'If we had met in high school," Jim Cole was saying a few days after he and his wife, Ellen, celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary on Dec. 15, "she wouldn't have given me a second look."
"I wouldn't have," Ellen confirmed matter-of-factly. In the social caste system comfortably in place at Northeast Philadelphia High School in the mid-1960s, a drop-dead gorgeous Jewish American in-crowd goddess like the former Ellen Blum would have been as approachable to a fast-talking Irish Catholic disciplinary transfer student from Father Judge High School like Jim Cole as Princess Leia would have been to a Wookiee.
Jim, Class of '64, was a year ahead of Ellen, Class of '65, and that age difference, plus the distraction of 3,000 other students, prevented Jim from making a bad first impression on his future wife.
That would happen about a decade later, following Jim's discharge from the Marine Corps. By the fall of 1976, Jim was involved in a number of construction projects in the Northeast. During a business meeting at his attorney's office in Center City, he was introduced to a strikingly familiar looking legal secretary named Ellen Blum.
"It was all coming from my side," Jim said of the instant attraction.
The same day at 5 o'clock - what a coincidence! - Jim happened to be on the same end-of-the-workday elevator with Ellen.
"Hey, I'm headed in your direction. Can I give you a lift home?"
Well, one ride led to another and . . . spoiler alert!
"And he never left!" Ellen shouted into the phone with a laugh from their home in Chalfont.
Part of the Cole/Blum family lore is that Grandmom/Nan was such a hottie as a teenager that a young Sylvester Stallone was her date to the Northeast High senior prom in the spring of 1965. In fact, the pre-prom photo taken by Ellen's parents first appeared in The Inquirer on June 3, 1977, accompanying an item I wrote in the "Scene" column about Stallone's years growing up in Philadelphia.
Stallone attended Lincoln High School while living in a house on the Holme Circle with his mother and stepfather, Anthony Filiti, who happened to be partners in a specialty-foods company with the father of Ellen Blum's best high school friend, Charlotte. When Filiti heard that Ellen didn't have a date for her senior prom, he volunteered the services of his 19-year-old stepson, Sylvester.
"I knew him as Mike," Ellen said of her date, the future Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa. In Northeast Philadelphia in 1965, a first name like Sylvester made you a candidate for a daily beatdown in high school. "He was very quiet."
"It was a shame, really. All the girls had dates who were family friends rather than boyfriends," Ellen said. "We girls had a ball hanging out together at the prom, but the boys, who didn't know each other, were mostly left to themselves."
A lot has changed in the four decades since the original Rocky premiered, launching a seven-film franchise that established a fictional over-the-hill Philadelphia prize fighter as a global icon representing the indomitable spirit of the underdog, as well as transforming the 72 steps leading to the Philadelphia Art Museum into an internationally known high-cardio workout destination.
When the latest Rocky movie, Creed, opened recently, Ellen's prom picture with Stallone was being introduced to the younger members of the family, one of whom, 15-year-old grandson Dylan, was singularly unimpressed. In fact, he was downright dismissive. He thought the prom picture had been Photoshopped.
So let me clear up any lingering doubts:
"Yo, Dylan! It's all true. Now give your grandmom a hug."
Of course, this requires me to pretend that I believe that a 15-year-old will actually read a newspaper.