Rocky's Rocky Road to Immortality
Philadelphia's Own Little Mermaid
May 16, 2006: Vol. 2, Issue No. 38
IN THE NEWS
Has Rocky Found a Home?
Yo, Adrian! Over here!
He's bronze, he's bare-chested and he's back. He's the Rocky statue, revered and reviled. And he may have found a new home. The statue of fictional boxer Rocky Balboa—portrayed by Sylvester Stallone in that never-ending series of Rocky movies—will not rest atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art that were made famous in the first film. It was on those steps that Balboa trained to be in the title fight. Instead, the statue will sit just east of the steps, on grounds where he will be seen by those traveling along Kelly Drive. A fine spot it is.
—Editorial, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 12, 2006
Philadelphia sports fans—and there are a lot of us—have endured 23 winters and summers of discontent.
The last championship team was the 76ers that won the NBA title in 1983. The Flyers won Hockey's prize, the Stanley Cup, way back in 1974 and 1975. The Phillies won the 1980 World Series. The Eagles made it to the Super Bowl in 2005, but to date star quarterback Donovan McNabb has been psychologically, physically and constitutionally unable to lead his team to victory in the last game of the season.
Compounding the city's dashed hopes for the gold, two years ago a personality kid from Philadelphia Park named Smarty Jones lost the Triple Crown by a heartbreaking length. In desperation, Philly fans are clammoring to claim the new wonder horse, Barbero, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby, as their own. Alas Barbero lives and trains in Elkton, Maryland and has never run on a Pennsylvania track.
Yet one Philadelphia sports legend has endured for 30 years, symbolizing the tenacious spirit of the underdog—the down-and-outer that makes it to the very top and fulfills the American dream.
His name is Rocky Balboa.
The saga of his real-life creator, Sylvester Stallone, is no less inspiring.
To millions of visitors, the bronze statue of Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, arms uplifted in triumph, atop the steps of the great faux Grecian art museum, was to Philadelphia what the Little Mermaid is to Copenhagen and what Michelangelo's David is to Florence.
Yet the uppity culture vultures of this City of Sibling Love removed it from the Art Museum steps and refuse to return it to its rightful place.
Rocky is not quite the right message going out to Philadelphia, the country and the world.
"His whole life was a million-to-one shot," was the tag line on the poster for "Rocky" in 1976.
The same could be said about Rocky's creator, who was born the same day as George W. Bush.
Sylvester "Sly" Stallone's entry into the world on July 6, 1946, in a New York City charity ward was marred by a forceps accident that caused a facial nerve to be severed, resulting in partial paralysis, a slightly skewed appearance and slurred speech.
By the time he was 30, Stallone had acted in a number of movies and had written 32 screenplays—all of which were rejected. With "Rocky," he hit the jackpot.
He wrote "Rocky" in just three days. He told a writer for The New York Times:
I'm astounded by people who take 18 years to write something. That's how long it took that guy [ Gustave Flaubert ] to write 'Madame Bovary.' And was that ever on the best-seller list? No. It was a lousy book and it made a lousy movie.
When producer Irwin Winkler gave the go-ahead to the "Rocky" project, Stallone reportedly had $106 in his bank account.
Director John G. Avildsen shot the picture in just 28 days and brought it in for an astonishing $1.1 million. "Rocky" grossed more than $225 million worldwide, making it one of the most profitable films in history.
"Rocky" won three Academy Awards in 1976 (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing).
The film was also nominated for seven other Oscars—Best Actor (Sylvester Stallone), Best Actress (Talia Shire), Best Supporting Actor (Burgess Meredith, Burt Young), Original Screenplay (Sylvester Stallone), Sound (Harry Warren Tetrick, William McCaughey, Lyle Burbridge and Bud Alper) and Original Song ("Gonna Fly Now"—Bill Conti, music; Carol Connors and Any Robbins, lyrics).
The American Film Institute (AFI) voted "Rocky" 78th greatest movie ever made. In addtion, Rocky Balboa was voted by the AFI the 7th greatest American movie hero behind Aticus Finch (Gregory Peck in "To Kill a Mockingbird"), Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), James Bond (Sean Connery), Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca"), Will Kane (Gary Cooper in "High Noon") and Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster in "Silence of the Lambs").
Stallone went on to be one of Hollywood's highest paid performers, making as much as $20 million for a picture.
The sixth film about Rocky, "Rocky Balboa," is scheduled for December 2006 release.
The Philadelphia Museum
Certain scenes from the first Rocky film are etched in the memories of all who saw it. Among them: Stallone's pre-dawn training breakfast where he swallowed a glass of raw eggs; the incredibly realistic choreography of the fight scenes; the horrifying ending of the fight where Rocky's swollen eyelids were slit with a razor so he could see; and, of course, the scene where he ran up the steps of the Museum in one of his final workouts and danced around in gleeful acknowledgment that he was in shape for the fight.
Since then, tens of thousands of Philadelphians and visitors from around the world have pounded up the museum's 72 steps and danced on the great promenade that overlooks America's fifth largest city.
It is a ritualistic celebration of the great American success stories of Rocky (fictional) and Sly Stallone (very real).
The Controversial Statue
On Jerome Holst's, "TV Acres" Web site (www.tvacres.com) is the sad history of the Rocky statue.
"In 1982, Sylvester Stallone returned to Philadelphia in the sequel 'Rocky III.' Part of the film included a scene where Rocky Balboa dedicates a 9-foot-tall, 1,500-pound bronze statue of himself that was to remain in front of the Art Museum. But, "reel" life met "real" life, when the Museum of Art refused Stallone's gift statue and declared it was not "art" but just an ugly "movie prop." The huge public debate that ensued over where to put the statue elicited such suggestions as "Put it near the Liberty Bell" and "Dump it in the Schuylkill" (a local river). Eventually, the statue was placed at the entrance of the First Union Spectrum, a Philadelphia sports arena at 11th and Pattison Streets. In 1991, the statue was temporarily placed atop the Museum steps once again for the film sequel "Rocky V," but it was soon returned to its place of honor at the Spectrum."
When the statue was at the top of the museum steps, it was a big deal to run up the stairs, do a jig and be photographed beside the statue.
Last week, the powers that be determined that A. Thomas Schomberg's bronze creation should be returned to the museum area—not at the top of the steps, but rather in a nearby locale where photos can be taken while dogs lift their legs on it. In the words of the Inquirer editorial:
Putting the statue at the top of museum's lovely steps, as Stallone wanted, never was a good fit. It remained there for nine weeks in 1982 before being moved to the Spectrum arena. The museum is an elegant building housing the finest and most delicate of fine arts. The Rocky statue is bee-you-tiful, but in the gritty, Philadelphia way.
The "finest and most delicate of fine arts"?
Make no mistake, the Philadelphia Museum of Art houses some great treasures. But visit the modest modern collection and you will find:
- A giant picnic table covered with russet potatoes and electrical wires hanging from the ceiling inserted into them.
- A urinal submitted as a gross joke to a 1917 exhibition in Paris by Marcel Duchamp, founder of the mischievous Dada school of art, which he signed R. Mutt and titled "The Fountain."
The weirdest, most prurient installation of any major museum in the country (if not the world) is to be found in the farthest, most inaccessible corner of main floor. "Etant Donnés" is described by Andrew Stafford in his essay, "Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp":
The piece presents the viewer with a massive wooden door. If you were curious enough, you might examine it closely. If you did, you would find two peepholes. Behind the door is a three-dimensional construction, like a museum diorama. There, in midday lighting a naked woman sprawls on a bed of dry twigs, face turned away, with her legs spread, exposing her vagina.
So much for "housing the finest and most delicate of fine arts"
A Huge Marketing Opportunity
Periodically, people involved with the museum will whine mightily to the media and anyone else who will listen about the financial problems of the museum and castigate the city for not providing more funds.
Part of the problem is that the museum is a half-mile hike or a pricey cab ride from Center City. It costs $5 to park in the museum lot.
Tourists from all over the world would make a special pilgrimage to run up the steps and then be photographed next to the Rocky statue. Once there, having paid $5 to park, they would say to one another, "Well, while we're here, let's see what's inside." Admission is $8 to $12, with an additional fee for major exhibitions. The gift shop is a giggle, the cafeteria and restaurant are marvelous—all places to lighten the wallets of visitors and help make up for the operating deficit.
The museum would be taking in money and fulfilling its mission.
A Tiffany Story
I am reminded of a story from the 1960s when I was living in New York, told to me by a young woman who worked at Tiffany & Co., a luxury emporium on Fifth Avenue.
One day in early December, an advertising salesman entered the main door of Tiffany's and showed a sales lady a handsome silver key ring. "I bought a bunch of these last year as Christmas presents for my office and clients. Everybody loved receiving them—especially since they came in the blue Tiffany Box. And I loved giving them, since the price was $25. Do you still carry this item? I want to buy more for my new clients."
The lady squinted at the object and said, "I don't recognize it. But let me take it to my supervisor."
She returned a few minutes later and handed the key ring back to its owner. "We no longer carry them," she said shaking her head with sympathy in her voice. "We found they brought in the wrong kind of customer."
Takeaway Points to Consider
- If your customers and prospects tell you that they want you to do something, so long as it is profitable and is not illegal, immoral or fattening, do it!
- For the Philadelphia Museum, the Rocky statue at the top of the steps would be correctly sited and an amazing, free, built-in customer acquisition device.
- The old rule of thumb is that it costs six times more to acquire a new customer than sell something to an existing customer. Given the clutter of advertising messages and the choice of media, the cost is probably more like 10 to 12 times.
- Don't treat prospects as though they are clods whose only taste is in their mouth.
Web Sites Related to Today's Edition
Sylvester Stallone Biography
The Rocky Statue
A. Thomas Schomberg, Sculptor
All About "Rocky III"
Update on a Prior Edition
In the March 2, 2006 issue, I wrote a hotly-debated piece titled "E-Mail Postage—YESSSS!" which discussed the merits of AOL's and Goodmail's scheme to guarantee delivery of e-mail by charging the sender a small fee. On May 9, 2006, Danny O'Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation sent out a press release titled, " AOL Starts Pay-to-Send Email Shakedown."