Warner Bros. Pictures'
Remember what Sylvester Stallone was doing ten years ago? Probably not – unless you’re a big fan of “Eye See You” (2002) or “Avenging Angelo” (2002).
But like Rocky Balboa, Stallone’s most durable character, you just can’t keep a good man down. At 66, Stallone is currently enjoying a career revival of sorts. With the third film of his third blockbuster franchise, “The Expendables,” firmly in development, Stallone is capitalizing on the hot streak, leaving behind his brawny brothers to go it alone in the action thriller, “Bullet to the Head,” opening this weekend.
When it comes to action, you know you’re in good hands with Sly. But because there’s so much more to the man than late-middle-age muscle tone, here are five facts about Stallone that you may not know, but definitely should.
1. Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone was born in the appropriately named neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen, New York, and he had it rough since day one. His family was dirt poor, so Stallone was delivered in a charity ward by a young intern, whose forceps severed a facial nerve, leaving Stallone’s face permanently droopy and his voice forever altered. Growing up, Stallone’s parents had a truculent relationship, which forced him in and out of foster homes. None of which helped to make Stallone a model student; he attended 13 schools in 12 years, eventually being elected "Most Likely to End Up in the Electric Chair" by his schoolmate. In the 'Bullet to the Head' trailer above, you can see how Sly might have tapped into that title for his latest role as hitman Jimmy Bobo.
We All Gotta Eat
2. After some time in beauty school, Stallone finally got accepted at a university, however he had to go to Switzerland to do so. When his grades allowed, Stallone returned to America to study drama at the University of Miami. Though he was only three credits short of earning a degree, Sly left for New York to find work as an actor. (30 years later, he turned in a script of “Rocky” to earn the remaining credits.) Unfortunately, all he could find were parts playing tough guys and criminals. Stallone was so hungry for parts, and for food, that he eventually took a role in a softcore porn called "Party at Kitty and Studs" (1970). After Rocky, the filmmakers capitalized on the X-rated movie, re-releasing it under the title “The Italian Stallion” and creating the unbelievable promo above, in which director Gail Palmer assures us that “everything you ever wanted to see of Sylvester Stallone can be seen...”
From left: Paul Mace, Perry King, Henry Winkler & Sylvester Stallone in 'The Lords of Flatbush'
3. Stallone moved to Hollywood with the intention of bettering his chances of employment by writing his own parts. He even painted the windows of his apartment black so as to not be influenced by the comings and goings of the sun. Stallone’s first writing credit came for writing his own dialogue in “The Lord’s of Flatbush” (1974). But that’s not the only credit Stallone earned on that film; his co-star Henry Winkler also credits Stallone as being the inspiration behind Winkler’s iconic Fonzie character on “Happy Days”. “I studied Sly. Sly Stallone,” Winkler revealed to the Archive of American Television, “He played the character. But what Sly really was, inside, was funny, witty, and unbelievably articulate. And a brilliant writer.”
Sylvester Stallone in Warner Brothers' 'Bullet to the Head'
4. Though his mother, Jacqueline Labofish, starred in one of the first female exercise shows on television, Stallone’s own life-saving fitness compulsion was inspired by the film “Hercules Unchained” starring former Mr. Universe Steve Reeves. “Literally, from the movie theater, on the way home, I passed a junkyard. And I said, ‘Do you mind if I stay here?’ And I started lifted springs, and car parts, and bumpers, and whatever.” Stallone told renowned interviewer James Lipton, “It was extraordinary. It wasn’t just a passing fancy. And it changed my whole life.” As you can see in the photo above, Stallone is still working out religiously.
Sylvester Stallone in 'Rocky'. Photo courtesy of Everett Collection.
5. The story of club fighter Rocky Balboa going toe-to-toe with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed came to Stallone after seeing a similar 15-round bout between Muhammad Ali and unknown club fighter Chuck Wepner. Stallone was so inspired he banged out the first draft of “Rocky” in three and a half days.
At that point, Stallone only had $106 to his name, and he and his wife were so flat broke they had to sell the family dog. Producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff offered Stallone $20,000 for the polished script, hoping to cast a big name in the lead role, like Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds. Because he knew there was only one man to play “The Italian Stallion”, Stallone refused, offering to play the part for free. The producers kept coming back with more money for the script, but Stallone continued to refuse them. Winkler and Chartoff finally relented, offering Stallone $340.00 a week and the legal minimum of $20,000 for the screenplay.
“Rocky” was shot in 28 days on a tight budget of $1 million, with the climactic fight scene shot in one long day. Thanks to the story’s incredible heart, the film was a surprise hit, grossing over $225 million worldwide, earning Stallone his only two Oscar nominations, and making him a pretty darn good rags-to-riches story in his own right.