:::Capturing Every Moments In Life...:::


It's hard to feel sympathy for Sylvester Stallone. After all, over the years his movies have made billions, with Stallone himself taking a sweet percentage. As John Rambo he's known the world over, as Rocky Balboa he's even loved. Few actors have enjoyed such long-term success, or such iconic status. Yet Stallone still has real cause for disappointment. He did not start out wanting to be an action hero. Indeed, his acting roots are in absurdist theatre and weighty, more experimental works. Throughout his career he has taken numerous steps to distance himself from that Rocky/Rambo persona, with no joy. The public always wanted him as he was - the damaged, simple, everyman hero - and would not let him go. And Stallone, who must take his share of the blame, lacked the artistic courage to leave those sure-fire hits behind. It takes sacrifice to become a Hollywood star - and a lot more to remain one.

He was born Sylvester Enzio Stallone on the 6th of July, 1946, named after his paternal grandfather. His mother, Jackie, had wanted to name him Tyrone, after action hero Tyrone Power, but her prophetic rhyme was not to be. Besides, the young boy would soon be nicknamed Binky.

Stallone's birth, in the charity ward of a public hospital (close by to the Actors' Studio - again prophetically), was a difficult process. Weighing in at 13 pounds, he did not come easily and was indeed tugged from the womb by an intern with a pair of forceps. This drastic and rather unprofessional procedure would sever a nerve above the baby's jaw, causing his famously drooping eyelid and lip and also a speech impediment that would take years of therapy to overcome.

Jackie was an aspiring dancer, one of the Long Stemmed Roses at the Billy Rose Diamond Horseshoe nightclub. Prone to weight-gain, though, she was not as long-stemmed as others, and so spent much of her working time selling cigarettes to the club patrons. Still she was ambitious and pursued her dancing career with zeal. Stallone's father, meanwhile, Frank, was a Sicilian immigrant who'd attempted to make it as a club singer but, wrecked by a stagefright that saw him performing from behind a curtain, had moved into hairdressing and was attempting to build a business.

With Jackie struggling as a dancer and Frank pumping all his profits back into his business, there was very little money to spare. For the first five years of Sylvester's life, the family would live in a cold-water flat in Hell's Kitchen, on 50th and 10th. During the week, with both parents working, the boy would be sent to live with a foster mother in Queens, an uncommunicative woman who left him to live in his own fantasy world, thus fuelling his nascent imagination.

In later years Stallone would make much of this depressed background - it was this that connected him so forcefully and fatefully to the Rocky character - but their poverty was unusual in the family, and short-lived. Nee Labofish, Jackie's father was the highest-ranking circuit court judge in Washington (tellingly, he was also obsessed with bodybuilding and once shared a room with Charles Atlas). She did not come from poverty and, with Frank quickly building a chain of salons - J Frank's Hair Stylists - she did not stay in it for long. Once Frank Jr was born in 1950, the family were able to move to the upper-class Washington suburb of Silver Springs.

The family would live here in real comfort, in a big house with impressive grounds. Soon Frank Sr would be buying polo ponies (Frank Sr had learned to play the game when stationed as a guard on the Mexican border during WW2). Yet all was not right with young Sylvester. Painfully aware of his disfigurement and flawed speech, he reacted badly to the inevitable teasing at school - Mr Potato Head being one of his kinder nicknames. Fearing that answering back to taunts would simply lead to more insults about his speech, he clammed up, became surly and difficult, his anger manifesting itself in vandalism and fighting with other children. At home, life was no easier as Frank Sr was extremely critical of his elder son. Nothing Sylvester did was good enough and when the frustrated boy dared to answer back he'd receive the back of Frank's hand. Stallone would later reveal that his father was prone to whistling before striking his son and, when he became a big star, the clearly still traumatised actor actually banned whistling from his sets.

Terribly lonely at school, and feeling disregarded at home where the good-looking, musically-gifted Frank Jr received preferential treatment, Sylvester retreated further into his fantasy world of books and comics. At one point he even made himself a Superman outfit and wore it under his clothes. Unbeknown to the rest of the world, he had a secret identity - courageous, powerful, attractive. Unfortunately, he let his secret slip and was made to strip down to his superhero costume in front of the class. More humiliation. It must have driven him a little crazy as, at age 11, he jumped off the roof using an umbrella as a parachute, just like in the movies he already loved. He was lucky to escape with a broken clavicle.

Try as he might, Stallone could never escape for long into fantasy. The real world kept breaking in to assault him.

He was still a straight F student, unable to retain academic information, suffering an ADD that probably resulted from the rickets he suffered during those poor, vitamin-deficient years in Hell's Kitchen. In fact, the real world was horrible, just an endless string of people pushing him, punching him, insulting him, telling him he was ugly and useless, aggressive and thick. Efforts were made to calm him. He was sent to therapy, even to a religious retreat, but nothing worked. And then came another dire blow when, in 1957, his parents divorced. When Jackie left, leaving Sylvester in the hands of his hyper-critical father, the boy clung desperately onto her leg, going, as she later put it, "into convulsions". He'd actually run away to join his mother in Philadelphia, being brought back by the authorities. After a raging court battle that left both kids emotionally torn, the parental access decided upon would bring further estrangement to Sylvester, with Frank Sr and Jackie agreeing to look after Sylvester and Frank Jr in alternate years. By the time Sylvester was 16 he'd have attended 20 schools.

. Nevertheless, despite his parents' split - or maybe because of it - young Sylvester at last began to find some inner stability. When Jackie remarried to Tony Filiti, owner of a frozen pizza factory in Philadelphia (this union would give Sylvester a half-sister, Toni Ann), she found herself even better off than before. Her ambitions encouraged by her new husband, she opened a gym for women, and dragged Sylvester along with her, an immensely tedious experience for the 12-year-old kid. Tedious, that is, till his interest in movies led him, in 1958, to see Steve Reeves in Hercules (a film, interestingly, shot by Mario Bava, soon to direct the horror classic Black Sunday). Due to his grandfather, Stallone would have already been well-acquainted with the notion of bodybuilding, but in Hercules all its possibilities were revealed in Reeves' magnificent form. Here was a self-made man who was unashamedly superheroic, and his body was his costume. Stallone was thrilled and utterly inspired. Onscreen he devoured Reeves' work - Hercules Unchained, Morgan The Pirate, Goliath And The Barbarians and the rest - and began to work out at his mother's gym. Making weights out of old car parts, he pumped iron at home, too.

By the age of 13, Stallone was well on the way to creating himself. Impressively buff in a physical sense, he also began to work on his mind, religiously expanding his vocabulary by one word a day. Gradually, the taunts and fights became more rare. At Lincoln High in Philadelphia he even made the track team.

At 16, his grades still relatively poor, he began to dream of a life of adventure, the navy seeming a good ticket out. His father, though, as ever unsure of his son's ability to do anything right, nixed the idea and kept the boy under his watchful eye, employing him in his hair salons.

He stood it for 6 months, then returned to school in Philly, living with his mother at 2744 Mowes Street. Even academia was more adventurous than hairdressing. Trouble was, bored by lessons, Stallone was a compulsive truant, never a good student. Finding the right school for him had always been immensely difficult. One great opportunity would have been at Montgomery Blair, a public high school in Silver Spring where he'd have been in the same year as newscaster Connie Chung, one year behind Goldie Hawn and two behind Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein, but he was transferred soon after enrolment. Eventually, at great expense running into the tens of thousands, Jackie enrolled him at the Manor High School, a private institution for problem kids run by the Devereux Foundation. Here, breaking from the past by re-naming himself Mike on entry, he'd undergo group and individual therapy as well as intensive speech therapy. No longer an outsider, his confidence would quickly grow. He'd box, fence, ride and play football for the school. Amazingly, given his history, his senior yearbook would say "Mike is one of the most popular boys in school".

. Eventually, Sylvester would graduate - a big win for the rank underdog. However, his grades were such that no college would take him. Once more Jackie would come good, seeking out the American College in Leysin, Switzerland, close to the French border, near Montreux and Lake Leman at the western foot of the Alps. Though the college was ordinarily a place for the rich and aristocratic, Jackie discovered that they were presently suffering a cash flow crisis. By offering to pay in advance and have Sylvester work as boxing coach, she won him an unlikely place among the children of the rich and famous.

For two years, Sylvester was happy in Switzerland. He made vast improvements at science, maths and history and began to excel at art and literature. He painted, wrote poems, grew to love the works of Shakespeare, Hemingway and Whitman. He joined the Social Service club and the drama group for whom he starred as Biff, son of the tragic Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman. And there was romance. Philadelphia's ugly duckling was known in the 1966 yearbook as "Studly".

In 1967, Stallone enrolled at the University of Miami as a theatre major, keen to maintain the momentum he'd built up in Switzerland. Unfortunately, several of his obsessions counted against him. Firstly, he was still a committed bodybuilder, his insecurities still forcing him to impress people with his body. His tutors found him too aggressive, too physical. He wasn't natural in way that Brando, Newman and the big stars of the day were natural. Beyond this, Stallone had fallen head over heels for the Theatre of the Absurd where Adamov, Ionesco, Jean Genet and Samuel Beckett were kings - another big no-no at the university.

Rejected in drama class, Stallone began to pen his own avant garde plays, putting them on with his own troupe in garages, cellars, anywhere he could afford. He may not have impressed his teachers, but he was an underground hit with his rejection of narrative and his disruptive techniques (all very different to the films he would later produce).

. Keen to follow his own path, Stallone would drop out of college just before graduation and return to New York City, where he'd rent a room at the Sutton hotel, near Times Square. Here he'd pursue his latest passion - screenwriting - devouring books on the subject, endlessly scribbling, creating himself once again. He'd write the anarchistic Till Young Men Exit where fledgling actors take a Broadway producer hostage, he'd base Sad Blues on his brother Frank's attempts to build a pop career. Nothing doing, no response. In the meantime, he'd pursue acting, attending many, many open auditions. However, being muscley and mumbling, he'd be dismissed as just another Brando wannabe, one in millions. Oddly, he'd fail to win a part in Sal Mineo's Fortune And Men's Eyes, a prison drama concerning homosexual rape, because he wasn't angry enough.

Eventually, he would gain a part, as the minotaur in a 3-week Bronx production of Desire Caught By The Tail, Picasso's only play, written in 1941 and packed with myth, sexuality and surrealism. It would have clearly appealed to Stallone's sense of the avant garde, at one point having a bucket of ping pong balls descend onto the stage. Sadly, this was no career breakthrough. Stallone was soon unemployed and broke. Too proud to ask his parents for money, he spent time dossing in the infamous Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street, storing his precious notes and books in a locker there.

At his lowest ebb, as so many had done before him, he took a part in a porn film for $200. Beginning in a meaningful, almost Bergman-esque fashion, Party At Kitty And Stud's quickly resorted to softcore, Stallone cavorting with his girlfriend then inviting two girls and a guy to join them in a small-scale orgy. Studly was now just a stud and the world would witness his fall when, in 1976, with Rocky a massive hit, the film would be released under the hilarious title The Italian Stallion.

Still, $200 was $200. Stallone moved into a $71 a month apartment above an abandoned deli on 56th and Lexington. He worked cutting up fish in a deli in Manhattan, made and delivered pizza, even cleaned out the lions' cage at Central Park zoo. He worked as a bouncer at his own building, keeping the homeless out of the halls, and scored a job as an usher at the Baronet Theatre, where most major movies would premiere. Noticing how big the queues were, and how many disappointed punters were turned away, he began a lucrative side-line selling tickets to those at the back of the line.

Interestingly, during his press tour for Rocky Balboa, Stallone claimed he didn't care if he acted again. His overriding interest now, he said, was writing. If he's true to his word (and he doesn't have the greatest record there), this opens up grand possibilities. We may finally see that long-anticipated biopic of Edgar Allan Poe. And we may, just possibly, see Stallone reinvent himself yet again. Could he turn from an action hero accused of senseless violence and right-wing politics into a well-respected elder statesman of film?After all, Dirty Harry managed it - why can't Rambo?