The year is 1983. Sylvester Stallone is coming off a pretty remarkable string of hits, writing and starring in the first three Rocky movies, in addition to appearing in the first movie in the Rambo franchise, First Blood. John Travolta, on the other hand, is coming off of two difficult years. A contract with Paramount made it difficult to work and he hadn’t appeared in a film since Blow Out in 1981, a now-revered Brian De Palma film that flopped in theaters. But that is about to change. Stallone has signed on to direct him in the long discussed and much-hyped Saturday Night Fever sequel, Staying Alive. We pick up our story in March, during filming.
To build anticipation for the project (which would go on to be named the worst sequel ever by Entertainment Weekly, and to this day checks in at zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes), People magazine has been brought in to do a profile of the two at work on the film. The profile must be read in its entirety, both because of what we now know about the film, and because it is just absolutely chockablock with mind-pureeing passages. A sampling:
- “As delighted as a teenage boy with his first car, John Travolta runs his hands over his gift from Sylvester Stallone. Sleek lines, trim feel—is this new body really his? ‘I’m in awe of it, he confesses.” (NOTE: These are the first sentences of the story.)
- “But if there’s anything Stallone knows about, it’s bodies. He immediately set out to remodel his star, examining photos of dancers with trainer Dan Isaacson to see which muscle groups to accentuate.”
- “Once a week Travolta would pilot his $1.7 million Cessna Citation jet down to L.A. to discuss the movie project with Stallone and, by taking off his shirt, let him know how things were going.”
- “So John had taken violin, French, flying lessons, Scientology to the ‘upper levels’—enough was enough. ‘I don’t like to have this much time between projects,’ he says. ‘It’s not good for your morale.'”
To recap: John Travolta, who had just become a high-level Scientologist because he was bored between jobs, would fly his personal jet to Los Angeles every week so Sylvester Stallone could examine his shirtless body to see if the workout regimen Stallone had created for him after looking at hundreds of photos of dancers was having the desired result. Ladies and gentleman, the 1980s.
But somehow, none of that is the most fascinating part of the profile. The most fascinating part of the profile — by a lot, because it could have changed the course of Hollywood history — comes tucked in at the end of this paragraph (emphasis mine):
“If John keeps it up, I’ll have to fight him in Rocky IV,” Stallone jokes. He talks as if he were John’s proud older brother, and Travolta, who has a tendency toward hero worship, plays along. “Sly is gorgeous,” he says. “To have Sly’s kind of body would be beautiful.” He is also “in awe of Sly as a writer.” Reciprocating, Stallone calls Travolta “a consummate actor who works at it harder than anyone I’ve ever seen.” They confer frequently on the set, studying the instant videotapes to sharpen John’s performance. Sly works with an efficiency that endears him to the studio’s budget watchers—the film is days ahead of schedule—and Travolta has adapted readily to his director’s punctuality. Rocky IV quips aside, Travolta and Stallone have discussed teaming up again. Stallone plans to direct Godfather III for Paramount, and Travolta is interested in co-starring with him in it.
Did… did you know this? Did you know that The Godfather Part III was almost directed by Sylvester Stallone, as a project for him and John Travolta to star in with Al Pacino? In 1983, seven years before it would eventually get made without them? Because I’m going to be honest with you here: I did not know that, and, as of this very moment, it is the only thing I am capable of thinking about. Like, imagine it for a second: Stallone, Travolta, and an Al Pacino who is coming off of Scarface, and just beginning to make the transformation into the throat-y screamer we know today. Imagine the three of them sitting around a table in the Corleone home attempting to have a conversation.
STALLONE: [mumbles incoherently]
PACINO: I will NOT be disrespected IN MY OWN HOME.
TRAVOLTA: Like, omahgod, you guys. Wow. This is crazy.
And so on. And then, because Stallone is directing and there are rules in place here, a montage, possibly of the three of them making a traditional Italian dinner. It would have been incredible. It would have been incredible.
I am retroactively furious at the year 1983 for not allowing this to happen.