Sylvester Stallone, the resurrection of Hollywood's great loser

Sylvester Stallone, the resurrection of Hollywood's great loser

When he was little Sylvester Stallone had so few friends that he stole money from his father to invite his companions to Coke. His idol was Superman, he spent the afternoons watching the serial starring George Reeves and, like so many children before and after him, one afternoon he put on a cape and jumped from the roof of his house. Upon landing on the ground he broke his collarbone. His father gave him some advice that he would later include in Rocky's script: "You were born without much brain, so you better start using your body." So Sylvester began to lift weights with a broom and two concrete blocks. The kids laughed at his face (the unbalanced lip is the result of misapplied forceps during childbirth), his way of speaking dragging his vowels and his name. During his teens he called himself Mike, he bought himself a dictionary to learn new words and carried around a tape recorder in which he recited poems by Walt Whitman to improve his diction. Stallone, who turns 75 today, has never stopped feeling like an outcast. Not even when he was the biggest star on the planet.

“My father treated me as he had been raised, with an iron fist. And he communicated by slapping his mouth, ”he would explain. His mother, Jackie Stallone, defined his ex-husband as "the most sadistic man God has ever allowed on this earth" and claimed that she "whipped Sylvester with a polo crop until he bled."

At age 30 he wrote and starred in Rocky, a melodrama about a boxer who traveled from the streets to glory thanks to his ability to resist blows. The promotional campaign featured Rocky as a Stallone alter ego and years later, when the actor was going to shoot to the most remote villages of Thailand, children, prostitutes and lepers would approach him as if he were an apparition. "When viewers cheer Rocky," he said, "they're cheering themselves."

Stallone during the 1977 Oscars ceremony, in which he took nothing.

Stallone during the 1977 Oscars ceremony, in which he took nothing.

Faced with Rocky's 10 nominations, Stallone had a purple velvet display case made to hold his hypothetical Oscar. He didn't win either of the two he was up for (actor and screenwriter), but that only helped fuel the narrative that Sylvester Stallone, like Rocky, was America's most glorious loser. "Stallone has quickly become an almost mythological figure representing a fantasy of sudden success," Variety admired at the time. "I entered Hollywood through the service door," he would explain. “When I went to the Oscars my bow tie broke and people said it was disrespectful. They always thought he was stupid, even though he wrote all the Rocky movies. They insulted me because of the characters he played ”. As soon as he rose to fame, critics dubbed him "the stupid Orson Welles" and a porn production company reissued an erotic movie that Stallone had made when he was so poor that he had to sell his dog Butkus. Hollywood stars and executives organized private screenings to see the film, renamed The Italian Stallion in honor of Rocky Balboa's nickname.

Stallone asked the Sunday Times to show him reading Shakespeare on his cover photo. Right away he announced that he would do everything possible to star in Superman (the chosen one would be Christopher Reeve) and that he was working on a script about Edgar Allan Poe. After rising to fame as an underdog, he now wanted to play characters that were "leaders of men."

But in 1982 he created another contemporary myth, the Vietnam War-traumatized ex-green hat John Rambo, in Cornered, and President Ronald Reagan adopted him as a symbol of the new American empire. Before ordering Libya's bombing of Gaddafi, Reagan declared "I have seen Rambo, I know what to do." When he reformed taxes, he proclaimed that "in the spirit of Rambo, I know we are going to win."

Stallone represented a virility so hyperbolic that film critics treated him as a joke ("All his films revolve around his torso"; "he is the perfect star for those who believe that feminism was an aberration"; "his success is so inexplicable as the sudden death of a baby ”) and he himself ended up being his own caricature.

Rocky's enemies in the sequels started to be people like Mr. T or Hulk Hogan. Upon landing in Vietnam on Rambo 2, Stallone was besieged by a snake that he strangled without even looking at it. But the more self-parody grew, the more the box office grew: Rambo II and Rocky IV were the second and third most successful films of 1985, the year Reagan revalidated his position with America's biggest electoral victory in 85 years.

Leave a Reply