We’ve all seen the Rocky movies and enjoyed them thoroughly. The Rocky films were such an inspiration to an entire generation, or a few. Such an amazing series of films featuring none other than Sylvester Stallone. This series is inspiring in more ways than one because while most people may not know it, Sylvester Stallone created these films and subsequently featured in them!
Even though he had a very hard time selling the scripts to Hollywood. Even though they did not want him to be the lead actor once he finally did sell the scripts to Hollywood.
Today’s story shares one of Sylvester Stallone’s most difficult moments in an effort to bring the First Rocky film to life, and it’s a true story.
This is quite possibly one of the SADDEST stories ever told in Hollywood. Perhaps Sylvester’s story along with Jim Carrey’s Life Story are both quite sad. Sylvester, now being one of the BIGGEST and Most famous American Movie superstars.
But back in the day, before the first Rocky film that wasn’t the case. Stallone was a struggling actor in every definition of it. A true ‘starving artist’ by definition. At one point, he got to the point where he was so broke that he actually stole his wife’s jewelry and sold it. Things got even worse, then so bad that he even ended up homeless at one point. He ended up sleeping at the New York bus station for 3 days. He was not able to pay rent or afford food at this point in his life.
Rocky Sells His Dog At His Lowest Point
His lowest point came one day when he was so low that he had nothing left but his dog. He tried to sell his dog at the liquor store on the corner to any stranger who would be willing to buy him. He didn’t have money to feed the dog anymore, so he didn’t know what to do at this point. He ended up selling the dog for just 25 bucks. He shares he walked away crying from that incident.
Sylvester Stallone was at an all time low place in his life but it wasn’t but two weeks later, he saw a boxing bout between the legendary Mohammed Ali and Chuck Wepner and this boxing match gave him the just inspiration that he needed to do something different. He wrote the script for the famous film, Rocky.
He wrote this script for 20 hours! He then tried to sell it and got an incredible life-changing offer for $125,000 for the script. But Sylvester didn’t want it as he had just one simple request. He wanted to star in the movie as the main actor. He needed to be the star. Rocky himself. But the studio said no because they wanted a ‘real star’ that they could market and sell to the public.
They told Stallone that he “Looked funny and talked funny”. He left with his script, probably making the studio think that they may miss out to another studio. Just a few weeks later, the studio then offered him double the money! $250,000 for the same script. He refused AGAIN! They then upped the ante and even offered him an incredible $350,000. He stayed vigilant and refused again! Turns out being broke as a joke gives you the resilience to not being broke again! They wanted his movie bad. But not Stallone, not him along with it. They couldn’t see themselves marketing and selling it with his funny voice and persona. But he stayed consistent. He said no again and again because he had to be in the film. He wrote it for himself. He wrote it to be the star that conquered.
After a bit of time and finessing, the studio did fold and agreed, but they only gave him $35,000 for the script. But they did let him star in it! The rest is history! The movie became a huge hit. It won best picture, best directing and best film editing at the Oscars. Sylvester Stallone was even nominated for best actor! The Movie Rocky was even inducted into the American National Film Registry as one of the greatest movies ever! That’s a long way from where he started huh?
But Here’s Where The Story Gets Really Interesting..
Remember his dog that he sold for a measly 25 bucks before the script and film because he couldn’t feed it? Guess what he bought with the $35,000? His very dog that he sold. Yes, Stallone loved his dog so very much that he stood at the liquor store for 3 days simply waiting for the man he sold his dog to show up. And on the 3rd day, he saw the man walking with the dog. Stallone explained to the man why he sold the dog and begged for the dog back from the man. The man refused and had no mercy. Stallone offered the man $100, four times what he sold it for.
The man refused his offer. He then offered him $500, twenty times what he sold the dog for! And the guy refused yet again. Then the man refused even $1000. Long story short, believe it or not, Stallone had to end up paying $15,000 for the same ole dog he sold at $25 only! A hefty price, but he got his beloved dog back.
The true story of Sylvester Stallone’s film career and the Rocky film series is commonly been reported as a stereotypical American rags-to-riches story, This was truly exemplified by this 1976 New York Times review of the first Rocky film that went like this..
A year ago, Sylvester Stallone had $106 in the bank. His wife was pregnant, his bull mastiff was starving and he couldn’t pay the rent on his seedy Hollywood apartment. What to do?
Well, one answer was that Stallone, a sometime actor-turned-screenwriter, could sit down and in 3-1/2 days write a screenplay with a meaty starring role in it for himself, persuade someone to film it, and wind up a millionaire. Improbable? Pessimists might say so, and advise Stallone to try something more sure, like the Irish Sweepstakes. Impossible? Well, no, because you see, there’s this new movie, called “Rocky.”
That’s Stallone up there as “Rocky,” Rocky Balboa, a tender-hearted, down-and-out Philadelphia club fighter known as “The Italian Stallion,” who almost becomes heavyweight champion of the world. And the words Stallone is mouthing on screen are the words he wrote in 3-1/2 days and sold to producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff on the condition that he would play “Rocky,” and not Burt Reynolds, or James Caan, or Ryan O’Neal, who were being mentioned for the part.
The film was shot in less than a month. Just 28 days! (“The gestation time for a water bug,” Stallone says wryly), on a shoestring $1 million budget, and now, with critics split down the middle with some raving and other deploring, and United Artists predicting “Rocky” will gross more than $40 million, Stallone is finally smiling. You see, he has 10 percent of “Rocky.” That’s a cool $4 million for the newfound actor and celebrity.
According to some other sources, however, that backstory was nothing more than a public relations tale cooked up by United Artists (UA); a creation myth fabricated in keeping with Rocky‘s theme of the underdog triumphant:
“We came up with a tremendous publicity campaign,” recalled Gabe Sumner, then head of marketing at UA. “It was about how this unknown guy named Sylvester Stallone walked into our office with a script and the company was prepared to buy the script, but Stallone said, ‘I’m not going to sell it to you unless I star in the film.’ And we (supposedly) said, ‘No way.’ And he said, ‘Well, you can’t have the script.’ And we said, ‘We will give you $18,000.’ And that was the figure we used. And a deal was made and Stallone could star in this film which he wrote. And he got all of $18,000. Now is this true? It was horsesh*t! But it worked. It promoted the whole underdog concept and kept on going.”
“I don’t have to tell you how the press feeds on the underdog story,” said Sumner. “It filled up space on entertainment pages, and in columns looking for something for the next day. They ate up the idea that this actor loved his work so much, and was willing to sell it for a nickel and a dime in order to make it, blah, blah, blah. It all became part of the underdog fabric that brought people in. Period. They just totally bought into it.”
According to an interview he gave in 2013, Stallone was so broke before he managed to sell his Rocky script that he had to raise cash by selling his dog Butkus (who later appeared in the first two Rocky films) for $50 outside of a liquor store:
Q: Is it true that, before Rocky, you were so broke that you sold your dog?
A: Yeah, I sold my bull mastiff Butkus to a little person. [Turns to his publicist] You can’t use the word ‘dwarf’ any more? Let’s just say a little person. I tied my dog up at the store with a sign that said a hundred bucks. I got $50 from this guy called Little Jimmy.
Q: This is the same dog that appeared in Rocky, right?
A: Yeah. When I sold the Rocky script, I went to see Little Jimmy and begged for the dog back. He lined up his children [Stallone mimes crying], “Oh my kids love the dog.” I said, “You’ve only had him for a f*ckin’ week!” He wanted to fight me and he said he was gonna kill me — he was a crazy little person! I couldn’t fight him — they’d arrest me — so I offered to pay double. Anyway, $3,000 and several threats later …
Q: What happened to Little Jimmy?
A: I ended up putting him in the movie. Do you remember in Rocky, when the little guy goes, “Hey, did ya win?” and I go, “What are you, deaf?” and he goes “No, I’m short.” That’s him.
While it’s certainly possible this anecdote is true exactly as Stallone told it in 2013, we’re still a bit skeptical. The details of this story vary quite a bit from telling to telling, and although numerous articles published in the wake of Rocky‘s release in late 1976 touched on Stallone’s straitened financial circumstances prior to the film’s tremendous box office success, we’ve haven’t yet found any that mentioned his having sold his dog and then repurchased it at a much greater price.
Also, given that Stallone was supposedly living hand-to-mouth prior to selling his Rocky screenplay and had no idea whether his low-budget film (whose release was still over a year away) would bring him any additional money, his spending several thousand dollars to reclaim Butkus at that point sounds rather extravagant (although many dog lovers might claim that no price is too high to regain a beloved pet). So we’re marking this one as a “legend” until we can turn up a confirming source for it other than a long-after-the-fact interview.
All in all, the Rocky films have grossed over $1 BILLION DOLLARS at the box office. Quite an amazing feat for a man who used to be homeless. Kudos Sylvester, for inspiring millions!