Reflecting on Rocky: My Time As A Movie Extra

“All the excitement and possible Oscar buzz for Sylvester Stallone has  caused me to reflect on one of the most memorable days of my life in Hollywood with the famous actor.”


Sylvester Stallone at filming of Rocky III in 1981
Sylvester Stallone at filming of Rocky III in 1981 (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)

The envelopes with the names of the Oscar winners will be opened in just a few short hours in Hollywood.  Among the stars anxiously awaiting the results is Sylvester or “Sly” Stallone.  It was in 1976 when a much younger Stallone captivated the country with his debut as Rocky Balboa, a small-time boxer who went on to become the heavyweight champion boxer of the world.

The rags to riches boxing tale became the highest grossing film of 1976. ‘Rocky’ received 10 Academy Award nominations.  The film knocked out heavyweights ‘All the President’s Men,’ ‘Network’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ to win Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Editing.

Thus began a long-running series of ‘Rocky’ movies.

There’s a lot of hype about the Oscars this year and whether Stallone will win one of the coveted golden statues as Best Supporting Actor for the lastest movie in the ‘Rocky’ series titled, ‘Creed,’ where Stallone’s character decides to help Adonis, the son of his old nemesis Apollo Creed.  Adonis is played by actor Michael B. Jordan.

All the excitement and possible Oscar buzz for Stallone has caused me to reflect on one of the most memorable days of my life in Hollywood with the famous actor.

Rocky III filming in 1981
Sylvester Stallone and Mr. T preparing for a scene in Rocky III in 1981 (photo by Donna Green-Townsend)

I was in California in 1981 attending a National Public Radio Conference and decided to stay a few extra days with a friend since I had never been to the Golden State.  One day on the trip while walking along Venice Beach my friend and I came across a guy looking for extras for the filming of the fight scene between Rocky and “Mr. T” for the film ‘Rocky III.”  Since my friend had to work the next day I thought, “why not….this could be very interesting.”

My friend dropped me off at Olympic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles.  Hundreds of other extras like me were ushered into the seats around the arena and given instructions on what was expected from us.

It was very exciting to see Stallone up close dressed in his boxing attire.  I can still visualize the atomosphere of the place.  Some type of foggy-looking mixture was piped in to make the arena look smokey.  I remember how I expected to see some real fight scenes.  But, alas, this was Hollywood and that’s not the way it’s done.  Scene after scene demanded retake after retake.  Videographers shot the same scenes from various angles, even from the ceiling.

Donna with Mr T at filming of Rocky III in LA 1981
Donna with Mr T at filming of Rocky III in LA 1981

It was long day.  The film crew served boxed lunches and handed out raffle tickets for a few prizes to keep the arena extras calm.  But it was Mr. T’s willingness to go out into the crowd on a meet-and-greet that made the day fun for many.

What surprised me was how the movie crew wanted the crowd to cheer wildly during the fight scenes, but in gesture only.  We weren’t allowed to make any noise.  All of the sound would be added later.  That’s more difficult than one might think, especially for a broadcast girl like me.

I took along my little pocket camera for the day.  Surprisingly, no one seemed to mind that I kept taking a lot of pictures of the action all around me.  I did get pretty close to Sylvester Stallone at one point.  I remember he stared straight at me with what seemed like a look that said, “Hey lady, haven’t you taken enough pictures yet?”  Just as I snapped the picture he turned his head to the right.  It made the picture even better.  Fake blood dripped from his face.  His torso had a shine to it from the baby oil the crew had sprayed on to make it look as if he was sweating.  Awww Hollywood.

I’m told the crew filmed two separate endings so the extras and others wouldn’t know who actually won the fight until the final picture came out.  Here are some of the photos I took that day.

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I’m often asked if I can spot myself in the actual Rocky III movie.  I have tried to pause the tape when I see shots that I was there for, but it’s so hard to see individual crowd members in all the fake smoke.  Plus, the edits are all so quick.  That’s what makes the ‘Rocky’ series of movies so exciting.

My favorite moments included  getting the chance to stand right behind Rocky’s fight corner during some of the scenes as he was being pummelled by Mr. T.  It seemed so real.

Newspaper feature headlineWhen I returned back to my job as News Director of KHCC-FM in Hutchinson, KS after my vacation, the local newspaper there wrote a little feature article on my experience.  I still feel a little guilty that the headline they came up with gives the impression I didn’t enjoy being an extra in the movie.

Though it wasn’t as exciting as one might expect, it was still interesting to see how movies are made.  More than that, it was exciting to share an arena with Rocky Balboa….even if I had to share it with hundreds of other people.

Would I do it again?  You betcha.