He liked comic-book superheroes. He emulated them. He even tried to fly like Commando Cody. He found out he couldn't when he jumped 25 feet off a ledge holding an umbrella. He broke his collarbone.
Frank Sr. prospered in Maryland. He opened a chain of beauty salons, took up polo. It was an unusual choice of sports for a Sicilian immigrant, and Frank used his riding crop on young Sly. "I wouldn't say I was abused, but I was never praised," Sly says. Writing Rocky, he culled a line from his father's advice: "You weren't born with much of a brain, so you better start using your body." But it wasn't until Sly was 11 and saw Steve Reeves in Hercules that he started bodybuilding. He fashioned barbells out of cinder blocks tied to a broom handle.
Frank Sr. ignored Sly's bodybuilding and just about everything else his son did. Sly, believing he wasn't good at anything but failure, failed extravagantly. At 13, he stole his father's car and wrecked it. "I played chicken with cars," he says. "I even played it with trains." On a religious retreat his parents sent him on when he was 14, he says, a priest lit a candle to show how hot hell is. "Place your hand over the flame, and it will wither," the priest warned. Stallone volunteered. He says he held his hand over the candle until the priest yanked it away. "I'd rather be whipped than snubbed," Stallone says.
His parents divorced when he was 11. Jackie married Filiti, a frozen-pizza mogul, and moved to Philadelphia. Her main exercise was social climbing. Sly was shunted between mother and father. He was equally unpopular in the suburbs and the city. Schoolmates teased him about his paralytic sneer. "I was the original Elephant Man," he says. "I only learned to smile a couple of years ago."
He started calling himself Michael, after his confirmation name. When your name is Sylvester, everyone calls you Puddytat and Tweety Pie. "Automatically there'd be three fights," he says. "Automatic! I never went looking for trouble, but I had a deep sense of honor. I'd rather perish than live in shame." He had been to a dozen schools by the time he was 15 and been tossed out of most of them. "I don't want to sound like I'm crying in my soup, but I was segregated emotionally," he says. "I was an anathema, a total disappointment to my parents, coaches and girlfriends."
He was shipped off to Devereux Manor, a private high school in Berwyn, Pa., for adolescents with adjustment problems. He blossomed as an athlete. He fenced, threw the discus and finally made the football team, playing fullback. Unfortunately, the whole squad had an attitude problem. Nobody, including Stallone, would take orders. Even from the quarterback.
"Go left on three," he would say-
"Cause that's the play."
"I don't want to. Gonna make me?"