Rocky Dennis' Life Inspired 'Mask' But There Was A Lot More To His Story

For many film buffs of a certain generation, the story of Rocky Dennis is one of Hollywood’s most enduring tearjerkers. As the facially deformed star of 1985’s Mask, Rocky’s tale of persevering through adversity — with his feisty biker mom Rusty by his side — touched hearts all over the world. Rocky was a real boy, and while the film was remarkably faithful to his life, there was a lot more to his story that didn’t fit inside two hours of screen time.

Rusty’s early life as a delinquent

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York in the ‘40s, Florence “Rusty” Steinberg was something of a problem child. In fact, she told People magazine in 1985, “I was what you call a juvenile delinquent.”

At only 14, she was hanging around with a gang of motorcycle youths and smoking marijuana; by 15, she was making money “hootchy kootchy” dancing on Coney Island; and at 17, she walked down the aisle with her first husband Tommy Mason, a local truck driver.

The ill-fated first marriage

Perhaps predictably, the marriage was a dysfunctional one. Rusty and Tommy’s son Joshua was born two years after they wed, but not long after that, Rusty left and moved back into her parents’ house.

This didn’t exactly curb her rebellious instincts, though — by 19 years old, she was taking speed and she’d joined a motorcycle stunt team. Unfortunately, when the bosses behind “Speedy Babs and his Cyclettes” found out about her drug use, they fired her.

A second husband, and Rocky

This left Rusty trying to scrape by as an exhibit hawker on Coney Island, but then she met Roy Dennis, a painter and decorator. He was also into hot rods, and in 1959 they married and moved all the way to Covina, California.

This marriage was a lot more settled, and Rusty even kicked her drug habit. In 1961 she gave birth to a bouncing baby boy they named Roy “Rocky” Dennis. For a couple of years Rocky seemed perfectly healthy — but then everything changed.

Rocky’s fate is set

When the two-and-a-half-year-old was brought into hospital for a tonsillectomy, a technician spotted something unusual on one of his X-rays. There were some irregularities in the toddler’s skull, and he was sent to the UCLA Medical Center for an array of tests.

To Rusty’s horror, the doctors told her that her son had a rare disease known as craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, which causes calcium deposits to build up over time in the skull.