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They either won big or lost bigger.
Stallone's mother finagled him into the American College of Switzerland—a school in Leysin that was, he says, "for extremely wealthy and professionally spoiled children." For spending money he worked part time as a gym teacher. He wasn't a skier, so during the winter he took a drama class instead. He played Biff in Death of a Salesman.
On opening night, the audience gave him a standing ovation. "I thought, This is it!" he says. "I've finally done something right! From here on in, I'm going for it."
He gave up his plan to become a cattle rancher in Australia.
Stallone returned to the States in 1967 to study acting at the University of Miami. In '69, three credits shy of a degree, he moved to New York. He hosed out the lion cages at the Central Park Zoo. He changed his name back to Sylvester. "I figured I was a failure with Michael," he says. "I might as well fail with Sylvester."
He got a few bit parts in the movies and landed a starring role, which he would later regret, in a pornographic feature called A Party at Kitty and Stud's. He found a job as an usher at Walter Reade's Baronet theater in Manhattan and there met Sasha Czack. After he was fired for trying to scalp tickets to Walter Reade himself, they headed for Hollywood. Sasha waitressed, Sly wrote. He worked hard to eliminate his speech impediment, reading Poe and Walt Whitman and Shakespeare into a tape recorder.
"Shakespeare was the greatest writer," he says. "You couldn't con him, and he had every character in his plays."
Which one was Rocky?
"I wouldn't want to say. It might be misconstrued."