Prior to “Rocky,” Chartoff and Winkler cut their teeth with such notable early ’70s productions as Sydney Pollack’s “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?” and Karel Reisz’s “The Gambler.” Their lives changed after taking a meeting with Sylvester Stallone. Chartoff and Winkler went on to produce another legendary boxing film, “Raging Bull.” “Our success with ‘Rocky’ encouraged UA to make that film,” says Chartoff.
First meeting: “We had nothing in the works that would be appropriate for him as an actor,” recalls Chartoff. “Sylvester had his hands on the door knob to leave; he turned and said, ‘I also write.’ He was such an interesting guy, there was no reason not to give him the opportunity to pass a script to us. … I was naive to think that he was the character he played in ‘Lords of Flatbush.’ His whole demeanor was different off screen. Sylvester went to prep school in Switzerland. He was smart, funny and interesting. … He gave us ‘Paradise Alley’ to read. When we tried to option it from his agent, he became hesitant and recommended we deal directly with Sylvester. It turned out Sylvester sold ‘Paradise’ for $500 to pay his rent. Sylvester said, ‘No problem, I have an idea for a script about a boxer.’ … He brought in the first draft six weeks later.”
Sly maneuver: “We had a three-year first look deal with UA,” says Chartoff, “and the first picture we brought to them was this project with ‘Sylvester who?’ … UA was reluctant to make the picture because fight films weren’t in demand; even though ‘Rocky’ was going to be a low-budget film. … UA in New York had no sense why we should make this movie. We sent a copy of ‘Lords of Flatbush’ to (UA chiefs) Bob Benjamin and Arthur Krim. We heard a story that when Arthur was watching the film, he asked ‘Which one is Stallone?’ And some voice in the back of the screening room pointed to Perry King, who looked more like a leading man. Arthur said, ‘He looks good, but Stallone is Italian.’ The voice responded ‘You know in northern Italy there are a lot of blond and blue-eyed Italians.’ Apparently based on that comment, Arthur said that UA would make the movie. … When Arthur discovered who Stallone was, he believed ‘Rocky’ might make $7-8 million at the box office.”
Rocky vs. Jake LaMotta: “‘Rocky’ is a mythical tale whereas ‘Raging Bull’ is a realistic portrayal of a man’s problems,” explains Winkler. “Rocky becomes heroic. Jake LaMotta becomes the opposite. The two films looked at boxing from different perspectives.”