Hollywood Today contends that the whole unknown-who-convinces-a-studio-to-let-him-star-in-his-own-screenplay story was just that - a story, cooked up by spinners and served by Stallone, himself.
Accounts of the day had Stallone walking into United Artists with his hand-written script and not giving up until they agreed to let him play Rocky. Studio heads told that tale. Stallone, himself, told it while doing press for the 1976 Oscar winner.
But according to the piece by Alex Ben Block - published as the sixth and final Rocky movie is about to open - no one at United Artists objected to Stallone playing Rocky. They never even met him before filming. It was such a low-budget project for the producers that UA paid it little attention. Some execs assumed that Perry King was gong to play the title role. (At one point the studio head asked why a blond, blue-eyed actor would be playing an Italian-American club fighter from Philly. The answer - his people were northern Italians - worked, and the matter was dropped.)
Block, a former associate editor at Forbes, writes in the new online magazine that he started working on his little expose five years ago. Parts had been made public before. (It looks like here's one such piece, a 2002 Entertainment Weekly feature.) Block talked to several former studio execs, and quoted them by name:
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, Im not going to sell it to you unless I star in the film. And we (supposedly) said, No way. And he said, Well, you cant 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 dont 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."
Former UA president Eric Plescow told Block:
"The story suited him. He eventually started to believe his own story."
Stallone's own Web site bio puts it this way:
With the money earned from (The Lords of Flatbush), Stallone left New York for Hollywood, He again began to make the rounds to studios and casting agents, managing to get a few small roles in television and movies. He also continued to pursue writing. Prizefighter Rocky Balboa was born and given life in a script Stallone wrote in longhand. Several producers offered to buy the screenplay, wanting to cast a name star in the title role, which Stallone insisted on playing himself. Although his bank balance was barely $100, Stallone held fast- and his perseverance finally paid off.
The Defamer blog was properly horrified at the Hollywood Today report:
We'll pause for a moment to let you recover from the existential taint-tasering you've no doubt experienced from the suggestion that publicists might fabricate such a story to sell a movie, as we all know that every word from a flack's lips should be treated as if it were delivered from the heavens by God's most trusted archangel. But now we're forced to consider the implications that this report holds for the current Rocky Balboa campaign, including the possibility that Sylvester Stallone has not, in fact, been prevented from reclaiming his onetime megastardom by callously sexagenarian-shunning Hollywood studios, and has intentionally avoided working for the past decade just to hype this alleged "desperate comeback vehicle."
And at Philadelphia Will Do, D-Mac wrote:
This shocking truth that a PR flack might say something untrue will no doubt cause many Rocky series fans to go into convulsions.