By Vernon Scott
The most exciting actor in Hollywood today is newcomer Sylvester Stallone, the writer-star of Rocky, an old-fashioned movie which may well become a classic.
Rocky is called the Italian stallion, an appellation which applies to Stallone himself, a raw, handsome stud of a man.
The son of an Italian immigrant, Stallone was a street kid with a penchant for trouble. He straightened out enough to graduate from the University of Miami in 1969. He became an unsuccessful actor and an undistinguished television writer. Then he wrote Rocky. United Artists wanted the prize-fight picture for James Caan or Burt Reynolds. Stallone said no. He would play Rocky or it wouldn’t be played at all.
“They offered me $265,000 and 5% of the profits,” Stallone said. “When I turned it down I had exactly $106 to my name and my wife was pregnant.
“It wasn’t a matter of courage. I wasn’t tempted to sell the story. My agent, my parents and friends said sell. But something told me not to let it go.
“I believe it was destiny. I always wanted to play a fighter and this was a big opportunity. Maybe the only opportunity.
“If I’d sold my script I wouldn’t have gone for the whole shot – which is what Rocky is all about. It was my chance to shoot for the top. I become very stupid when I become adamant.”
Thus far Rocky, an enormous hit, has played in only 16 theaters in seven cities. Patrons interrupt the film to stand and cheer. Rocky is a throwback to better movie days. It has a happy ending.
Rocky is a hero to root for – and so is Stallone. Both are underdogs who rise to the occasion against impossible odds.
Stallone and Rocky share little other than their triumphs and broad shoulders. Rocky is a plodding, inarticulate third-rate boxer, a gentle soul, a misfit. Stallone is bright ambitious and confident.
“I saw the first day’s rushes at 4 a.m. on location in Philadelphia,” Stallone said, “and I knew this would be better than On the Waterfront. “To me this picture is a miracle. It touches people and holds them. It’s opened the doors of obscurity to many people. It’s generated excitement and a desire for new faces.
“Lightweight critics say Rocky is preposterous and could never happen – a ham and egger fighting for the championship. The hell it can’t. It has happened. You can’t criticize the picture technically because it was made in 28 days for a million bucks.
“Why fault camera angles? Why argue lighting? There were no more than three takes for any scene. Most of ’em we got in one take.
“People don’t go to pictures to see camera angles. They don’t care if the mike boom casts a shadow. They want to care about the characters on the screen. They’re paying to see faces.”
Stallone’s face is one they should be seeing for years to come. He is a muscular man with black, tousled hair. His jaw bears the blue shadow of a heavy beard. Deceptively soft brown eyes bracket a bold aquiline nose. His deep baritone betrays streetwise accents.
Success hasn’t really touched Stallone yet. He remains the outsider, somewhat defensive, vastly self-assured. His sex appeal is instantly apparent. Women diners in the Sunset Strip’s most famous restaurant could not take their eyes from the laconic new star.
“Rocky is going to be a tough act to follow,” he said. “I think he is the 1970’s answer to Charlie Chaplin’s tramp. He gets kicked around but he finally shuffles off down the road on his own.
“I don’t know what I’ll do next. Maybe I can’t play anybody but Rocky. ‘Rocky Wears a Suit,’ ‘Rocky With An Arrow In His Back,’ ‘Rocky Goes to Mars.'”
Stallone earned only $600 a week during the brief filming of Rocky. He continues to live in a single bedroom walk-up apartment in a rundown section of Hollywood. He’s still making payments on a four-year-old Volvo.
“I’ve got $704 to my name,” he said. “I borrowed most of that and I’ll be getting another loan. I’ve gotta buy a house. My son, Sage, is eight months old now and he’s never seen a blade of grass.”
Stallone will be able to borrow as much as he likes. He owns 10% of the profits of Rocky, a prospect which should bring him millions.
The house he’s thinking of buying is a $400,000 Beverly Hills mansion. At least one room in his new dwelling will have a desk and typewriter.
“I write a couple of hours every morning,” Stallone said. “It’s a release. I feel if I do nothing else all day, I’ve accomplished something no matter how miniscule.”