Steve Reeves

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Steve Reeves
Stevereeves1990 CROP.jpg
Reeves in 1990
BornStephen Lester Reeves
(1926-01-21)January 21, 1926
Glasgow, Montana, U.S.
DiedMay 1, 2000(2000-05-01) (aged 74)
Escondido, California, U.S.
OccupationBodybuilder, actor, philanthropist
Spouse(s)
Sandra Smith
(m. 1955; div. 1956)

Aline Czartjarwicz
(m. 1963; died 1989)

Deborah Ann Engelhorn
(m. 1994; his death 2000)

Stephen Lester Reeves (January 21, 1926 – May 1, 2000) was an American professional bodybuilder, actor, and philanthropist. He was famous in the mid-1950s as a movie star in Italian-made peplum films, playing the protagonist as muscular characters such as Hercules, Goliath, and Sandokan. At the peak of his career, he was the highest-paid actor in Europe.[1]

From 1959 through 1964, Reeves went on to appear in a string of sword and sandal movies shot on relatively small budgets[2] and, although he is best known for his portrayal of Hercules, he played the character only twice: in the 1957 film (released in the US in 1959) and its 1959 sequel Hercules Unchained (released in the US in 1960). By 1960, Reeves was ranked as the number-one box-office draw in twenty-five countries around the world.[3]

Early life[edit]

Born in Glasgow, Montana in 1926,[1] Reeves moved to California at age 10 with his mother Goldie Reeves after his father Lester Dell Reeves died in a farming accident.[2] Reeves developed an interest in bodybuilding at Castlemont High School and trained at Ed Yarick's gym in Oakland, California.

After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the United States Army during World War II, and served in the Philippines. After his military service Reeves attended California Chiropractic College in San Francisco.[4]

In 1947 Reeves won the Mr America title in Chicago. He was contacted by an agent who suggested he go into acting.[4]

Career[edit]

Cecil B. de Mille[edit]

Reeves moved to New York where he studied acting under Stella Adler, but after arguments he was refunded his tuition. He studied instead at the Theodora Irvin School of the Theatre. He began performing a vaudeville act with a comedian named Dick Burney. One of Cecil B. De Mille's talent scouts saw him and had him tested for Samson and Delilah (1949). Reeves received a seven-year contract with Paramount.[4]

Reeves says de Mille wanted to cast him in the lead role, but told Reeves he had to lose 15 pounds in order to look convincing on-camera. Reeves says he tried to lose the weight and worked on his acting in preparation for the role over three months. Then De Mille told him he was going to give the role to Victor Mature.[4]

Early Acting Appearances[edit]

In 1949 he filmed a Tarzan-type television pilot called Kimbar of the Jungle, and in 1950 became Mr. Universe.

Reeves appeared on television in Stars Over Hollywood in the episode "Prison Doctor" with Raymond Burr. He was one of the athletes in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and appeared on the TV series Topper ("Reducing").

In 1954, Reeves had a small supporting role as a cop in the Ed Wood film Jail Bait. It was his first film and earned him his Screen Actors Guild card. "I had a suit on at all times," he later recalled. "I even had a tie. Only took my shirt off once. Those were the days, huh?"[4]

The same year Reeves was in the MGM musical Athena,[2] playing the boyfriend of Jane Powell's character.

These two films are the only ones Reeves made in the United States where his actual voice was used; Reeves acted in Italian-made films for the remainder of his career, where all dialogue and sound effects were added in post-production.

Reeves guest-starred on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show as the owner of a gym.[5] On December 17, 1954, Reeves guest-starred in the ABC sitcom Where's Raymond?, starring Ray Bolger as Raymond Wallace, a song-and-dance man. Reeves played a well-built office employee whom Wallace sees in the company of Wallace's girlfriend, Susan.[6]

In 1955 Reeves appeared on two Broadway shows, Kismet and The Camp.

Pictures of Reeves' costume test for the lead in Li'l Abner (1959) can be easily found on the web.

He then decided to quit acting and worked for American Health Studios in public relations, opening up fitness studios.[4]

Hercules[edit]

In Italy, director Pietro Francisci wanted to make a film about Hercules but could not find anyone suitable to play the role. His daughter recommended Reeves on the basis of his appearance in Athena and Francisci offered him the role and a plane ticket to Italy. Reeves at first did not think he was serious but eventually agreed and flew to Italy to make the film. His fee was $10,000.[4]

Hercules was a relatively low-budget epic based loosely on the tales of Jason and the Argonauts, though inserting Hercules into the lead role.[2]

The film proved popular in Europe. What made it an international sensation where when US distribution rights were bought by Joe E. Levine who spent over $1 million promoting it, turning the film into a major box-office success, grossing $5 million in the United States in 1959.[7] However this did not happen until Reeves had already made four more films in Europe.[4][8]

The first of these was a sequel to Hercules, Hercules Unchained (1959), again directed by Pietro Francisci. Reeves was paid the same fee, although his wage would double from then on. This film was another huge success, being the third most popular film in Britain in 1960.[9] Nonetheless Reeves would not play Hercules again, despite his identification with the role.[4]

Reeves' third film as star was The White Warrior (1959), based on Hadji Murat, the novel by Leo Tolstoy. He played Hadji Murad, a 19th-century Chechen chieftain who led his warriors in a fight against the invading Russians.

Reeves was then in Terror of the Barbarians playing Emilio, about the Lombard invasion of Italy. American International Pictures bought US rights and retitled it Goliath and the Barbarians (1959), with Reeves' character renamed "Goliath". The film earned $1.6 million in North America during its initial release where it was double billed with Sign of the Gladiator[10]

Injury[edit]

Reeves was Glaucus Leto in The Last Days of Pompeii (1959), based on the novel by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It co-starred Christine Kaufmann and Fernando Rey and was mostly directed by Sergio Leone.

During the filming, Reeves had dislocated his shoulder when his chariot slammed into a tree;[1][2] he re-injured it while swimming in a subsequent underwater escape scene. The injury would be aggravated by his stunt work in each successive film, ultimately leading to his retirement from filmmaking.[2][11]

US Directors[edit]

Reeves followed this with The Giant of Marathon (1959) where he was cast as Pheidippides, the famous wartime messenger of the Battle of Marathon. By now Reeves' success was such that his films would use Hollywood directors: Marathon was directed by Mario Bava and Jacques Tourneur. According to MGM records the film earned $1,335,000 in the US and Canada and $1.4 million elsewhere resulting in a profit of $429,000.[12]

Reeves had a change of pace in Morgan, the Pirate (1960) where he played pirate and self-proclaimed governor of Jamaica, Captain Henry Morgan. Andre De Toth and Primo Zeglio directed.

He then did an "Eastern", The Thief of Baghdad (1961), playing Karim, directed by Arthur Lubin.

In The Wooden Horse of Troy (1961) Reeves played Aeneas of Troy, opposite John Drew Barrymore.

He co-starred with fellow body builder Gordon Scott in Duel of the Titans (1961), playing Romulus and Remus respectively. Sergio Corbucci directed.

Reeves played Randus, the son of Spartacus in The Slave (1962) then reprised his role as Aeneaus in War of the Trojans (1962) aka The Avenger.

Later Roles[edit]

Reeves played Sandokan in two films, both directed by Umberto Lenzi: Sandokan the Great (1963) and Pirates of Malaysia (1964). By this stage Reeves says his fee was $250,000 a film.[4]

Reeves reportedly turned down the James Bond role in Dr. No (1962)[1] because of the low salary the producers offered.[13]

Reeves also turned down the role that finally went to Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) because he did not believe that Italians could make a western out of a Japanese samurai film.[1][11]

George Pal contacted Reeves for the role of Doc Savage in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, the first of what was meant to be a film series, but when filming was about to begin a Hollywood writers strike put the film on hold with Reeves and the original director replaced.[14]

In 1968 Reeves appeared in his final film, a spaghetti Western he co-wrote, titled I Live For Your Death! (later released as A Long Ride From Hell).[2] "I ended up with an ulcer from that," he said later. "That was my last."[15]

Post Acting Career[edit]

Reeves decided to retire for several reasons: stress, his injury, and the decline in the market for his sort of movies. He had earned enough to retire and moved to his ranch in Oregon, which he purchased from Chandler Knowles.[11]

His last screen appearance was in 2000 when he appeared as himself in the made-for-television A&E Biography: Arnold Schwarzenegger – Flex Appeal.

Other interests[edit]

In 1994, Reeves and business partner George Helmer started the Steve Reeves International Society; in 1996, it incorporated to become Steve Reeves International, Inc.[citation needed]

Reeves wrote the book Powerwalking,[16] and two self-published books, Building the Classic Physique - The Natural Way,[17] and Dynamic Muscle Building.[18]

Freelance writer Rod Labbe interviewed Reeves, and the article appeared in Films of the Golden Age magazine, summer 2011.[19] It was conducted in 1997 and was the last extensive interview Steve Reeves did.

Authorized Biographer Chris LeClaire lived and worked for Steve Reeves at his Valley Center, California horse ranch during the summers of 1993 and 1994 while writing and researching material for his book Worlds To Conquer, The Authorized Biography Of Steve Reeves ISBN no. 09676775413, published First Edition December 1999, Second Edition 2017. LeClaire conducted taped interviews with Reeves up until the actor's death in Spring 2000. Worlds To Conquer is published in both standard book bound format, as well as electronic eBook Kindle version.

Personal life[edit]

Later in his life, Reeves bred horses and promoted drug-free bodybuilding.[1][2] The last two decades of his life were spent in Valley Center, California. He bought a ranch with savings from his film career and lived there with his second wife, Aline, until her death in 1989.[1][2]

Death[edit]

On May 1, 2000, Reeves died from a blood clot after having had surgery two days earlier. He died at Palomar Hospital in Escondido, California, where his second wife had also died.[2]

Filmography[edit]

Steve Reeves in Hercules

(in parentheses the original movie title)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Lane, John Francis (2000-06-05). "Steve Reeves: Putting muscle and myth in the movies". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Lyman, Rick (2000-05-05). "Steve Reeves, 74, Whose 'Hercules' Began a Genre". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
  3. ^ Rutledge, Leigh W. (1989). The Gay Fireside Companion. Alyson Publications, Inc. p. 146.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Frumkes, Roy (July 1994). "An Interview with Steve Reeves". The Perfect Vision Magazine.
  5. ^ "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show".
  6. ^ "Where's Raymond?/ The Ray Bolger Show". ctva.biz. Retrieved March 14, 2011.
  7. ^ IMDB: Business
  8. ^ Meet Joe Levine, Super(sales)man!: Distributor of 'Hercules' Touted as New Mike Todd Los Angeles Times 27 July 1959: C13.
  9. ^ "Hercules" the favourite: AT BOX OFFICE The Guardian (1959-2003); London (UK) [London (UK)]08 Dec 1960: 21.
  10. ^ "Rental Potentials of 1960", Variety, 4 January 1961 p 47. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
  11. ^ a b c "Interview with Steve Reeves Part two".
  12. ^ The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  13. ^ Labbe, Rod Steve Reeves: Demi-God on Horseback Films of the Golden Age
  14. ^ "Cult Movies 1996: Steve Reeves - The World's Favorite Hercules". Yuchtar.com. Retrieved 2011-04-05.
  15. ^ 'Mr. Universe' is a powerwalker now: Toronto Star18 Jan 1987: D4.
  16. ^ Reeves, Steve; Peterson, James (1982). Powerwalking. Bobbs-Merrill. p. 196. ISBN 978-0672527135. Retrieved May 27, 2014.
  17. ^ Reeves, Steve; Little, John; Tanny, Armand (December 1, 1995). Building the Classic Physique - The Natural Way. Little Wolf Press. p. 240. ISBN 978-1885096104. Retrieved May 27, 2014.
  18. ^ Reeves, Steve; Helmer, George (2003). Dynamic Muscle Building. John Little. p. 171. ASIN B000ME9BIQ. Retrieved May 27, 2014.
  19. ^ Labbe, Rod (November 5, 2011). "Steve Reeves: Demi-God on Horseback". Films of the Golden Age. The Muscatine Journal. Retrieved June 22, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Chapman, David. "On The Cover: Steve Reeves", Hardgainer, November 1992.
  • LeClaire, Christopher. Steve Reeves Biography "WORLDS TO CONQUER - The Authorized Biography Of Steve Reeves", * , First Edition December, 1999, Second Edition 2017.

External links[edit]