Larry Vaughn with Mentora Vaughn Gratrix

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Stallone Strikes Again

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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.

Silvester and Larry 2

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.
— Wikipedia

Want more of Sly? Check out this story: This Crazy Untold Story Made Sylvester Stallone Famous…

“At Least You Could Have Put Some Clothes On”- Meeting Frank Yablans

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Photo: Frank Yablans (right) on the set of The Fury with director Brian de Palma.

“In her memoir, Joan Didion said this about grief,
‘A single person is missing for you and the whole world is empty.'”
—Meryl Streep

This year at the Oscars, Meryl Streep honored those who passed away: “As we reflect tonight on the loss of so many talented people this year, it’s hard not to feel that emptiness because in the time they had they filled our lives with so much. Whatever role they played in moviemaking, the films that they were a part of made us laugh, and think, and cry, and consider life with fresh eyes: they tickled us, raised our spirits when we needed it, challenged our minds, and shocked our complacencies. Through their work, they shared a piece of their soul, and so we will miss them with the same sadness as we miss an old friend. But their work will stand and will remind us how lucky we were to have them with us for a while. There will never be anyone like them, each and every one.”

So many names honored that evening brought back fond memories. However, when I saw Frank Yablans, I smiled as I recalled my first meeting with him. . .

We planned a trip to California to introduce the studios to Ideas, Inc. Everyone seemed impressed with our work, but expressed concern about how their marketing departments would fit in with a so-called “joint marketing venture.” That had been my greatest concern all along.
On that trip I learned, once again, that one should never underestimate Heyward Morgan. One evening we were down at the hotel lounge around midnight. I was worn out from a long day of tooting my own horn to the Hollywood elite. I told Mr. Morgan, “I’ve had it. I’m going to bed.” He said good night and that he would be up later.
I went to my room, got in bed, and was half asleep when Mr. Morgan started banging on the door. “Larry, Larry, you in there?” In undershorts and T-shirt I stumbled to the door. I opened the door to find him standing there with another man. They walked into my room.
Mr. Morgan said, “Larry, do you know who this is?”
I looked at the man, extended my hand, and said, “No, sir.”
The man introduced himself. “Hello, Larry, I am Frank Yablans.”
I said, “Mr. Yablans, would you excuse me while I put some clothes on? I had just turned in for the night.”
Mr. Morgan spoke up. “Phooey with clothes, Larry, I told Frank all about your work. Where is your briefcase?”
Frank Yablans was not only one of the most respected producers in Hollywood, he was one of the most respected producers in the entire world. His movies were household names around the world. Besides being a celebrated producer and director, he was currently the President of Paramount Pictures. And there I was, undressed, hair messed up, sitting on the side of my wrinkled bed telling Frank Yablans how great I was.
He listened, asked questions, and made several positive comments about my campaigns. Then he said, “Fellows, I’m sold! Your work is very good, but you have to sell my marketing guys. Here, write this name and number down. Call Jackson’s secretary tomorrow and make an appointment to see him. Be sure to tell her I told you to call.”
We chatted a few more minutes before Mr. Yablans said good night and left the room. After Mr. Yablans had gone, I looked at Mr. Morgan and said, “Boss, if you ever pull a stunt like that on me again, I’ll shoot you!”
He laughed and said, “At least you could have put some clothes on.”
I slammed the door as he whisked out of the room. Needless to say, I was so wound up from the last hour’s events that I slept very little that night.
(Excerpt from Hollywood’s Chosen, available on Amazon)

Honestly, this story always reminds me of what a remarkable man I worked for—Heyward Morgan. Most movie stars of that day would have had a hard time getting Frank Yablans to visit their hotel room. That unexpected meeting showed me that Frank Yablans and I had something in common: we both had a hard time saying no to Heyward Morgan.

This Crazy Untold Story Made Sylvester Stallone Famous…

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I believe any success in life is made by going into an area with a blind, furious optimism.
—Sylvester Stallone

Rocky! How did Sylvester Stallone come to play Rocky? Here’s the crazy untold story that made Sylvester Stallone famous. Here’s a conversation I had with my former boss, Eddie Stern, the head of the film department at Wometco Theatres in Miami, Florida. Here’s an excerpt from Hollywood’s Chosen, available today on Amazon.

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.
Now as the late Paul Harvey might have said, “Here is the rest of the story.”
Eddie returned from a trip to New York several months after the successful opening of Rocky. Later, during lunch with me, Eddie started laughing as he said, “Larry, have I got a funny story to tell you. I got this scoop from an attorney friend of mine, Jonas, at United Artists. Jonas said that when Rocky went into production, no one at the office had actually seen the actor, Sylvester Stallone. But Stallone really wanted to play the lead, since he wrote the story. Management asked to see some of his work. Stallone in 1974 had a supporting role in The Lords of Flatbush, with Perry King and Henry Winkler. When the guys at UA watched a reel of Flatbush, they got the actors mixed up. They took King for Stallone and, of course, Stallone for King. After watching the film footage, they agreed to move forward with the production of Rocky with Stallone in the lead role. Now again, they thought they were signing off on King in the lead role.” Eddie had to pause to wipe the tears of laughter from his eyes.
“Larry, this is unbelievable! Are you with me?”
“Yes, I got it. It sounds too funny to be true.”
“Okay, so later the brass wanted to see some rushes during the filming of Rocky. While watching the rushes, they asked, ‘Where is Stallone?’ They were watching Stallone on the screen, but they were looking for Perry King. They ended up having to call someone into the screening to identify Stallone.” Eddie couldn’t stop laughing. He tried to continue, “Some mix-up, huh! The studio thought Perry was Stallone, and they green lighted the film with the wrong man in the lead.”
“That is one crazy story!” I replied.
“But, Larry, it is real! Jonas was a witness to it all.” Eddie jokingly added, “Now, nine months later, one might ask the question, who is Perry King? And, as for Stallone, why every moviegoer living on planet Earth knows who Stallone is and what he looks like! I’m not sure who it was who first coined the phrase, ‘There are no geniuses in the film business!’ But whoever it was sure knew what they were talking about!”