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Producer Irwin Winkler looks back at Rocky 45 years later

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Irwin Winkler, one of the producers of Rocky, talks to Yahoo Entertainment and looks back at the film on its 45th anniversary.

Video Transcript

- Rocky!

- Adrian!

- Rocky!

- Hey, where's your hat?

- I love you!

- I love you. I love you.

- I love you!

- I love you. I love you.

ETHAN ALTER: It's fascinating to me to learn the-- the original ending for the movie, which is Rocky and Adrian walking out down the tunnel--

IRWIN WINKLER: Which by the way is the poster.

ETHAN ALTER: Right. But the footage we've never seen, it's never been released. Can you talk a little bit about that original ending, if we'll ever see it. What the decision was behind it.

IRWIN WINKLER: Well, what happened was when we had the screenings for friends and some press, during the fight scene everybody was standing on their feet cheering and yelling and all that. And when he loses the fight he and Adrian meet up, and they walk-- the camera's in back of them, and they walk out of the arena and it's all dirt and dust on the floor. Very kind of, '70s, realistic ending. And that whole high that we were getting from the audience suddenly dipped down to a real low. And it was kind of depressing. Which by the way, the mid-seventies in America was pretty depressing. You had the Vietnam War and Watergate. I mean, you had all those things going on. We had that same bad feeling at the end.

So we talked to Sly and he rewrote the ending, so that Adrian comes into the ring and they embrace. But we had a problem. The studio wouldn't spend the money for it. They said, if you want a new ending, you pay for it yourself. So Bob Chartoff and I didn't have a lot of money, but we said, OK, we'd put up $25,000 to do it. Well how do you do that? Because the way Stallone wrote the script was Adrian, who was standing in the back of the arena, comes walking towards the ring. And they embrace, the music goes, he says, oh Adrian. And he won-- not the fight, but he won his self-respect. And he won the woman he loves. So that's a great, great ending.

And how do you do it with no money? So we ordered-- we said, OK let's get 25 extras, 25 acts-- and tell everybody, all the extras, to come in with coats and hats. So what we did is we said, OK, you 10 extras, you stand in front of Adrian. And you 15 extras, you stand on the side. And you take off your hat, you put on a coat. And now, OK, we do that, cut. Then we move Adrian forward closer to the ring. We have the camera now in back of her. And the ones that were standing in the front will now stand on the side. You take off your hat, you put on a coat. And we used the same extras, we just changed where they were standing and how they were positioned to get her into the ring. And it worked great. Yeah.

ETHAN ALTER: Well you can see photos of that original ending online. Those exist. Will you ever release the footage, do you think?

IRWIN WINKLER: I don't even know where it is, frankly. I-- it's a good thing-- I'm going to check it out, good suggestion. Maybe when we repackage it as something we can include that in the DVD, or-- although nobody buys DVDs anymore. But we can find a way for it. But I'd be curious to look at it myself.

ETHAN ALTER: Did Sly appreciate-- I mean, I know he was very-- because he loved Rocky as a character. Did he understand why you wanted to change it? Did he agree with your decision?

IRWIN WINKLER: Oh yeah, yeah. Oh, absolutely. He was really the-- only the star of it, and not only the writer of it, but he was very responsible for the whole direction of "Rocky," which is why, when we decided to do "Rocky II" we suggested to him that he direct it. And then he ended up directing "Rocky II, III, IV, Rocky Balboa." And not until we turned it over to Ryan Coogler on Creed did Sly give up directing it.

ETHAN ALTER: In the original script of "Rocky V" he kills Rocky. Rocky dies at the end. What do you remember about reading that script? Did you agree with that decision?

IRWIN WINKLER: No.

ETHAN ALTER: Did you try to talk him out of it?

IRWIN WINKLER: Never. Actually, I was a little bit out of "Rocky V" because at the time I started directing. And I was directing "Guilty by Suspicion," or preparing it, or-- about the same time. So I really wasn't a big-- I wasn't involved in it deeply, mostly Bob was-- Bob Chartoff mostly took care of it.

ETHAN ALTER: So when you read that script, what his original intention was, how did you gently talk him out of doing that? Or did you?

IRWIN WINKLER: Well, we didn't. We didn't. Basically he came upon it himself. But we thought "Rocky V" would be the end of the road. By the way, we thought "Rocky Balboa" was the end of the road. When the agent asked me to meet this young USC film school graduate by the name of Ryan Coogler. And we met, and I realized that generationally, if we were going to do another "Rocky," we really should do it with this young man who was very bright. And he had some really good ideas about what he wanted to do. And he wrote the script and we really loved it.

ETHAN ALTER: He wanted to kill Rocky in that movie as well, right? He was--

IRWIN WINKLER: That's right.

ETHAN ALTER: --originally going to die. Again, what were discussions like about-- it sounds like you pushed back about that.

IRWIN WINKLER: Ryan's script had the Rocky character dying. He has ALS and he dies at the end. And none of us wanted that. None of us wanted that. Because we saw once that we were heading into the Creed area, we had plenty to go. Sly was great. And Rocky and "Creed" got nominated for an Academy Award, won a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor. And in "Creed II" he's absolutely great in it again. So the character of Rocky certainly lives on.

ETHAN ALTER: So there's no chance-- I mean, I'm sure the decision's in the back of head as you continue with Creed. At some point, Rocky is probably going to-- did you ever see him dying on screen? Is that something we'll ever--

IRWIN WINKLER: Not as long as I'm alive.

[LAUGHTER]

ETHAN ALTER: That's just a promise that you sort of made to yourself, Rocky as eternal. He can't die in a movie?

IRWIN WINKLER: Well, yeah. I mean, he's such an iconic American character. And I think it would be-- not only America, a worldwide character. I think it would be really-- it's like Rocky and Sly are so interchanged. So much of the early Rockys really represented the change in Sylvester Stallone's career as well.

[MUSIC - BILL CONTI, "GONNA FLY NOW"]

Gonna fly now,

Flying high now.

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