several reviews note discrepancies between the film Gentleman Jim and the actual events of Corbett's life. The Variety review states:"...the heavyweight champ was a self-effacing, quiet personality so distinctly apart from the general run of mugg fighters of that day that the 'gentleman' tag was a natural....[He] was a revered member of the Olympic club to the very end.... Corbett fought most of his battles bareknuckle...and he first met Sullivan in a friendly sparring match at the Olympic club some years before their championship battle....Sullivan hated Corbett...[and] never gave Corbett his championship belt-that had been in the hock shops long before their battle...."
A May 31, 1940 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that three major studios were interested in the screen rights to James J. Corbett's autobiography, which was previously serialized in Saturday Evening Post from 11 October-November 25, 1924. Other Hollywood Reporter news items add the following information about the production: Technical advisor Ed Cochrane was the sports editor of the Chicago Herald-American and an authority on James Corbett. Some scenes were filmed on location at the Baldwin Estate in Santa Anita, CA. A press release in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library announces the casting of Phil Silvers, but he does not appear in the film. A New York Times article dated May 31, 1942 identifies Mushy Callahan, former junior welterweight champion, as one of Errol Flynn's trainers. According to information included in the file on the film at the USC Cinema-Television Library, Callahan also doubled for Errol Flynn in some of the shots showing "Corbett's" fancy footwork, although his name never appears in the daily production reports. Other information in the Warner Bros. Collection reveals that Lewis Milestone turned down an offer to direct the film because he did not like the script. Director Raoul Walsh wanted Barry Fitzgerald to play "Corbett's" father and was interested in either Ann Sheridan or Rita Hayworth for the role of "Vicki." Actors Mike Mazurki and Ed "Strangler" Lewis had been professional wrestlers. Shortly after the film's release, Flynn went on trial for statutory rape. Flynn was acquitted, and the highly publicized case apparently did not adversely affect his career.