"Every director except Sid Furie told me, 'Stan, you're terrific, brilliant. This movie is going to make you a star . . .' But it would bomb. And they'd never call back . . ."
Not that actor Stan Shaw, 25, a second-degree black belt in karate, was having trouble getting work. He got to play bone-crushers on TV cop shows, a martial arts maestro in a chopsocky melodrama called "TNT Jackson," a Jackie Robinson character in "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings." Eight films in all.
But the casting agency for "Roots" gave Shaw the cold shoulder. And his big scene as a contender in "Rocky" ended up on the cutting room floor.
"It was a great scene," Shaw was saying the other day, while drowning the past with a spoon of room-service cornflakes. "I played this Ken Norton type who got angry at ringside when Apollo chooses Rocky over him to fight the title bout. So I knock out Rocky's trainer, punch Rocky, spit on him and call him yellow. Rocky goes to his knees and hits me in the nuts, which pretty well puts me out of commission.
"Sylvester [Stallone] fought with [director John] Avildson to keep it in, but he felt it didn't make Rocky look like a hero . . . I got to keep the clip as a souvenir. When I get the Academy Award some day, the world will see what they missed. . . And I'm going to laugh all the way to the bank."
Modesty and Stan Shaw are strangers. You may not recognize him, either, but you may soon.
Shaw gives a stunning performance as Cpl. Tyrone Washington, a ghetto cynic who turns courageous Marine in "The Boys in Company C." It's too early to predict the film's fortunes, but Shaw claims that casting directors who haven't even seen it are begging to sign him.
"I've been offered a million things; I've turned down a million things."
He bristles with they'll-be-sorry self-confidence, rattling off recent about-faces of agents and directors who once refused to see him. He says he turned down an offer to play in "Cindy" (a coming TV musical he likens to a "black Cinderella"), the lead in a proposed Norman Lear comedy series ("TV can do without another black comedy; one Jimmy Walker is enough") and so many other things he can't remember them all. He's waiting to pick and choose the proper "vehicles." Stan Shaw, an obscurity on the brink of celebrity, is gloating.
Shaw exudes quiet cockiness - a muscled, six-foot self-assurance that comes from knowing that in a split second he could - well - break you in two with his bare hands. Karate classes kept him off the streets of Chicago's South Side, where cousins, and friends like Tyrone Washington, ran with the gangs. At night Shaw would step off the subway carrying trophies won in karate meets. And when he wasn't hanging back stage at Eddie's Place, his father's jazz club, with the likes of singer Same Cooke (a cousin), B.B. King or Jr. Walker and the All Stars, he could be found acting in high-school plays, or screaming 'Aaaayeeeee!" and kicking at the backyard clothesline.
"At 16, I was dangerous. Everyone knew I could fight, so no one ever bothered me. Karate was like insurance."
Shaw acted as a student at Marshall High School and in productions with Theater in the Street, work that led to a Broadway role in "Hair" and, eventually, to TV and film.
Ultra-natty in a dark blue suit with light blue and red pinstripes, a pink hanky erupting from a pocket and a gold watch peeking from a cuff, Shaw is eating cornflakes at noon because he woke up too early to eat breakfast. He hasn't had a moment to himself since appearing on a morning TV show - barely made after flying down from New York at 6 a.m., not long after a party ended the night before.
With "Boys" in the can, what he wants most is to work with directors like Sidney Furie again. Furie is said to surprise old hands frequently with his casting - he picked Jill Clayburgh, pre-"Semi-Tough," to play Carol Lombard in the recent TV drama "Gable and Lombard" - and he took a risk with the "Boys" cast of unrecognizable young actors.
What Shaw doesn't want are typed roles as junkies, pimps and the like. "I hate regular acting. All that is just walking and talking. I want something I can sink my teeth into . . . a romance. I want to wear white suits and run through fields, take a woman in my arms and say, 'I love you, darling.'"