Before Rocky And The Fonz, They Were Lords Of Flatbush
Left: Detail of the poster for 'The Lords Of Flatbush.' Right: Sylvester Stallone as Stanley Rosiello. Sources: LMPC via Getty Images; IMDB
The 1974 indie film The Lords of Flatbush became a hit on the backs of its stars Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler, who were nobodies at the time the movie was made. Naturally, getting Rocky and The Fonz in the same film can only lead to good things. But the Brooklyn-set Lords of Flatbush gave us more than we could ever expect: a nostalgic and relatable coming of age story -- leather jackets, teen attitude and all.
How can you fail with a poster tagline like "When was the last time someone gave you a hickey?"
The Lords Of Flatbush was one of the first successful independent feature films -- according to director Stephen Verona, it's among the most profitable films ever, in terms of returns on its (very low) budget. With stars who ascended after the movie was out of theaters, it also quickly found an audience among the early adapters of a new technology -- the VCR.
When The Lords of Flatbush debuted in the early ‘70s, a wave of '50s nostalgia was rising, perhaps due to the bad trips of the just-ended Vietnam War. The novelty musical act Sha Na Na (who had actually played Woodstock) was re-popularizing doo-wop, while the 1971 musical Grease (later a movie) and 1973 film American Graffiti aimed to bring a simpler, less complicated time back to stage and screen. Little did we know that The Lords of Flatbush wouldn’t just offer escapism for moviegoers, but provide the breeding ground for two of the great fictional '50s characters: The Fonz and Rocky Balboa.
The Fonz, With A Dash Of Rocky
Shortly after filming The Lords of Flatbush, Henry Winkler went to New York to audition for Happy Days. Reportedly, for the Fonz, Winkler took a page from the Stallone book of acting, “When I did the audition, I just changed my voice a little bit, you know?” Stallone’s portrayal of Stanley Rosiello was in Winker’s head during his audition -- “What would Sly do here?” he thought. To think we have The Lords of Flatbush and Stallone to thank for Fonzie's signature “Ayyyy.”
Although the movie was made well before Winkler debuted as Fonzie, The Lords Of Flatbush premiered in theaters a few months after Happy Days first aired. The reason for the delay was that the producers ran out of money during post production, and securing further funding set them back by a year.
The Welterweight With A Heart Of Gold
The other star of The Lords of Flatbush, Sylvester Stallone, was struggling to make it in the movie business. Stallone had reportedly lost his interest in acting, taking up painting and writing instead. However, one of the directors, Stephen Verona, spotted him at an acting class and offered him the role of Stanley Rosiello, a rough and tumble fighter with a heart of gold. The character laid the foundation for Rocky Balboa and the movie's success enabled Stallone to write and star in Rocky. Without Stanley Rosiello, we may never have heard “Yooo Adrian!”
Rocky Balboa Versus The American Gigolo
The Lords of Flatbush also spawned one of the all-time Hollywood feuds. Originally, Richard Gere was slated to play either David "Chico" Tyrell or Butchy Weinstein, depending on whose memory you believe. Perry King, who played Tyrell claims he replaced Gere, while Winkler, our beloved Butchey, is adamant that he replaced Gere.
Whatever the case, Gere and Stallone hated each other. According to Stallone, it started with Gere strutting around like a peacock, “He would strut around in his oversized motorcycle jacket like he was the baddest knight at the Round Table."
Then, says Stallone, came a tussle during a rehearsal, “One day, during an improv, he grabbed me (we were simulating a fight scene) and got a little carried away. I told him in a gentle fashion to lighten up, but he was completely in character and impossible to deal with.”
The coup de grace came during a lunch break, Stallone says:
I was eating a hot dog and he climbs in with a half a chicken covered in mustard with grease nearly dripping out of the wrapper. I said, 'That thing is going to drip all over the place.' He said, 'Don't worry about it.' I said, 'If it gets on my pants you're gonna know about it.' He proceeds to bite into the chicken and a small, greasy river of mustard lands on my thigh. I elbowed him in the side of the head and basically pushed him out of the car.
After the lunch fight directors were forced to make a choice Stallone or Gere. They went with Rocky. And Gere, according to Stallone, hated him ever since. Stallone also says that Gere blames him for spreading the rumor regarding Gere and gerbils.
The Tale Of Flatbush
Few would have predicted that The Lords Of Flatbush would become a launchpad and cult classic. The movie’s budget was modest; and coming out a year after American Graffiti could have been a blessing or a curse. Stallone credits the success to the authenticity of the film, “People just reacted to it because there was no pretense. It’s like someone took a camera and shot four losers living their life.” Thanks to the timing of Happy Days and the gritty performances by the cast, The Lords of Flatbush lives on to this day.
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