Way back in 1977, hot on the heels of his 1976 breakout film hit, Rocky, Sylvester Stallone wrote a novel.
“The powerful first novel from the star of ‘Rocky’” thunders the back cover. “This is ROCKY’S Book. It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you cry. It’ll make you proud…”
All false statements. And the capitalization of “book” is striking, as though Paradise Alley ought to have been subtitled, “The Gospel According to Rocky.”
A cynic might posit that Stallone wrote Paradise Alley as a spec script for the 1978 film, Paradise Alley, directed by and starring Sylvester Stallone. But a close reading of Paradise Alley — a task that I recommend to no one — reveals that Sylvester Stallone’s novel is actually a repository for an altogether different sort of text.
Hidden in fragments throughout Paradise Alley is a free verse poem.
Little poetic morsels like these are scattered throughout Paradise Alley, which ostensibly traces a sordid tale of three brothers struggling to survive in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen — today a tony neighborhood in Manhattan, but in the mid-century setting of Stallone’s
poem novel, a slum.
Paradise Alley’s brotherly trio includes a burned-out WWII vet with a bum leg, a burly ice delivery dunce, and a con man. The plot of the book and subsequent movie is identical to that of Rocky, if Burgess Meredith had been a skeevy street hustler instead of a crusty boxing trainer, and if the bloodsport upon which the drama hinges was not sordid boxing but gentile wrasslin’.
How did Stallone’s first novel go over in the popular media?
“There is not much more you can ask from a novelist,” suggested the Kansas City Star, proving that they had never encountered the work of a novelist before.
“It is clear that Slyvester Stallone knows something about writing!” The New York Post prevaricated rather sarcastically, spelling Stallone’s first name wrong.
His next book was the powerful psychological drama, Sly Moves: My Proven Program to Lose Weight, Build Strength, Gain Will Power, and Live your Dream.
The cinematic incarnation of Paradise Alley fared little better. Given his previous success playing a working class underdog who makes good by dint of his fists, it might have seemed obvious for Stallone to take the role of lumbering lummox Victor, the gentle iceman with a mean half-nelson, in the 1978 movie version. But instead (and inexplicably), he chose for himself the role of con man Cosmo. The year after Paradise Alley came out, Stallone retreated to write, direct and star in Rocky II.
But what of the poem? The American public has been denied “Slyvester” Stallone’s verses for far too long!
Reconstituted from the pages of Paradise Alley for the first time ever, the only known poem by Sylvester Stallone.
People screamed for ice.
People threatened for ice.
Some tarts even offered their curves for ice.
Victor was not the smartest guy in Hell’s Kitchen.
Not the best looking.
But one thing was for sure.
Victor the iceman was a rolling neighborhood institution.
Easy, that is,
If you were witty.
Knowing she was,
Next to the sun,
The hottest ball of gas in Hell’s Kitchen.
The old man sat there gray,
and rocking … Giambelli was a restless statue.
They just floated from one brew to the next.
From one stool to the next.
From one dirty joke to the next.
Frankie was a brute.
Frankie was dumb.
Frankie was a hurter.
Victor wanted to pick her up and wrap her in a sheet and
Run out of the room,
Run down the hall,
Jump over the cracked pavement
Victor was dreaming.
Victor was reeling.
Victor looked at Cosmo.
Victor looked at his beef.
Victor looked at his dog.
Victor’s eyes no longer,
He had seen these scenes
Lots of times before, but it
Had never bothered him before
…Today it bothered him.
In his life
Cosmo really wanted to kill his
“It is clear that Slyvester Stallone knows something about writing!”