When Michael Sylvester Stallone arrived in New York City, he was nameless in a crowd, without a job, and had no recognition in the film industry apart from a few odd roles scattered throughout. But his 1976 movie, Rocky would change all of that by making him famous overnight with producers and directors cashing in on that newfound fame by releasing his previous low-budget films to draw in more audiences.
The early life and career of Stallone hadn’t seen much glory until ’76 as he was barely getting by and living on the mercy of roles in drama or theatre performances like That Nice Boy (1968), one softcore pornographic feature film, The Part at Kitty and Stud’s (1970), the off-broadway show Score (1971) which was later made into a film in 1974, and No Place To Hide (1973).
Also read: Greatest Boxing Movies Ever Made, Ranked
Sylvester Stallone’s Path to Making Rocky a Reality
Having lived on the verge of desperation and suffering through homelessness in the ’70s, Stallone put whatever artistic skills he could master to spend his hours at the library and studying the works of gothic author Edgar Allen Poe. On the night of March 24, 1975, two extraordinary events happened. The Muhammad Ali vs. Chuck Wepner match and consequently Stallone’s inspiration for the franchise film from that match would launch him as a Hollywood megastar and make him famous beyond means.
For the next 3 days, Stallone would sit in his apartment and whip up a 90-page script, a drama based on the life of a struggling boxer for what would be known as Rocky. He was offered $350,000 by the interested Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff but with intentions to cast Robert Redford and Burt Reynolds as their lead. When refused unless Stallone was cast as the lead himself, they eventually agreed with significant budget reductions as a compromise to star him as Rocky.
Irwin Winkler: The Oscar-Winning Producer From the ’70s
Born in 1931, Irwin Winkler was a bright student who moved up in his education earlier than the others and was enrolled at New York University but dropped out to serve in the Army for two years. He returned to school and finished his B.A. in 1955 after which he joined the William Morris Agency. Having served as their “mail boy”, Irwin met Robert Chartoff, and the pair left to start their own agency.
His clients soon led him and Chartoff to widen their rapport from agents to film producers. Irwin Winkler during his time in Hollywood went on to produce (or direct) over 58 motion pictures, including Elvis’s Double Trouble (1967),GoodFellas (1990), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), and The Irishman (2019). Among those films was Rocky which was nominated for 10 Oscars in 1977 including Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, and went on to win the Academy Awards for Best Directing, Best Picture, and Best Film Editing.
Sylvester Stallone Fights Irwin Winkler For Rocky Rights
Underneath all the glamour and glory of the film industry, the contention over a certain movie goes unnoticed. For several years, Sylvester Stallone has fought the producer Irwin Winkler for the rights to his original screenplay of Rocky but to no avail. He was turned down every time for the reason that he had been paid fairly at the time, an amount equal to $75k for his screenplay and acting fee.
In an interview with Variety, Stallone mentions, “there was a certain code of business conduct, maybe not as much now, but back then, that you don’t ruffle the feathers of the golden goose.” But having had enough, Stallone took the battle to the forefront when he shared a picture of Irwin Winkler as a snake (an allegory) for his action to keep the rights of Stallone’s creation for business profits.
In the caption of the Instagram post, he wrote:
“After IRWIN controlling ROCKY for over 47 years, and now CREED, I really would like have at least a little WHAT’s LEFT of my RIGHTS back, before passing it on to ONLY YOUR CHILDREN – I believe That would be a FAIR gesture from this 93 year old gentleman. This is a painful subject That eats at my soul , because I wanted to leave something of Rocky for my children, but it’s always great hearing from the loyal fans… Keep Punching.”