An Interview with Rocky II Extra Charles Firus
In 1978, a young Rocky fan turned professional movie extra was treated to the chance of a lifetime. A surprise re-shoot for the ending of the first anticipated sequel to Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Then just 22 years old, Charles Firus was a recent radio/TV/film graduate of California State Long Beach, a talented four-time fencing champion in the Orange Coast Divisional and already a Rocky fan.
“My life is an amazing underdog ‘never say die’ story, too,” he says, “I have found Rocky to be very inspirational.”
In 2001, Firus suffered a Pontine Infarct brain-stem hemorrhage, an occurrence that is usually fatal. Among many other physical difficulties brought on by the stroke, Firus became right-side paralyzed. “I had about a 1 in 20 chance of surviving after this stroke. My entire body was affected. I have fought back over the years, slowly getting better. Today, though I still have a few problematic kinks, I am fencing pretty well again, and have placed 3rd three times since my ‘comeback’. I would say I’m 1 in 1,000 to be doing as well as I am.”
Rewind 32 years
“It was probably December, 1978 or maybe January of 1979,” Charlie remembers, “I had just signed up with an extra casting agency that November. My first gig was as an extra in Steven Spielberg’s film, 1941. I know I am definitely visible on screen in that!”
Shortly thereafter, a call came for the next available shoot – the anticipated sequel to the Academy Award winning sensation, Rocky. Evidently a quick one-day setup, the production was scheduled to commence on location to pick up additional footage deemed necessary after the movie’s principal shoot.
The only major alternative aspect about Rocky II‘s second ending revolves around Adrian. In this set-up, rather than staying at home with Paulie and her newborn baby, Adrian (and Paulie) actually attend the fight. As Rocky and Apollo trade their famous flurry of hurtin’ bombs in the 15th round, Paulie and Adrian suddenly enter the arena and as Paulie heads for Rocky’s corner of the ring, Adrian rushes through the crowd and up to the ringside, ultimately wedging herself between frantically shouting members of the seated press corp who are busily covering the climactic final blows.
Rocky wins the title, and in their overwhelming excitement, the screaming crowd begins rushing over the ropes and into the ring, along with Adrian, who is literally swept in along the human tidal wave, and into her husband’s arms. While embracing, Rocky, Adrian and the championship belt are lifted into the air on the shoulders of adoring fans, with Rocky cradling his wife in his arms and she – joyously hoisting the glimmering belt overhead. Fade out.
The Production Set Up
The relatively unannounced shooting was set to take place inside the famed Grand Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles, then the home of the LA Thunderbirds roller derby champs and setting of many a major sporting event. Rocky and Apollo’s original match was also shot on location here. On the streets outside the Olympic, it was business as usual, Charlie recalls, “Nobody had a clue outside the arena. No one was around at all. No bustle. I don’t think the filming was really publicized.”
Inside the auditorium, lights were set, and the production crew was still setting up, the filming had yet to begin. The actors milled about, including the corner men, who were beginning to settle into place along the ropes. Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers went through their paces together in the ring, warming up for the big finale.
Dressed in a pale yellow dress shirt under a tan suit, Charlie entered the arena where he was assigned to play one of the ringside press corps covering Superfight II. He was one of roughly 15 to 20 others assigned the same press corps position, among approximately 150 extras hired for the shoot, which lasted around ten hours.
After announcements and explanations from the first assistant director and other production members, filming finally got underway, beginning with the end of the match. The end of the fight sequence shot on this day is, in Charlie’s memory, identical to what ended up in the final print. Filming the script covering only the 15th round and Rocky’s title win, Stallone took at least a dozen different angles of the battle’s final seconds, and continued with multiple takes.
In between set-ups for this, and the ensuing shots, the awestruck Firus soaked up the atmosphere and managed to chat briefly with Talia Shire and Burt Young during the down time as they waited in the stands. “I was pretty shy so I didn’t meet as many of the principals as I could have. Stallone was in charge, so I received some direction from him a few different times, especially in the ring during different camera set-ups with the ring mob.”
Talia Shire, dressed in the same outfit we’re familiar with from the film’s ending – a red blouse and skirt – wore an additional cream colored, fur collared coat and white knit cap in the arena sequence, as though she’d just come in off the icy streets of Philadelphia. (Talia can also be glimpsed wearing the same hat and coat in a few photos we’re aware of taken during what may be another deleted scene, or photo shoot, when she, Rocky, and Butkus take the new baby out for a walk around the neighborhood.) Shire was positioned directly in front of Charlie’s seat, and from this spot, her master shots and closeups were taken. Director Sylvester Stallone handled these himself, including approximately twenty seconds featuring a string of standard Adrian-to-Rocky encouragements like the always inventive “Get up, Rocky!”
“This all took place directly across the ring from Rocky’s corner which was to my far right. Talia conferred with Stallone in between these shots, and he ran through several sections of closeups on her. I couldn’t see her face as she was a foot or two in front of me, but I was in the thick of it. The extras got direction from Stallone, too.”
And as for Paulie? He didn’t stay home this night, either! “Seems to me that Paulie was already in Rocky’s corner by the time Adrian arrived at ringside; I think they came running into the auditorium together. I remember that Burt Young had his closeups taken from Rocky’s corner.”
The Crowd Rushes In
“The rushing of the ring at the end of the fight was well orchestrated,” Charlie remembers. “About thirty people, hurriedly rushing in from different directions, entered the ring in the first wave after Rocky’s big win – I was included in this initial group – I climbed up through the ropes and into the ring. Afterwards, in another shot, roughly twenty additional extras were sent in, creating even more chaos.”The crowd lifts Rocky and Adrian
“I can’t remember those rapid few seconds of the rushing that well – it was great fun though. It seems like Adrian entered a few seconds after the first wave of us did. Hers was a separate shot I think, and Talia was helped up and into to the ring by a few stuntmen. It all happened very quickly.”
“It was cool how Stallone directed us in the ring. For instance, just prior to filming the first few seconds after Adrian scrambles through the extras and stunt guys to reach Rocky, Stallone had assigned numbers to each of us extras to rush across the frame at different times and from different directions. There were number ones and twos, and so on, and we’d do our walking on the numbered cue. There was a lot happening fast, and lots of different angles.”
Upon finally thrashing her way through the crowd and reaching the jubilant but exhausted new heavyweight champ, Adrian embraces her husband and the two speak to each other briefly in an exchange that Charlie recalls being “pretty similar to the original Rocky. I know I was in the center of the shot when Stallone and Shire speak to each other face to face.”
Both professional and personal cameras were clicking away from the press row and other areas all around the ring during the entire shoot. “I sure wish I’d brought my camera,” Charlie laments, “One of my life’s regrets is that I had no camera at the Rocky II alternate ending.”
Although as yet, the footage shot this day remains unseen by the public, we thankfully do have a few stills snapped that day by the production, and these depict what would surely have been the most memorable moment of this ‘lost’ scene – the crowd holding Rocky, holding Adrian, holding the belt. “That moment happened so quickly!,” Charlie says, “There were stuntmen who hoisted Adrian and Rocky up right in front of me. I remember seeing the handheld camera aimed just ahead of them and pointing my way.”
And was that it? “I would say that appeared to be the ending. I imagine it would have faded out on a still frame right there after the two of them are lifted.”
Naturally, Charlie has examined the film closely through the years, but unfortunately, has never caught a glimpse of himself. “It seems like I was cut along with the alternate ending footage. I feared – joked, really – that my mug plastered all throughout this ending footage was the reason for the axe. I kidded that Stallone’s people were out to kick my ass for wrecking the ending.”Charlie’s arm (with yellow sleeve) appears at the far right of this still
There’s a chance – Firus says – that his arm is visible in one of the surviving stills of this final scene. “I think that guy in the lower right corner of the photo with the black hair and beard was one of the extras. I think you can see my partial right arm and hand above that guy’s head – I remember being right there. They did several takes of us scrambling after they’d raised Rocky and Adrian. It sure looks like my wrist in that photo.”
“I just wanna say one thing to my wife who’s home . . .”
“At the filming that day, I assumed that they were just re-shooting additional footage for the end and adding it to what had already been shot. I didn’t think that it might be an alternate ending. I was crushed when the movie came out and for the first time, I saw that Adrian was staying at home! It was very depressing for me, not seeing my mug on the big screen.”
Asked how he feels the two endings compare, Charlie says, “I liked the ending I was in better, of course. The story seemed to play out better.”
Many fans have expressed confusion as to why this particular ending was eliminated, and why Paulie and Adrian were ultimately made to stay at home rather than going along to cheer Rocky on. One explanation that’s been floating around for a few years is that Talia Shire was busily performing in another movie at the time and couldn’t attend the filming of Rocky’s title win. This doesn’t really wash though, since Shire DID attend this particular shoot, giving the editors two versions of the ending to work with.
Firus offers his own simple explanation, guessing that the filmmakers deemed this alternate ending much too similar to Rocky I’s ending to include in the final print. In seeing Adrian and Paulie glued to the tube, watching the fight on television, we’re provided with a slightly different experience, as well as one of the most iconic lines of dialogue in the entire series: “Yo, Adrian, I did it!” Whether or not Rocky would have said this same line to Adrian in the alternate ending doesn’t change the fact that it is surely more powerful just as it is – an emotional high and a declaration of all that is Rocky Balboa coming across the screen – not only to the tearful Adrian, but to we fans as well.
“It was totally fun and great time for me. The original Rocky film was inspirational for me, especially being a Radio/TV/Film major. The whole experience was just surreal. But the big question is – where is the alternate end hiding and who still wants to kick my ass?!”
If you have or are aware of any additional photos, footage or information pertaining to this lost scene from Rocky II, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us.