1. Although many people believe that Rocky Marciano was the inspiration for Sly's famous character, it was actually another Boxer, Chuck Wepner, who gave Stallone the inspiration for the Rocky movies. In 1975 this often forgotten Boxer went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali. He didn't quit, no matter what and took an abnormal amount of blows to face, he just kept on going. Sly could relate to that fight, he felt it was very similar to his own personal experiences as a struggling actor. He'd had knock back after knock back but was determined to go the distance. So after viewing the Ali/Wepner fight (round 15 is below) Sylvester Stallone 'knocked out' the original script for the first Rocky film in just 3 days.
2. After Sly had polished his manuscript, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff offered him $350,000 for the rights to Rocky. One condition - they didn't want Stallone as the star. At the time Stallone only had $106 in the bank but he refused to sell unless they agreed to allow him to play the title character. Eventually a deal was done, however it was at a much reduced rate. Sly agreed to work as the writer but without a fee, and would get paid 'scale' (actors minimum wage) for acting in the movie, with a small percentage of any profits.
3. This deal almost killed the movie straightaway as Winkler and Chartoff struggled to find a studio who would make it with Stallone in the title role. United Artists offered them a budget of $2million on the condition they got rid of Sly - with names like Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford and James Caan favoured by the studio. Eventually UA agreed to a reduced budget of $1million but made Winkler and Chartoff sign an agreement that if the film went over budget they would complete it by funding it themselves. The final cost of the film was $1.1 million, so the pair had to re-mortgage their homes to complete the project.
4. As part of Carl Weathers audition for Apollo Creed he was asked to spar with Sylvester Stallone. Weathers had no idea who Stallone was and assumed he was either a stand-in or an amateur boxer. After accidentally punching Sly on the chin, Stallone asked Weathers to calm down. Weathers then turned to director John G Avildsen to ask if he could audition with a "real actor" instead, insisting it would help his audition. After Avildsen told Weathers that Sly was a real actor and the star of the movie, Weathers looked at Stallone and said, "Well, maybe he'll get better." Stallone immediately said they had to cast him.
5. Bette Midler revealed that she’d been considered for the role of Adrian in Rocky:
"One supporting role I should have taken, if my then-manager hadn’t turned it down, was the Talia Shire role in Rocky. I’d still like to work with Sylvester Stallone. There’s something about those beefy Italians that turns me on. But when he sent over the Rocky screenplay, my manager told me it was a nice role, a nice movie, but not for me. When I saw Rocky, I was really sad that I’d lost the chance to play that girl."
6. Although Philadelphia is forever associated with Rocky, the majority of the movie was actually shot in Los Angeles. This is because nearly all the interior shots were done on the West Coast and only the externals were in Philly. However one interior that was used in Philadelphia is the pet shop where Adrian works (which is seen in Rocky I, II and V). It was actually a real store called J&M Tropical Fish and was still operating up until the early 2000s. After the original movie wrapped in December 1975 Rocky's turtles 'Cuff and Link' were dropped off at J&M. The store didn't sell turtles at the time, but the producers asked if they'd give them a home. They did, for 30 years. Joseph Marks, who operated the store with his father Morris, recalls seeing Stallone in 2005 whilst he was location scouting for Rocky Balboa:
"I thought to myself, ‘Should I go over and say hello?’ I tapped him on the sleeve and asked if he remembered me. He said he did. I told him I had to close the store because of economics. (Marks mentioned that the turtles were still around, and) two weeks later, I got a call"So Rocky had his original pets back 30 years later in 'Rocky Balboa'.
7. Sticking with pets. Rocky's dog Butkus was actually Sylvester Stallone's dog in real life.
8. Many of Rocky's training scenes were shot guerrilla-style - with no permits, no equipment (except camera of course) and no extras. A small crew would just turn up in different areas of Philadelphia and have Sly run up and down. Remember the food market scene when a stall-owner throws Rocky an orange? That stall owner had no idea a movie was being made or even that Stallone was being filmed, he just saw a guy training and gave him an orange!
9. Stallone had finally made it in the business, and knew he'd really arrived when he was asked to announce the Best Supporting Actress nominations at the 1977 Oscars. After receiving a huge applause from the crowd, he then had a huge surprise sneak up on him from behind - Muhammad Ali. "You stole my script," the legendary Ali said, "All of that was me, I’m Apollo Creed!"...
10. But although he'd earned the respect of his peers, Stallone had still not earned any cash! In a 1977 magazine interview Sly revealed that United Artists still hadn't paid him his percentage profits from the movie, which he'd worked out to be around $2million. Sly also suggested that they better pay up soon or he may have to look at a lawsuit. The following day a studio rep from UA turned up in an armoured truck to the set of the film Stallone was working on (F.I.S.T.) and presented the money to him in individual notes!
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