In September of 1976, I called my contact at United Artists and asked him the title of the mystery movie that was being sneak-previewed in Manhattan that night. “It’s called ‘Rocky,’” he whispered, adding that members of the press were definitely not invited--UA just wanted to see how “real people” would respond to “Rocky.” They got their answer from a crazed, cheering mob that evening. And, by forking up the bucks for a ticket at the box office, so did I. --GUY FLATLEY












Not long ago, United Artists teased the public by placing ads in newspapers for a sneak preview of “a film that will open in December to qualify for the Academy Awards.” Moviegoers anticipating a star-studded extravaganza may have been taken aback when the credits flashed on “Rocky,” a film starring and written by Sylvester Stallone.

Sylvester Stallone himself may be taken aback if he is not proclaimed a star when the film opens, since stardom was his main goal when he sat down to write the role of Rocky, an inarticulate, tender-hearted bum of a boxer who dominates virtually every scene of the drama. Last week, the 30-year-old actor, previously seen as a restless youth in the low-budget “Lords of Flatbush,” lounged confidently in his suite at the Sherry-Netherland and shared his views on writing and acting, on life and art.

“It took about three and a half days to write ‘Rocky’,” says Stallone, an impressively muscled Italian-American decked out in a vivid shirt, jeans and boots. “I’m astounded by people who take 18 months to write something. That’s how long it took that guy to write ‘Madame Bovary.’ And was that ever on a best-seller list? No. It was a lousy book and it made a lousy movie.”

Stallone’s childhood in Hell’s Kitchen could have been torn from the pages of Zola. “I don’t want to say I was mistreated, but the first thing my parents ever bought for me was a leash. I was not an attractive child; I was sickly and even had rickets. My personality was abhorrent to other children, so I enjoyed my own company and did a lot of fantasizing.”

Conditions did not brighten when his impoverished, bickering parents moved to Silver Springs, Md., and opened a gymnasium, nor later when they moved to a sleazy section of Philadelphia. “I was told by my teachers that my brain was dormant, and I took it to heart and channeled a tremendous amount of energy into my physical development, using the extra weights my mother brought home from the gym.”

The weight-lifting paid off when he won an athletic scholarship to the American College in Switzerland, and it was there that he first dipped into drama, playing Biff in “Death of a Salesman.” “I knew I could immerse myself in the part, especially when I give my mother the flowers and she won’t accept them because I’ve left my father in a barroom toilet. I picked up the flowers in one hand and a radio in the other, and I threw the radio against the canvas wall. It collapsed, and there were the stage hands, drinking beer, puffing on hotdogs and sniffing glue. It was a comedy sensation.”

Disastrous as it was, the slapstick “Salesman” sold him on acting. “I liked the gratification of making words come alive. It came naturally for me. I do not believe you can have acting taught to you. The more you dissect the creative mechanism, the more self-conscious you become. I don’t polish my craft, I don’t tune my instrument, and I don’t sit up all night sipping brandy and brooding about motivation. Either I can do it or I can’t.”

Yet it was a rocky road to “Rocky,” the most calamitous pothole being his nervous participation in the nude Off Broadway drama “Score,” a role which he won by walking across the stage and expanding his chest on command. Although he does not wish to disrobe on stage or screen again, Stallone, who is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 185 pounds, feels that physical fitness is of prime importance.

“An actor is what he looks like,” he says. “People are always talking about tuning their instruments, but how can you tune an instrument that’s coated in fat, a human pork chop with a face that’s caving in, with eyes like a couple of raisins stuck at the end of a tunnel? I exercise religiously everyday. So does my wife. And so does my dog.”

Still, the flesh is not so sacred as the spirit, and that, according to Stallone, is why “Rocky” does not have a fashionably downbeat ending. “I wanted the human spirit to triumph for once,” he explains. “This nihilistic idea that the only way to end a story is in the death of the human spirit has gone too far. There are no heroes anymore, only Antichrists and hatchet murderers. Bring back comedies, bring back mirth and dreams. If you want realism, cut a hole in the wall of your living room and charge people $3 to sit and watch what’s going on in your front yard.”