Rocky Road to Success (Diet for Dreamers)

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During his birth, in July 1946, a mishandled forceps delivery severed a nerve on the lower left side of Sylvester Stallone’s face, causing partial paralysis of his lip, tongue, and chin. As a result, Stallone grew up with slightly slurred speech and a sad, drowsy-eyed countenance. In school the other kids taunted him. At age nine his parents divorced, and for a time, Stallone was shuttled from one foster home to another. But the talented American actor, director and screenwriter didn’t let any of these circumstances hold him back in life. His disadvantaged childhood was only the first round in a grueling fight to be a success.

Early in his acting career Stallone struggled to support himself. He took bit parts in television shows and cheap films, but it was never enough. He was evicted from his apartment and ended up sleeping in a New York City Bus Terminal for three weeks. Stallone once said, “…I was at the end — the very end — of my rope.” At one particularly low point, in order to keep his electricity turned on, the actor was forced to sell his best friend, a Bullmastiff named Butkus, for $25.

About 2 weeks later, early in 1975, Stallone saw the Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner heavyweight boxing match. That night Stallone went home and started writing the script for the movie Rocky. Three days later, and after 20 straight hours of writing, he’d completed it. Then started the next grueling round, actually several rounds: he tried repeatedly to sell his script, and repeatedly it was rejected. In fact, Stallone received hundreds of NO!s Maybe one deterrent was his stipulation that whichever studio purchased the script also had to hire him to play the title role. The actor knew his concept was a valuable property, and he also knew he was born to play Rocky Balboa. It was his best shot, his chance of a lifetime, and he refused to throw in the towel.

Even Butkus got to be in ROCKY.

Finally, United Artists offered to buy the script for $125,000. But the studio wanted a big star for the lead role, perhaps Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds. Stallone was actually the LAST person UA wanted for the part. The studio didn’t think he could act and that he wouldn’t be believable in the role of a weary club fighter who suddenly gets a shot at the World Heavyweight title. So Stallone refused the offer.

But producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff really wanted Stallone’s script. They upped their offer to $350,000, but they were adamant that someone else would play Rocky. Oh yeah? Bottom line, UA got the script and Stallone got the part, a plum role for a virtually unknown actor. But the studio had grave doubts the movie would succeed without a more talented, better-known performer, so they drastically cut the film’s production budget and agreed to pay Stallone a paltry $35,000 plus a percentage of the profits — should the movie make any!

Stallone immediately used the money to buy back his dog — for a whopping $15,000 — proving that: a) some opportunistic person took advantage of the actor’s windfall; b) Stallone really loved that pooch; and c) dogs may be the world’s greatest financial investment!

Rocky was made for $1,000,000; pretty cheap even for 1976. The movie proved both a critical and popular success. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, and grossed over $200,000,000. Not bad. And Stallone, the down and out actor, the unknown quantity who kept slugging it out for what he believed in, received two Academy Award nominations that year, for Best Actor and Best Dramatic Screenplay. Stallone went the distance with his dream. The actor can say, just as his Rocky character shouts it from the ring at the movie’s end: “I did it!”

Don’t give up! And if you have deep convictions about a project, then don’t give in! “Keep standing firm in your faith. Keep on being courageous and strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13 ISV) “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 Jubilee Bible 2000)

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