Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.
— Rocky Balboa
Back in 1976 when I started my job as a film buyer, I had never heard of Sylvester Stallone. It’s amazing how Stallone not only wrote but also starred in Rocky, a classic film that made him a household name. Fast-forward forty years to 2016, and remarkably the “Italian Stallion” has a good chance of receiving his long-overdue Academy Award for his performance as Rocky Balboa in his newest film Creed.
I first heard of Sly when my boss, Eddie Stern, was out of the country on an extended vacation. I was a newbie to the film department and wanted to prove that I could handle things while Eddie was away…
Excerpts from Hollywood’s Chosen:
My adrenaline got more than a good workout when Eddie and Jerry were in China. When it came to bidding for movies, I was throwing money around like it was play money. Sure, I made some great deals for the company, but I also bought my share of losers, just as Eddie had known I would.
Then sometimes I got lucky. One afternoon Betty announced, “Larry, Joe Kennedy is on line three.” Joe was the Florida branch manager for United Artists. I found out early on that Joe preferred doing business with our competitors rather than with Wometco Theatres. Joe continuously stayed upset with Eddie because Eddie . . . was notorious for bypassing Joe and doing his business directly with UA’s New York office.
I picked up the phone, and after some small talk Joe got to the point.
“Kid, don’t shoot the messenger. I received instructions from New York. We have to take The Sunshine Boys out of the Bay Harbor and move it to Loew’s Bal Harbour Theatre.”
I couldn’t hold back my anger. “Joe, Eddie personally made that deal with your boss, Jerry Esbin, months ago. You can’t up and pull the picture at this late date. You know the best gross in the state will come out of the Bay Harbor!”
“Kid, you and Eddie need to be thankful that you don’t bid our product on Miami Beach. Besides, I have another picture that was scheduled to play in Loew’s Theatre that I will gladly move to the Bay Harbor.”
I thought to myself, “If Eddie found out that I let Loews steal The Sunshine Boys, he would kill me! Joe is taking advantage of Eddie being out of the country and doing a favor for his good friend Bernie Myerson, Loew’s film buyer.”
“Okay, Joe, let’s cut to the chase. Who do I have to talk with at United Artists? I am not giving up the film.”
“Kid, last time I checked it was not your film to give up. I believe United Artists made The Sunshine Boys, and not Wometco.”
“Joe, I am going to hang up and call Esbin and voice my displeasure at what you are trying to do.”
“Kid, you don’t get it, do you? Esbin is the man who told me to call you!”
There was silence on the line. “Ummm, La’rie, do you want the other picture or not?. . . .It’s one of those underdog films about a boxer who goes from nobody to somebody.”
“What’s the title, and who is in it?” I asked. . . .“Wait a minute, Joe. Is this the film that was shot in twenty-eight days on a shoestring budget of a million-one? And the guy who wrote the story is also playing the lead in the picture? What’s his name, Stalwart?”
“No, ummm, I don’t think it’s Stalwart.” I heard a heavy sigh. “Hold on, here’s his name. It’s Stallone. His name is Sylvester Stallone. The movie is Rocky.” Joe replied.
I thought to myself, “When Eddie gets back, I might be the next victim to go through that swinging door that I’ve heard so much about.”
I mumbled, “Okay, Joe. Book Rocky in the Bay Harbor.”
“Thanks, kid. I mean La’rie. Tell ‘His Highness’ I owe you one.”
Well, the rest is history. Rocky, the little picture I was forced to play on its release date, turned out to be the biggest-grossing film of 1976. It grossed over two hundred and twenty-five million dollars domestically and was honored with three Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture of the Year.
Leave it to Sly to still be in the ring. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Stallone isn’t a contender this January for an Academy Awards nomination. I’d love to see him go all he way with a knockout Oscar win.
Trivia: Sylvester Stallone was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay) for Rocky in 1977, which made him the third man in history (after Orson Welles and Charles Chaplin) to receive these two nominations for the same film.
Want more of Sly? Check out this story: This Crazy Untold Story Made Sylvester Stallone Famous…