Stephen Verona, 'Lords of Flatbush' Writer, Director and Producer, Dies at 78

Stephen Verona - H 2016
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He also was behind the Lee Strasberg-Ruth Gordon drama 'Boardwalk' and many early music videos.

Stephen Verona, who co-wrote, co-directed and produced The Lords of Flatbush, the 1974 film that provided a career boost for young actors Sylvester Stallone and Henry Winkler, has died. He was 78.

Verona died Saturday at his home in Los Angeles after an 18-month battle with lung cancer, his wife, Ann, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Verona also co-wrote and directed Boardwalk (1979), a gloomy Coney Island-set drama that played at the Cannes Film Festival and starred veterans Ruth Gordon, Lee Strasberg and Janet Leigh. 

Verona had served for a short time as a director at Strasberg's famed Actors Studio, and a 17-minute live-action short film he produced, directed and wrote about that experience, The Rehearsal, earned him an Oscar nomination in 1972.

Strasberg and he "did not get along. Everything I did, he picked on me and crucified me, so I left," Verona recalled in 2014. "But the minute [The Rehearsal] was nominated, Lee was the third person to call me." 

Verona was born on Sept. 11, 1940, in Springfield, Illinois, and raised in Brooklyn, where he attended Madison High School. He then went to art school in New York and served as a creative director at the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather before leaving to direct TV commercials.

He met John Lennon during a shoot, and they collaborated on an animated short film based on The Beatles' song "I Feel Fine."

Verona shot promotional short films — precursors to music videos — at CBS/Columbia Records from 1970-72, working with such acts as Barbra Streisand, Chicago, Santana, Roberta Flack and The Lovin' Spoonful.

The Lords of Flatbush (1974) revolved around the lives of teenagers wearing their leather jackets and hanging out in Brooklyn. Verona and Martin Davidson are listed as co-directors on the film and as screenwriters with Gayle Gleckler.

Stallone played Stanley Rosiello and Winkler portrayed Butchey Weinstein in the movie, not too long before their careers would take off with Rocky and Happy Days, respectively.

"When you realize that Sly became Rocky and Henry became Fonzie and those characters were created by me for Lords … it revolutionized movies and television," Verona said.

When Stallone learned that Verona was ill, he sent him an email saying that his career would not have been the same without him, Verona's wife said.

Later, Verona wrote, directed and produced Pipe Dreams (1976), featuring soul singer Gladys Knight in her acting debut. 

He also was an acclaimed painter and photographer.