With all the hype the recent release of the Star Wars DVD has received, silver-screen fanatics might have missed more pressing sixth-installment news: Rocky VI began shooting in December. Rumors of the film, which will officially be titled Rocky Balboa, have been floating around Hollywood for years, and now that the 59-year-old Stallone has officially resurrected his lovable oaf to fight his toughest opponent old age fans of the fighting flicks are jubilant. In the online forum on www.doghouseboxing.com, the member named Nicoya112005 summed it up with this poignant remark: "Rocky movies are good, all of them shit on that piece of crap million dolar baby."
But at least one Orlando man will fight the urge to see the movie: Dean Iafornaro. "Lean Dean the Dancing Machine" is a 50-year-old former boxer who fought, by his own account, in more than 100 barroom brawler and ultimate-fighter competitions. His lack of desire to see Stallone's newest film has less to do with the inevitable crappiness of Rocky Balboa and more to do with the 1982 film Rocky III.
"I wrote it," he says. "I gave the idea for Rocky III to Stallone, and he just stole it and made it his own."
Now, as Stallone is set to come out with yet another installment of Rocky, Iafornaro is fighting back. He wrote a letter to Stallone dated Oct. 21 and addressed to both a Los Angeles and New York address. It starts out like this:
"Dear Sly, Hello. It's been awhile. 20 years plus now. Sly I need a couple hundred grand for all the writing contributions I was never reimbursed for from you on Rocky III."
"I was trying to be nice," he says about the letter as he sits at his home just off Goldenrod Road. Iafornaro's got puppy-dog eyes and a Tom Selleck mustache, which he says back in the day "got me a lot of chicks." His whole body is thick; thick arms and neck and a solid-looking head. He knocks on his forehead to demonstrate its solidity. His hair is concealed by a gray, newsboy-style hat, and his accent reveals his Brooklyn upbringing.
His home is two rooms of a house he's rented and sealed off from the other occupant. The front room, no more than 100 square feet, contains a green recliner sandwiched between a twin bed in the corner and a computer desk next to the front door. Across from the recliner is a 27-inch television and a DVD player stacked on top of a pile of papers, which is lying on a milk crate. The TV sits in a giant entertainment center, which has cubbies crammed with more papers and a framed certificate from Winter Park Care and Rehabilitation Center. The document thanks Iafornaro for entertaining the elderly residents of the center with his karaoke singing.
"Mostly the women that swoon over me are in their 70s and 80s down there," he says. "They like my singing because I do a lot of Sinatra and Louis Armstrong stuff."
The floor is covered with two overlapping carpet remnants, one maroon, the other dark green, and there are some trinkets on the floor along with a few Post-it notes. One is scratched with "Proverbs 17:22."
Iafornaro likes to talk. In the two hours I sat in the computer chair, he never let up, flowing from one story to the next. One minute he's discussing how a back injury prevents him from working full-time (he inspects fireplaces). The next minute he's explaining how his most recent ex-wife (he's had three) "ended up getting this boob job that was just this enormous, freak-looking chest."
But the topic is the stolen movie, and eventually he gets back on track. He was out in Los Angeles in the early 1980s and thought he had a good idea for a film.
"Somebody said the first [Rocky] was good, so I saw it, and it was OK," he says. "But the second one, that wasn't so good. And I says maybe I should write a movie about my life a little bit. Make it a true movie and send it to [Stallone]."
So that's what he did. But months passed, and he never heard from Stallone. It wasn't until he saw the third movie that things heated up. He wrote to Stallone and received a phone call from a man he says was Stallone's bodyguard.
"He said to me, 'Listen, man, we're coming to Orlando. Don't worry about it. We're going to look you up. We're going to stay connected. We're going to sit down with you.' I said, 'OK, that's cool.'"
But Stallone's people never showed. Iafornaro went to the Orlando Sentinel with the story. They put him on the front page of the sports section wearing a "Mr. T is a Sissy" T-shirt. When that didn't do anything, he flew out to Los Angeles to tell his tale on talk radio. "I had to meet the man on his own turf. That really got him sweating."
Even after the sweating, the Stallone camp didn't respond, and after a couple weeks, Iafornaro got tired and let it go. Until now.
What evidence does Iafornaro have that he was screwed? Mr. T, the antagonist in Rocky III, was a barroom brawler. Iafornaro was a barroom brawler. The theme song for the movie was "Eye of the Tiger." Iafornaro sent Stallone a photo collage with a tiger in the corner.
"Not a panther or a lion or a jaguar," he says. "A tiger! That's what I thought a fighter was like, you see?"
The point that settles the issue for Iafornaro, though, is the poster from Rocky III.
"I had on that photo collage a picture of me in my boxing gloves and boxing shorts with my hands at my side," he says. "That's my stance. No one stood like that back then. They all posed with their hands up. But the poster has [Rocky] with his hands at his side." Case closed.
But still, Stallone refuses to acknowledge his Orlando muse. After Stallone didn't respond to his Oct. 21 letter this year, Iafornaro wrote again on Nov. 7:
"Sly, since you have chosen the option to totally disrespect me refusing to recognize what a significant contribution I have been to your literary agent, you have left me no other choice."
Iafornaro goes on to detail his plan to get lawyers and publicists involved. Then he enclosed a copy of the script for his own version of the sixth Rocky, which he threatens to release if Stallone doesn't come forward with a couple hundred grand.
In this telling, Rocky undergoes a sex-change operation, gets knocked up by Mr. T and flees to Mexico to get away from a fiction writer named Rudy Burton, whose movie ideas were stolen. Alas, Burton finds the pregnant Rocky south of the border, and the two fight a bare-knuckle brawl in a crowd of Mexican villagers. Rocky loses and becomes Rudy's "bitch," but since Burton is a nice fella, he offers to be a father to Rocky's new baby.
And still, no response from Stallone.
Reached by phone at her L.A. office, Stallone publicist Michelle Bega said the actor had no comment. Iafornaro senses, however, that Stallone's strong defense in this 20-year feud might be crumbling.
"Every time I see him now, I think he's got this guilty look on his face," Iafornaro says. "It's kind of like a shamed look, almost."
After shame apparently didn't compel Stallone to cough up the dough, Iafornaro wrote once more. In a letter dated Dec. 1, he asks that Stallone not "make us watch all that garbage, not for the sixth time in a row. Nigga, please."
At the end of his note, he writes, "Enclosed find my Visa card number … ." It's a pre-paid card that Iafornaro says is blank. "You can load a payment to from any ATM machine at over 100,000 locations. For services rendered, 50K would be a good start!"
As of press time, there was no response from Stallone.email@example.com