The other day I watched the Netflix documentary “Sly”, which is about Sylvester Stallone’s life. This guy surely does not need any introduction as he was the #2 action star in the 1980s behind Arnold Schwarzenegger. Considering that the Netflix documentary on Schwarzenegger was quite well made, I had high expectations, but let me preface by stating that these high expectations were not met, not even in the slightest.
Sly is a 90-minute documentary, in which you basically only hear two people talk: Sylvester Stallone himself and his brother Frank Stallone, who is also an actor. Of course, Stallone’s success is very obvious. This guy achieved a lot. His crowning achievement is probably the creation of the character Rocky. Rambo is his other big role, and it is safe to say that the significance of this character is due to Stallone’s acting and his physique, even though the character was created by someone else. Just like Schwarzenegger, Stallone’s career took a severe setback in the 1990s, once masculine action-movies were no longer what Hollywood wanted to produce. Yet, Stallone kept on trucking and even managed to produce an unlikely blockbuster with The Expendables in 2010, when he was already in his 60s.
The above is probably what you remember of Stallone anyway. Unfortunately, the documentary does not go much beyond that. There is a segment on his childhood and his supposed struggles as an actor, but afterwards Stallone only pontificates upon success. You learn virtually nothing about his life. Strangely, his family, despite him stating how important family is to him, gets virtually zero screen time. None of his wives or children are mentioned by name, if I recall correctly. There is a scene in which it seems his then or current wife is checking in on him in the hospital after he had injured himself on a movie set him. You don’t even learn her name and the subtitles refer to her as a “woman” instead of her name. I wondered if this was because he was simply a very private person, but then I learned about the reality TV show “The Family Stallone”, which refutes this hypothesis.
I do not like it when successful people downplay the factors behind their success. There are a lot of people out there who only got to where they are largely or exclusively due to family connections. Of course, they will normally not tell you about it. If you can read between the lines, you can often deduce that their success is due to others helping them along the way. An example I have come across a few times is the academically underachieving son or daughter of a wealthy man getting internships due to family connections and eventually ending up in positions they would otherwise not have achieved.
The biggest takeaway from Sly is that Stallone likewise got a lot of help along the way, but you need to read between the lines. There is no rags-to-riches story here, even though he tries really hard to pretend that he became a big Hollywood star solely because of all his hard work. In the documentary, it is implied that his father was some kind of loser and it is stated that his mother was a “cigarette girl”, i.e. a woman selling cigarettes inside a theater or some other venue. Then, because his father “could not make it in NYC”, they left the city. This story is not even plausible based on the evidence presented in the documentary because it includes audio and video recordings of young Sylvester Stallone talking, riding horses, and playing effing polo. Stallone was born in 1946, and owning A/V equipment in the 1950s was certainly not a staple of the middle class. He also downplays that his father bought many horses so that he could learn to ride horses and play polo. In case you are not familiar with it, polo is the sport of the idle rich and it is one way for underperforming rich kids to get into elite colleges as they have varsity polo teams. Sly assures us that the horses “only cost 25 dollars each” — this amount in the 1950s is equivalent to about $250 today. Assuming this is true, it is not an excessive amount of money, but horses are very expensive to keep and maintain, so this just reeks of bullshit. Afterwards, I looked up his father on Wikipedia and learned that he was a business man with a lifelong love for polo.
The other problem with Sylvester Stallone’s story is that his mother was not a mere “cigarette girl” but the Jewish actress Jackie Stallone! This is surely why his brother and he were able to get into the movie industry. How else would he have done it without contacts? He makes it sound as if he just approached directors and agents, but without insider knowledge you would not even know where to start. Even today you cannot easily find those people online, and in the 1960s this kind of information was surely quite unknown. The research I embarked on after watching this documentary also taught me that Sylvester Stallone is actually Jewish; Jews are matrilineal, so if his mother is Jewish, so his he. I do not want to delve into ridiculous conspiracy theories about Jews “owning Hollywood” as these are patent nonsense. Yet, the obvious hypothesis is that Sylvester Stallone got his foot into the door via his Jewish mother who had professional connections. Without this, Sylvester Stallone may have ended up as one of the many bodybuilders who never got anywhere.
I would have liked to learn more about the person Sylvester Stallone, and what I got was a fake rags-to-riches story with pretend hardship. Apparently he cares about nothing but acting and painting, and has no personal life. The documentary is a disappointment.