A look back at this day in film history
November 21
Rocky November 21, 1976
Rocky premieres

Though Rocky, released November 21, 1976, tells the great underdog story of Rocky Balboa, the tale of how the movie got made is arguably an even more inspirational example of an outsider beating unthinkably long odds. In 1975, a down-on-his-luck actor named Sylvester Stallone was inspired to write a script about a working class boxer who earns a big fight against the champ and goes toe to toe with him for fifteen rounds after watching Chuck Wepner take on Muhammad Ali. Stallone then apparently banged out a first draft of the script in just three days. A number of substantial redrafts later, he sold the screenplay to producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff for $350,000 – with the condition that Stallone himself would be the movie's star. Winkler and Chartoff agreed, with their own caveats that Stallone would continue to work on the script for no fee and would be paid scale as an actor. United Artists balked at the idea of Stallone playing Rocky, slashing their initial $2 million budget in half and holding Winkler and Chartoff liable for any cost over $1 million. The men mortgaged their houses as a result, but they would get their money back – and then some. The movie caught the imagination of audiences and critics alike, earning rave reviews and over $100 million at the domestic box office. The movie with the tiny budget and breakneck 28-day shooting schedule ended up triumphing at the Academy Awards thar year, winning Best Picture as well as Best Director (for John G. Avildsen) and Best Film Editing. Stallone, who was one of seven other Oscar nominees on the movie, was catapulted to immediate stardom, and thanks to the success of the Rocky and Rambo franchises continues to this day to be a redoubtable self-made Hollywood hero, a tough guy who now writes and directs as well as stars in the movies he makes.

More Flashbacks
November 21, 1944
Harold Ramis born

Harold Ramis, born today in 1944 in Chicago, is the kind of director that Hollywood loves.

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November 21, 1924
Scandal at Sea

On 21 November 1924, Hollywood’s elite, such as Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford, gathered to bury Thomas Ince, the man who’d practically founded the studio system. After working for years as a silent film actor, he graduated to director, engineering an assembly line procedure that became the prototype for studio productions. Ince put his theories of production into practice in 1912 when he found his own studio “Inceville” –– which later moved to Culver City to become Culver Studios –– and started to churn out western after western. But in November 18, 1924, at the young age of 41, Ince died of acute indigestion on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht Oneida. Or so the death certificate said. But many attending his funeral on November 21 believe something else happened, something Hearst’s absence all but confirmed. The story being whispered about town was that Hearst killed Ince by accident. Believing that Chaplin was having an affair with his mistress Marion Davies on his own yacht, Hearst had taken a shot at a man he believed to be the little tramp, only to discover afterwards that he had fatally shot Ince in the head. The rumors grew so fierce that the San Diego District Attorney was forced to open up an investigation, but by that time there was little evidence to examine, and no one willing to talk. One possible witness, entertainment reporter Louella Parsons, remembered nothing. Of course, immediately after the trip Parsons had coincidently been promoted from Hollywood reporter to nationally syndicated columnist, thus initiating her own dynasty. (The suspected murder was dramatized years later in Peter Bogdanovich’s 2001 drama The Cat’s Meow).

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