Steve Reeves International Society Newsletter Volumne 2 Number 1
The Army years
After graduating from Castlemont High school in June of 1944, Steve continued working with the Army Quartermaster in Oakland. Within a couple of months he received his draft notice from Uncle Sam and reported for his physical at the Presidio of Monterey in Northern California.
After passing his physical, he returned home and quit his job. He wanted to enjoy the rest of the summer before entering the service and war duty.
Steve with a buddy, Ronald Roppe chose to use their free time to explore life around Muscle Beach in Southern California. They stayed with Ron's aunt in the Hollywood area. Every day they would ride the Sunset Boulevard streetcar down to Santa Monica's Muscle Beach.
While enjoying the surfside workouts, the summer sun, the ocean, and the girls many people would offer their advice to Steve. The wrestlers would tell him, "With that great body, you should be a wrestler." The adogal dancers remarked," with such a fantastic body and handsome looks, why don't you become an adogal dancer?" The gymnasts showed off their feats of strength and exclaimed to Steve: "You have such a superb body, you should become an gymnast like us."
Even on his streetcar trips strangers would ask him if he was a movie star. Steve found these inquires and comments very complementary and was quite taken aback by all of the attention. But the fun in the sun came to a close and Steve and Ron headed back home to Oakland.
You're in the Army Now
On September 12, 1944 Steve reported to the Presidio of Monterey for induction into the Army. After taking his oath of allegiance, he boarded a bus for Camp Roberts, located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, approximately 15 miles north of Paso Robles, California.
Once at Camp Roberts, Steve and all of the other inductees were indoctrinated and given a battery of tests and medical services, including a series of inoculations. Outside the infirmary the inductees lined up for their dreaded shots. It was not unusual for a new soldier waiting for his inoculations to walk out of the infirmary and faint. Others came out pale or became sick to their stomachs. Steve was not fazed by a few shots in the arm and calmly walked out of the infirmary past the line of men waiting their turn. One soldier stopped Steve and asked, "How bad were the shots?" Steve simply replied, "Oh, it didn't hurt too much and my arm isn't very swollen." Then he flexed his huge triceps for the soldier. One young man actually dropped to the ground when he caught sight of Steve's tremendous arm!
Steve had little trouble adjusting to the Army's physical demands since he was in such terrific condition. His first day of basic training was a new experience for him as he adjusted to the harsh discipline and military ways. When the drill sergeant barked, "Everyone get down and give me twenty push-ups," Steve just laid on the ground. He knew he could easily do twenty push-ups because he regularly bench pressed hundreds of pounds. He decided to pass on doing the twenty push-ups.
When the drill sergeant saw what he was doing he shouted at Steve, t;What's the matter soldie r can't you do twenty push-ups?" Steve looked up at him and replied, "Sarge, I can do twenty push-ups with you on my back!" The sergeant had the rest of the group stop and said, "We'll seel" Then the sergeant sat on Steve's back as close as possible to the top of Steve's shoulders. As Steve counted off the push-ups the sergeant became more embarrassed and angry until Steve reached twenty push-ups.
"Very good, soldier" said the sergeant, then added, "You did those push-ups very well. Now, let's see how good you are at K.P." K.P. is short for "Kitchen Patrol," such as peeling potatoes, washing pots and pans and other kitchen duties. For Steve, even K.P. duty was no big chore. It gave him the opportunity to scoop up handfuls of raisins and nuts and wash them down with canned milk or fresh lemonade.
He soon adjusted to military life and became a very respected member of the company. He did twenty mile hikes with enthusiasm while other soldiers were falling out beside him. Some of them became so exhausted that after a long march they could hardly walk for days.
When the drill sergeant gave them a ten-minute break after they hiked the first ten miles, they would all sit down for the entire break. But not Steve, he would lean against a tree and not sit, knowing that sitting would slow the blood from circulating in his legs.
Steve was pleased with his conditioning and thankful for all of his early training. It sure made life in the Army a lot easier! After more combat training and the completion of his basic training, Steve received orders to ship out to the Philippines. Prior to shipping out, he was granted a two-week leave. He planned to return to Oakland and spend his leave time with his family and friends.
Unfortunately, a flu bug followed him home and he spent the entire two weeks sick in bed! Then he returned to Camp Roberts for assignment.
Steve and his company were transported to San Francisco, then boarded a troop ship heading for the Philippines. Life aboard the ship was somewhat boring and the time passed quite slowly. Steve, however always used his spare time to exercise and to get his share of food.
The troops would eat at different times because there were too many of them to take meals all at the same time. Each soldier was given a card indicating in what shift he was to eat. Steve, with good fortune and ingenuity, procured all three cards.
During the first shift, Steve would make his way down to the mess hall dressed very neat, every hair in place, wearing a cap and glasses. He would ask for his food very politely, never missing to say "please" or "thank you." Next, he would eat with the second shift. This time he would appear less neat and polite and without the glasses.
By the third shift, he looked a bit scruffy with an open shirt, uncombed hair and spouting colorful metaphors while asking for his food.
This routine give Steve NINE meals per day, so he had little trouble in maintaining his weight and muscle mass. Steve and some of his other crew members kept in shape on board by climbing ropes, doing chin-ups, push-ups and any other exercises they could do without equipment.
On the way to the Philippines Steve broke a long-standing maritime tradition. The tradition takes place when the 180th meridian is crossed. That is when the Domain of the Golden Dragon takes over and anyone who crosses the meridian for the first time must have his head shaved.
But not Steve, he escaped from the "barbershop quartet" and high-tailed it up a tall mast. He dared anyone to get him down. Many of the men tried and found themselves at the losing end of the battle with Steve. After a long while, they finally gave up and Steve was able to keep his dark brown locks.
The ship arrived at the island of Mindanao in the Philippines mid-month in February 1945. Mindanao was a replacement camp for the 25th Infantry Division.
While waiting for placement, Steve and his workout buddies searched for things they could use as exercise equipment. For a while they used a crude barbell consisting of two 5-pound buckets filled with concrete connected by a metal bar. They figured it was left behind by a fitness-minded soldier who had been sent to the front lines. Steve also found a heavy rope that they used for climbing. Although this equipment was adequate, more weight was still needed.
Steve solved his and his buddies' weight problems during a walk in the jungle. He happened upon a slightly-built Filipino man who approached him by asking Steve: "Hey, would you like to buy some barbells? York barbells?" Steve jumped at the chance and quickly replied, "Yes! How much do they weigh?" The man told him they weighed 100 lbs. and that he wanted $20 for them. Steve and one of his workout buddies, Tony from Los Angeles, split the cost of the weights and took them back to the camp.
Steve and the guys began working out regularly with the York barbells. After many workouts with the 100 lb. weights, Steve discovered that it was not how heavy the weight is, but how you used it. He kept records of particular exercises and which muscle groups were affected during the different workouts. ( We still have that log)
He was used to working out at Ed Yarick's gym where he and Ed would squat with up to 400 lbs. Since he had only 100 lbs. to work with he decided it was best to do the reps really slow and to do as many reps as possible. Not only did he and other fellows get good cardiovascular workouts, their leg gains were also quite good. By the time they were transferred to the front lines, Steve was doing 100 reps non-stop using the 100 lb. weights. Steve says he challenges any bodybuilder today to take one-half their body weight and follow his routine!
Because of the jungle heat and high humidity, any shower was a refreshing treat-even if it was in a makeshift outdoors shower. Most of the makeshift showers only covered you from mid-chest to knees. It usually had a tank of water on top of a roof connected by pipe to a small shower head made from a tin can punched with holes for the water delivery. Often when Steve was trying to shower the jungle natives would spread the word.
Soon the neighboring trees were full of people yelling, "Hey Tarzan, Tarzan! Over here, Tarzan!" Steve found it more and more difficult to shower in peace. Because of all of the attention he was nicknamed "Shape" by the other guys. The name stuck with him when he was assigned to the 25th Division, heading for the front lines in Luzon, Philippines.
When Steve and his buddies were sent to the front lines, they took their barbells with them. Four of the men carried 25 lbs. each and the bar was stored along with the rifles. Steve jokes that the plates made good bullet-proof vests!
Major Battle at Balete Pass
Steve landed on Luzon by way of Lingayen Beach and continued with his company to San Jacinto, the division headquarters. The division continued on and advanced to San Manuel. General Mac Arthur paid a visit to San Manuel while Steve was there and under the command of Colonel Dalton and General Mullins.
Steve belonged to Company A of the 25th Division, which was involved in the taking of Balete Pass. This manoeuvre could have been devastating for a 19 year old, but Steve's hardy defense mechanisms kicked in. He viewed the destruction as if he were watching a movie.
He saw men being killed and soldiers carried off on stretchers. As Steve moved from position to position in his march to the front lines, he witnessed an injured man being carried by stretcher. All of a sudden the man's leg fell off. Someone ran over grabbed the leg and threw it back onto the stretcher. Another soldier had been shot in the stomach and his intestines were hanging outside of his body.
During those dreadful experiences Steve would block out the war horrors and recall the good times, such as his summer fun at Muscle Beach and the people who inquired if he was a movie star. The more he thought about it, the better it sounded: a movie star! Steve decided he just might be a movie star when he got out of the service. Then he decided he needed a stage name and chose the name Johnny. Yeah, he said to himself, "Johnny will be my stage name." He then used his bayonet to carve "Johnny" onto his canteen.
Steve spent three months on the front lines. One night, from pure exhaustion after guard duty, he decided not to return to his company's foxholes, because he could not get good sleep there. The noise of all of the other soldiers moving in and out of the foxholes left little time for deep sleep.
So Steve curled up in one of the foxholes formerly used by the Japanese soldiers. He fell right to sleep and did not wake up until 9:00 a.m. the next day! To his amazement his company had moved out and he was all alone on top of a mountain! Not knowing what else to do, Steve began backtracking and by chance came upon Company B of the 25th Division. After reporting in, he told his story to one of the officers in charge. The officer told him, "You look strong. We'll put you to good use here until we meet up with your company."
While with company B, one of Steve's jobs was to strap a 5 gallon can on his back and run down to Zaragoza River, fill up the can and hike back up the hill. Snipers would regularly take shots at him but it did not stop him from continuing his "water runs" for the troops. He did this for quite sometime until he contracted malaria. Complicated by a serious jungle fever, Steve was transported to a Manilla hospital where he spent a month recuperating. Steve never made it back to Company A because he was then sent to the Island of Leyte to join the quartermaster corps. Steve's duly on Leyte was to transport drums of gasoline and oil around to supply the front lines.
At one point, Steve was assigned to Japan after the allied occupation. He was stationed to the town of Otaruon on Nokkaido Island. It was very cold and snowed a lot in Otaruon. Steve had recently come from the sunny south and did not have an overcoat. Even worse, there was not one to fit him anywhere around. So he was forced to walk around dressed only in his olive drab shirt and pants.
One day, a general spotted Steve without an overcoat. He stopped Steve and asked why he was without a coat. Steve told him there was not one to fit him, so the general said he would make sure Steve got one. Two months later after the snows had melted, Steve got his warm overcoat!
While in Otaruon, Steve served as bartender at the N.O.C. club from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. each night. His commanding officers knew Steve did not drink so he would not drink up all of the profits. His other duties consisted of weight training the officers for an hour each day.
During the occupation, American cigarettes were in a great demand and sold for a premium. Each soldier was issued a ration of one carton of cigarettes per week. Since Steve was a non-smoker he sold his cigarettes on the street for $35 a carton! I He wisely invested the money in war bonds and when he returned to the USA he bought a car with cash from the bonds.
The War is Over!!!
Steve was released from the Army after the war's end, after 26 months of service. Heading for home, Steve boarded the S.S. Waterbury, which left Yokohama, Japan in early September 1946.
The Waterbury was scheduled to dock in Portland, Oregon. That port was filled with other returning ships, so they pushed on to San Francisco. San Franciscos docks were full, so the Waterbury headed for Steve's hometown of Oakland, California.
On September 18, 1946, Steve finally stood on good old American terra firma. Since his mother had no idea when he would arrive home, she was not at the Oakland dock to greet him. That was no big deal to Steve. He was so glad to be back that he hopped on the nearest bus and headed for his home where he was greeted warmly by his surprised and delighted mother, Goldie.
It was now time for Steve to get on with the rest of his life, which is where we will pick up the story next time!
Also in this Issue:
SRIS News - Five articles of recent activity by Steve and SRIS
Nutrition and Fitness - Interview with Steve by John Little on diet, exercise routines, and rest
Society Collectibles - Limited edition photos of Steve's early bodybuilding years
Steve Reeves International Society Newsletter Volumne 2 Number 2
From Former Soldier to Foremost Bodybuilder
When we left off in our last newsletter, we learned that Steve had returned home to Oakland, California after completing his tour of duty in the Philippines and Japan at the War end. His mother was overjoyed to see her son and amazed at his robust condition.
During the last six months Steve was in Japan, he regained his health after a serious case of malaria and dingo fever and began training American officers in a fitness program.
He had a weight set made up for him at a local Japanese foundry. With an interpreter at his side, Steve explained, with a series of sketches and gestures, the size each weight plate should be.
As the interpreter explained to the founder just what Steve wanted, the Japanese founder would smile and nod understandingly. Steve requested plates founded in 5, 10 and 20 pound sizes. When the plates were ready, Steve picked them up from the foundry. The first time he used the 300 lb.set he was a bit disturbed because he thought they felt heavier than they should have. He thought he must have lost some strength while in the Army. Steve continued to use the weights for his officer training sessions and to workout with some of his fellow bodybuilders.
It was not until months later when the Japanese weight set was back home with him in Oakland that he decided to weigh the plates. That's when he discovered that each plate was a few pounds heavier than they should have been. Not only did he get all of his strength back after his illness, he 'd actually improved his condition by lifting more weight than before without even realizing it.
Hitting His First Pose
Prior to entering the 1946 Mr. Pacific Coast, Steve's only experience on a posing platform was at one weight-lifting competition held at his alma mater Castlemont High School. Ed Yarick had talked Steve into doing the posing program in conjunction with a weight lifting event. This took place the summer after Steve high school graduation, just before he entered the Service. As fate would have it, the program read, "Bodybuilding exhibition featuring the future Mr. America, Steve Reeves."
When Steve stepped onto the stage, the auditorium was filled with people from throughout the Oakland Bay area. Many gym owners and members from such noted gyms as Ed Yarick's, Phil Courtois', Jack LaLanne's, Norman Marks', and Jimmy Paine were all in that audience.
Steve was only 18 at the time. Appearing in front of such a celebrated group of bodybuilders and weight lifters made him just a little nervous. Regardless, Steve put on an excellent posing exposition. The audience showed its approval and appreciation through very enthusiastic applause. Who would have guessed that they were watching the very first posing routine of the one of the greatest bodybuilders to appear on a posing platform!
Entering the 1947 Mr. America Contest
Even before arriving home from the service, Steve knew he wanted to compete in the 1947 Mr. America contest. The contest would be held in Chicago in June. That meant there were just eight months to put on additional muscle and gain the necessary posing experience he needed to compete. He made the final decision to compete just one month before the contest. He knew he was ready. If he would have thought he needed more improvement before competing, then he would have waited until the following year to enter the Mr. America.
One More Rep
Now that Steve had made up his mind to compete in the Mr. America, he began reading everything he could about the contest and about past winners such as Clancy Ross and Alan Stephen. He wanted to know who he would be competing against and wanted to gain the advantage over them by knowing about his competition without them knowing about him. The real work preparing for the Mr. America began at Yarick's Gym the first week of November in 1946.
Steve got to the gym at 8 AM. This was the first time he'd been there since his army hitch. As he opened the door and entered the gym, he paused a moment and looked all around. It was as though time had stood still. The gym looked the same as it had when he left for the Army! Everything was there-the same weights, the same equipment and benches were all in the same places as he had remembered. Oh, there were a few more chips in things and the carpet had a few worn spots, but not much else had changed.
What he did notice were some new faces, with Ed helping out a couple of members as usual. Steve thought: "Ed is the same likeable guy that I have always known-always encouraging and helping everyone. Ed would let the entire town of Oakland workout for nothing if he could." Ed spotted Steve and came right over to help him get started with his workout.
After Steve worked out alone for a few days, he met up with his former workout partner Bob Weidlich. Steve worked out with Bob and hung around with him before going into the Service.
After working out with Bob one day, the two old friends decided to team up regularly for their workouts. Bob, who stood 5'5 1/2" with a 27-inch waist and a 48-inch chest, was a miniature of Steve. He was also one of Steve's best workout partners because he knew when Steve could do one more rep and would encourage him to do it.
He also would not push him to do three more or ten more reps that he knew were impossible to do. Bob had a very positive, upbeat attitude. He would always show up on time, and as soon as he saw Steve he would say, "Let go, man! Let's hit it!" It was great reuniting with Bob and their other old pal, Dick Webster and spending time together at the gym and around town.
Now, Steve was on his quest to become the next Mr. America. He had his workout partner, advice from Ed and a workout routine he put to paper while in the Service.
On workout days they met at the gym from 8 AM to 10:30 AM and worked with a mission in mind. Bob was very good in performing exercises and always pushed Steve on. For example, Steve would put 105 lbs. in each hand on the incline bench while doing presses while Bob would do likewise with 95 lbs. When Steve would progress to 110 lbs., Bob would go up to 100 lbs. and so forth. Bob would always be right on Steve's trail, pushing Steve ahead and Steve was always pulling Bob along.
After working out, they would shower then walk to the corner doughnut shop and eat whole wheat doughnuts and drink milk while waiting for the bus. Steve would then go home and eat lunch and read or take a nap.
The recovery process was always very important to Steve. He always made sure his body was fully rested before working it out again with all the effort and enthusiasm he could muster. This routine continued for the next six weeks with both Steve and Bob making some very impressive gains.
Mr. Pacific Coast
In mid-December of that year, Bob told Steve there was a Mr. Pacific Coast bodybuilding contest in Portland, Oregon. "Let's go up there!" he suggested to Steve. Steve wasn't sure if he was ready yet but with Bob's urging, they were on their way to Portland. They thought it would be really neat to win the contest and bring trophies back to show Ed. They kept all this a secret from Ed. They trained even harder the next two weeks in preparation for the contest. Without Ed's awareness, the two of them would go to the back of the gym were the skylight was located. Then they would practice their posing routines in the natural light in front of the mirrors.
In the early evening of December 20, 1946, Steve and Bob boarded the train to Portland. The trip would take approximately 14 hours and their arrival was scheduled for early the next morning. They only had enough money between them to purchase one sleeping berth. In order for them both to catch even a few needed z's, they squeezed into the narrow compartment head to foot. The only way possible because of their tremendous bulk. While not the most comfortable accommodations, it did allow them to get some rest before the contest the very next night.
Welcome to Portland
The train pulled into the Portland depot at 10 am on the 21st of December. Steve and Bob were met by Sam and Joe Laprenze. Sam was a bodybuilder and owner of a Portland gym. Joe was one of the foremost bodybuilders in the Pacific Northwest. The Laprenzes took the guys by Sam gym for a quick tour, then dropped them off at a nearby hotel.
After a relaxing lunch, Steve and Bob rested in their room and mentally prepared for the Mr. Pacific Coast contest. Steve was both little nervous and excited, since this was his first contest and he was just another unknown contestant.
Wowing the Audience
When Steve hit the stage, the audience was in awe. Here was a fellow, not quite 21 years old, with an outstanding physique, and literally no one in attendance had ever heard of him. Where had he been hiding?
The crowd was charged with excitement. Steve hit pose after pose with perfection. There was no doubt who was going to take the first place trophy home that night. But Bob was no slacker either. At the contest's end, trophies went to Steve for first place and to Bob for third place. Not bad for a couple of kids from Oakland!
After the contest, Mr. Pacific Coast and company along with the Laprenze brothers celebrated the dynamic Oakland duo's victorious feat with an enormous prime rib dinner. Back at their hotel room, those two trophies looked mighty nice displayed on the dresser.
Early the next morning, Steve and Bob again boarded the train and headed back to Oakland. As soon as they arrived, Steve phoned Alice Yarick to tell her about their great success at the contest. He told her they wanted to surprise Ed by putting their trophies in the gym front window the next morning before Ed got to the gym. Alice exclaimed, "That'll be the best Christmas present Ed has ever had!"
The next morning, Ed walked down to his gym to open up, just like he did most days. Only on that Tuesday he was surprised and delighted to see the shiny trophies in his front window. All he could say was, "I wondered why you guys missed your workouts-especially since you missed two in a row. I was really wondering what could have happened to you!"
The Mr. Pacific Coast contest was just the beginning for Steve who went on to the Mr. Western America and the biggie, the Mr. America - and that's where we'll pick up next time.
Also in this Issue:
SRIS News - Steve's new book, Steve's March appearance at Hollywood Collector's Show
Nutrition and Fitness - Preview of Steve's "Classic Physique" book, First Edition
Steve Reeves Mailbox - Questions from fans around the globe
Society Collectibles - Various magazines and movie posters for sale
Official SRIS Products
Steve Reeves International Society Newsletter Volumne 2 Number 3
On the Path to the Mr. America Contest
After celebrating his first place victory at the Mr. Pacific Coast contest, Steve returned home and continued his quest to be the next Mr. America. It was December 23, 1946, just two days before Christmas. It was a time to rejoice and turn his attention to family, friends and enjoyed a very wonderful holiday season.
As the New Year commenced, Steve got back into his regular training routine at Ed Yarick's gym, along with his workout partner, Bob Weidlich. For several years, Steve had planned to compete in the Mr. America and was now seriously training towards that goal.
After endless hours of reviewing previous workouts and reading all of the workout material he could get his hands on, he finally determined how his physique should look. He always had in mind a physique designed for classic proportion and symmetry. Steve finally developed a formula for what others would eventually call his Classic Physique.
The Classic Physique
In defining his Classic Physique, Steve knew precisely what was required to achieve The Look. He wanted a 24 inch differential between waist and chest. His shoulders would be 24 inches tip to tip. He also wanted to avoid building large trapezius, which would make his shoulders appear narrower or large obliques, which would make his waist appear wider. Steve determined his neck, biceps and calves should be exactly the same size.
After much consideration and calculation Steve developed his personal formula for the Classic Physique: Neck size equal to 79% of his head size; chest size equal to 148% of his pelvis size; arm size equal to 252% of his wrist size. He determined his waist size would be equal to 86% of his pelvis size, thigh size equal to 1 75% of his knee size, calf size equal to 192% of his ankle size and his weight 295% of his height.
Although Steve did not achieve a 24 inch differential between waist and chest, he came within a half inch of it. Undoubtedly he would have achieved his 24 inches if he had not gone into films, which was very demanding on both his time and energy.
With his plan in hand and the goal to be Mr. America, Steve and Bob worked out for the next four and a half months with new found spirit. At the same time, Steve attended chiropractic school in San Francisco to further his education in anatomy and nutrition through the G.I. Education Bill.
The Mr. Western America Contest (formerly the Mr. Pacific Coast Contest) was scheduled to take place at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on May 25. Steve decided to compete because it would be a good warm-up to the Mr. America competition.
When the Mr. California came up before the Mr. Western America, Steve decided not to enter it. He did not think it wise to compete in a contest of less importance than the Mr. Western America, especially since he had already captured the Mr. Pacific Coast title.
Warming up at Muscle Beach
Steve and Bob drove down from Oakland a few days before the contest so they could spend time at Muscle Beach. That way they could get in a couple workouts and work on their tans. Bob decided not to compete himself, but went along for moral support.
While in the area, they visited with Les Stockton and his wife Pudgy at their home in Santa Monica. Steve always enjoyed Pudgy's delicious meals because they adhered to physical culture standards. The Stocktons promised to be at the Mr. Western America to support Steve.
Many notables from the body building world were also in the audience to see who would be the next Mr. Western America. Vince Gironda came with his very beautiful fiancée Peggy O'NeiI, and artist Kenneth Kendell.
When Steve was introduced to the audience as the reigning Mr. Pacific Coast, Peggy's comment to Vince and Kenneth was, "Mr. Pacific Coast... Mr. WORLD!" The Shrine Auditorium was so packed that it was standing room only when Steve was proclaimed Mr. Western America!
It was the first, but would not the last time that Steve would compete against Eric Pedersen.
Edging Closer to Mr. America
After returning to Oakland, Steve had only a few weeks to polish his posing routine and put the finishing touches on his physique before heading for the Mr. America contest in Chicago.
During his workouts, when he did a heavy set he would give it 110 percent. He would start off counting his reps from 1 to 5 then finish with 6-Aluriano, 7-Vo, 8-Farbotnik, 9-Eiferman and 10-Pedersen (the names of the competitors he wanted to beat in the Mr. America competition) After his workouts, he made sure he got a little more rest and ate a little more to support his very strenuous routine. Steve's workout is printed in the Nutrition & Fitness section of this issue.
Heading to the Windy City
On Thursday morning, June 26, 1947, Steve boarded a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Chicago for what would be the most important contest of his life. When Steve stepped off the plane at Midway Field, Dick Trusdale was waiting for him. It was a very humid 90 degree day, although it did not appear to affect Steve in the least. Dick drove Steve to his house in Evanston where Steve stayed for the night.
The next day Dick took Steve to get a haircut and then drove him to his hotel, which was located close but not too close to the location of the contest. Dick dropped Steve off and said he would see him the next day. Steve wanted to stay in a quiet hotel away from the other competitors and he had picked the right one. He felt it was the best way he could relax, get some sun and mentally prepare himself for the contest.
Steve put in his first workout at Chicago Central YMCA gym, then after eating a typical Reeves dinner he returned to his room. As he put his key into the lock Steve heard the phone ringing. He hurried in to answer if, not bothering to retrieve his key. It was Tony Lanza the outstanding Canadian photographer and a body builder himself, reminding Steve about a photo shoot the next morning. Not only was it Steve's first time in Chicago but was also Tony's. He told Steve he would pick him up early so they could get to the beach in time to take advantage of the best sun angles. After Steve and Tony finished their phone call, Steve went back for his key which was still dangling in the door lock!
Even with the time change Steve had no trouble falling asleep knowing that the next day was going to begin very early. In the morning Steve awoke early for a morning workout at the Central "Y." Steve had not been observed by any of the competitors during his workouts. After returning to the hotel, he relaxed and waited for Tony.
Photo Shoot With "Mr. X"
Tony met Steve as planned and they drove to the lake front where he parked his car at the Foster Avenue Beach. Steve stepped out of his street clothes to reveal only his posing trunks. He and Tony started walking down the beach looking for a location for their photo shoot.
Suddenly, Steve felt as if he were being watched, and as he looked back - he was quite surprised at the crowd of people following him. At one point Steve noticed that the street traffic was backed up! Motorists were blowing their horns at drivers that were slowing down to get a better look at Steve.
Lanza found a rock for Steve to stand on with the lake as a backdrop . As it turns out, these Lanza shots are considered some of the best ever taken of Steve. After the photo shoot they returned to the car and made their way to the hotel. Steve relaxed, got a little sun and thought about his posing routine, reminding himself to be calm during the contest. He retired early, for he knew that the next day was the one day he had dreamed about for many years and he wanted to be fully prepared for it.
The Contest America
On Sunday June 29, 1947 the Mr. America competition took place at Lane High School in Chicago. Steve relaxed and mentally prepared for the contest that day. About an hour before the event Steve took a cab to the contest site.
When he walked into the auditorium he was confident but felt a little rush of adrenaline. He thought to himself that he knew he was up to winning because he had beat Pedersen before, and Pedersen was as good if not better than anyone else competing. He thought if he played it cool, stayed calm and did his poses correctly with the right angle then he would win.
After checking out the lighting, which was only one light shining down at a 45 degree angle, he knew it was critical that placement was just right. If you stepped six inches forward or six inches backward you would be out of the light and lose the perfect angle for the shadows to reflect your musculature.
Steve reported in for the contest and walked to the back stage area where he got his first glimpse of the competition. They were lifting weights and exercising to get blood to gorge the muscles (pumping up). Steve did not pump up before his stage performance knowing that he would gain a little size but would lose some cuts and look a bit smoother. Instead, he just did some stretches and warmed up. He then rubbed oil all over his body, making sure not to overdo it. He needed only enough oil to perfectly reflect the lights.
The other competitors were watching Steve, wondering why he appeared so calm and was not pumping up. There was definitely a bit of psyching going on.
Numbers were drawn to determine the order the contestants would appear on stage. The judging group held a meeting with the contestants to review the rules. The contestants would be judged by a point system, with 75 points being a perfect score.
Each contestant would have 30 seconds total to do three poses. The referee would give a verbal signal when the time had elapsed. In previous years contestants tried to gain the advantage by taking extra time. That would not be allowed this year. Steve drew number 19 from the box, which placed him at the middle of the competition.
Here Come The Judges
Out front sat the ten judges waiting for the first competitor to hit the platform. The judges were Roy Armstrong, Herman Fische, Karo Whitfield, Bob Rea, Larry Barnholth, Al Urban, Vern Hernlund, Dr. Dudley Watson, Charles Post and Donald Penny.
They were selected from an assembly of experts. Roy Armstrong was the physical director at the Chicago Central YMCA. Herman Fischer held the prestigious position of president of Central A.A.U.; Karo Witfield was the very talented lifting coach at Piedmont A.C. in Atlanta; Bob Rea was the renowned Director of the Chicago Press Photography Association; Larry Barnholth the exceptional lifting coach from Akron Ohio; Al Urban one of the outstanding physique photographers in the country; Vern Hernlund owner of a health studio in Minneapolis; Dr. Dudley a prominent local physician; and Donald Penny a physical culture instructor.
Lst the Posing Begin
The main event was anxiously anticipated by everyone. Who would achieve the first place standing Alan Stephan achieved the previous year?
The announcer began the evening by introducing six lovely young models known as the Patricia Steven's Olympettes. These ladies would be presenting the trophies to the top six winners at the end of the show. Each model was introduced and walked to her place at the back of the stage, sitting on chairs evenly placed behind the posing platform.
The master of ceremonies announced the contestants' names in order of numbers drawn earlier. Each contestant came to center stage, ascended the platform and gave three poses (front, back and an optional pose). Throughout the event, the lighting on the contestants was too bright or not bright enough. The audience at various times called out: "More lights! Less lights! Turn on the lights! Turn off the lights! Phooey on the lights!"
Steve waited backstage, completely composed and ready for his moment. At the announcement of his name, he stepped from the wings and confidently walked to the platform in the center of the stage. He was the sensation of the evening. The crowd was behind him all the way.
In the audience, a writer for "Your Physique" magazine was heard telling a group of people, "Seldom if ever does one perceive such perfection as Steve Reeves." He later reported that he was really impressed by Steve's fine leg development, and that it was the best he had seen since Grimek and Pat Ryan. He also remarked, "This guy has shape plusl" When all of the contestants completed their routines and the judges conferred - it was time for the moment of truth. The announcer made his way to the stage and quieted the audience. He informed the audience that he would announce the first six places in reverse order. Each contestant would then come out and take his place on the stage.
He began by stating that there was a tie for fifth and sixth place. He called for George Eiferman of Fritshe's Gym of Philadelphia and Kimon Voyages of Bal's Gym of the Bronx to take to the posing dais to break the tie. The judges gave Eiferman the nod and Voyages was awarded sixth place. Fourth place went to John Farbotnik hailing from Chicago. Third place was Joe Lauriano of the York Barbell Club.
Then the announcer hesitated and looked out at the audience and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen." A hush came over the crowd. "There is a tie for first place! Eric Pedersen and Steve Reeves have both received 72 points. We will have them come up and perform their routines one more time."
The announcer called out Eric Pedersen's name and enthusiastic applause broke out. Pedersen took the platform and hit his three poses. He looked great. Eric stepped down off the platform and walked to the side. Steve was standing in the wings waiting for his turn, ready and determined to win.
When the announcer called "Steve Reeves," the crowd broke out in thunderous applause that evolved into a roar of cheers and whistles. There was no doubt who was the people choice for Mr. America. Steve walked out and stepped up onto the platform. He turned around and faced the audience and hit his poses. The crowd responded with more deafening applause.
The judges made their decision and handed the announcer the winner name. The announcer moved to the microphone and said, "This year's Mr. America is Steve Reeves from Oakland, California." The audience showed it's approval with tremendous applause and cheers.
Each of the six winners took their turn on the posing dais to receive their trophy from one of the models. The previous year's Mr. America, Alan Stephan's, did a short posing routine, then congratulated the new winter. Then, along with Alan's charming wife, they stood on the platform with Steve posing for photos before a volley of flashbulbs.
At last, Steve had achieved his dream to be Mr. America! Just how could he top that feat? I will tell you more in our next issue.
Also in this Issue:
SRIS News - Four articles on Steve and SRIS recent activity
Steve Reeves Mailbox - Questions from fans around the globe
Celebrity Profile - Extensive interview with George Eiferman
Society Collectibles - Steve's 1976 Jaguar for sale
Official SRIS Products
Steve Reeves International Society Newsletter Volumne 2 Number 4
So - You Want to Be a Star?
When we left off in the last issue, Steve had just won the Mr. America Contest in Chicago. It was his lifelong dream, and Steve trained harder for it than any other contest held before or after it.
Life as Mr. America
After winning the Mr. America, Steve was the guest of honor all evening long at various congratulatory celebrations. When he finally arrived back at his hotel, he was stopped in the lobby by the manager who told him that a letter was waiting for him. Steve placed his Mr. America trophy on the counter and opened the letter.
It read: "Dear Mr. Reeves, Congratulations on the win at the Mr. America contest tonight. I saw you on stage and believe that you have potential in show business as an entertainer. If you are interested in pursuing an acting career, please contact me at the address below in New York City, and we'll get things rolling for you. Sincerely, (signed) Wallis Downey, Wallis Downey Agency New York, New York."
Steve beamed as he picked up his trophy and headed to his room. He was on top of the world. He was the new Mr. America and now had this chance-of-a-lifetime offer!
The next day Steve made some personal appearances and did interviews with newspapers and some other print media. Two days later he flew back to San Francisco. After arriving in San Francisco, he headed home to Oakland, but first stopped by Yaricks gym to show Ed the trophy. After their visit, he returned home to share the events with his mother. She was very proud of his great accomplishment, although his stepfather didn't understand what all the hoopla was about.
For the next few weeks, Steve resumed his workout routine and recuperated from training for the contest. He kept thinking about the letter from the talent agent. Ultimately he decided to write to Mr. Downey and tell him that he would like to try his hand at acting.
After much back and forth correspondence, Steve signed with the Wallis Downey agency. The agency helped Steve change from the chiropractic school in San Francisco to an acting school in New York City.
The Big Apple
Steve landed at La Guardia airport in New York on September 22,1947. The agency did not waste any time in promoting their newest potential star. Waiting for him at the airport was the press and a very lovely lady representing the Downey agency.
Reeves and Birney
During the forties, movie theaters booked singing, dancing and other live entertainment to appear before the movies were shown. Steve teamed up with another budding actor Dick Birney and together the two performed a stand-up comedy act anywhere within 150 miles of Manhattan. Most the time, however they were booked in movie theatres in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They did a Martin and Lewis type act with Steve playing the Martin part and Dick in the Lewis role. Their act was based on Steve being a healthy and strong guy and Dick being the weak and vulnerable one. The audiences loved it and were always very enthusiastic with their applause.
I'm Not a Pigeon!
Steve was enrolled in the Stella Adler drama school in New York because MarIon Brando had taken his acting classes there. After about a week, Miss Adler had the students lisping, walking pigeon toed, stuttering and doing different types of exercises. One day, Steve's assignment was to walk pigeon toed. When Steve began walking pigeon toed Miss Adler told him, in a demeaning way, "That's not the way to do it, Mr. Reeves!" Steve replied, "Miss. Adler, from the ages of six to eight, I taught myself how NOT to walk pigeon toed. Now you're telling me I don't know how to walk pigeon toed! Look, I don't want to learn how to stutter, walk pigeon toed or lisp. I want to be a romantic leading man! I look around this room, and most of the people want to be character actors. I want to be a romantic leading man!" Miss Adler answered in a soft voice, "I want to see you after class."
When the class finally ended and all the students had left, Steve asked Miss Adler why she wanted to see him. "Mr. Reeves," she began, "you are disrupting the class and I can't have that. I think I'll have to give you back your money." Steve replied, "Good idea."
Steve left and went directly to the agency to inform Mr. Downey about what had happened. Downey told Steve, "It would be better for you to go to the Theodore Erving School of Theater. They have plays every week. You can learn more about your trade by doing rather than by any of the things Stella had you doing."
While Steve was enrolled in the Erving School of Theater, he made sure to fit in time for his bodybuilding. He trained Sid Kline's gym in New York City after acting class for 90 minutes, three days a week.
He also made sure to fit in a social life, making friends with the other actors in his class. Not surprisingly, he wasn't short of female companionship. Two of his favorite lady friends were fellow actors Ginger Gray and Pam Rogers. Steve also took in all the sights of the city, including Coney Island, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
When time permitted, Steve and Ginger would take the train out to her place in Jamaica, New York, about an hour from the city. Later Ginger appeared in several movies that Steve enjoyed. The last time he saw her was in Rome, about fifteen years after they were in New York. Steve bumped into her in an American Express office. She had changed her name to Anita Talbert, although her real name was Anita Sokol.
Lights, Camera - ACTION!
Steve continued performing weekends when a Cecil B. DeMille talent agent caught one of Steve and Dick's performances at a New York movie theater. He liked what he saw in Steve and contacted the Downey agency requesting Steve do a screen test. He told Steve's agent to bring Steve to the Paramount Studios in New York for the test. Steve did the screen test and he was good enough to impress the talent scout, who sent it to DeMille himself.
After viewing Steve's screen test, DeMille said, "Yes, this guy looks pretty good. Let bring him in." On January 21, 1948, Steve flew to Los Angeles for a meeting in Hollywood with DeMille. Steve was now back in Hollywood and about to become an actor under contract for Paramount. Just four years earlier people were always asking him, "Are you an actor?" Now, if someone asked, he could truly say, yes I am!
Steve arrived early at DeMille s office for their first meeting. He stopped for a second before entering the office to compose himself. He opened the door and greeted the receptionist, who asked if he had an appointment. Steve replied, "Yes, I'm Steve Reeves and I'm here to see Mr. DeMille." The receptionist informed DeMille that Mr. Reeves had arrived. She then told Steve to please go right in, Mr. DeMille was expecting him.
As Steve opened the door, DeMille was standing, waiting for him. He walked toward Steve and gave him a hardy handshake. Steve noticed there were four large photographs on the wall behind DeMille desk. There were pictures of Dorothy Lamour Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Steve Reeves!
DeMille pointed to Steve's picture (which Steve calls Perfection in the Clouds) and said, "You see that man over there? There's my man for 'Samson and Delilah.' But as you may know, the camera puts on about fifteen pounds to a person frame. Therefore, you must lose fifteen pounds so you will appear on the screen as you do in that picture.'
Steve replied, "I will lose the weight for the role, Mr. DeMille." DeMille then brought out a contract, that was effective for seven years, and Steve signed it.
As a contract actor on the Paramount lot, DeMiIle gave Steve a room and an acting coach who worked with Steve for two hours per day. Steve was constantly being chased by beautiful secretaries and aspiring starlets. Nearly every day, DeMille would enjoy going to the commissary with Steve for lunch. After awhile the word was out that every day Reeves was having lunch with DeMiIIe. The ladies began asking Steve to lunch, hoping that DeMiIIe would join them, too.
Losing the Weight
Steve shed ten pounds but was caught between the bodybuilding crowd at Muscle Beach and DeMiIIe. He would make a trip to Muscle Beach and everyone would tell him that he was losing too much muscle. He would then gain some back, lose some, gain it back again, lose some. DeMille wonted a total loss of fifteen pounds from Steve. But Steve finally made up his mind not to lose anymore size, and didn't get the extra five pounds off.
DeMille was informed that Steve could not or would not take off the last five pounds. DeMille called Steve into the office and said, 'Steve, I like you personally. I must begin filming 'Sampson and Delilah' in three months, and you still have not lost all of the weight I requested. I cannot afford to take a chance on you. I'm going to use Victor Mature, a tested professional who has already starred in seventeen films. He is not who I want, he is not my ideal. You (as he pointed to Steve's picture on the wall) are who I want. But 'Samson and Delilah' is going to be the first multimillion dollar film production since 'Gone With the Wind,' and I simply cannot take a chance with you under the circumstances."
Steve soon returned to New York and continued with acting school while still under contract with Paramount.
Getting Back to Serious Bodybuilding
The contract with Paramount lasted only a few more months, then Steve was suddenly released from his seven-year contract. Steve began taking singing lessons from vocal coach, George London. Steve was quite good and had nice singing voice.
Shortly after he received the news about his movie contract, Vic Tanney approached Steve. "How about competing in the Mr. USA?" asked Tanney. Steve told him that he hadn't worked out that much over the past few months and that he was ten pounds too light. "Oh hell," replied Tanney, "Steve, you could beat anyone looking just the way you do now, Just work out for the next two weeks and you will look great."
Steve's first mistake was to believe Vic. The next mistake was to think he could get that perfect tan in just a few days. He had been so busy with the acting and working at the studio that he had lost his tan. Steve took some pipe, wire and four sun light bulbs and made himself a tanning booth in his apartment. That was the "mother of all mistakes."
He burned himself so badly that soon his skin was blistering and the pain was excruciating, almost too much to handle. Every time he would flex a muscle, it would bring tears to his eyes. On the day of the contest, he put makeup over the blisters so he would be all one color. That night at the contest Clancy Ross won. Steve was just not able to get into contest shape in only two weeks. That plus trying to cope with the severe burns and all that makeup equated a loss.
Heading for the First Mr. Universe Contest
Steve heard of a new contest to be held in England in 1948. The contest was going to be called the Mr. Universe Contest. He learned that John Grimek, whose picture he first saw on the cover of a physique magazine, would be competing in the contest.
Steve arrived in London a few days before the contest, which was held on Friday the 13th of August, 1948 at the famous Scala Theater in London. It was the very first Mr.Universe contest and it was billed as the "Battle of Muscle." To this day it is still considered one of the most exciting events ever to take place in the world of bodybuilding. It was the talk of the town, and reports from the time suggest this event created more excitement than the Olympic Games.
Steve wasn't prepared for the mob of fans that his Mr. America title had created over in England. He had to check out of the first hotel he'd reserved a room at due to fans pounding on the door day and night. Fortunately, he found another hotel and checked in under an assumed name.
The night of the contest, every seat in the theater was sold out, including all standing room! The contest was sanctioned by the NABBA and judged on a 100 point system as follows: 40 points for symmetrical proportions, 40 points for muscular development, 5 points for posture, 5 points for physical efficiency, 5 points for personality, vitality, etc., 5 points for skin, hair teeth, etc.
The judges at this event included George Walsh from Britain, George Hackenschmidt from Germany, Gregor Arax from France, George Bankoff from Russia, Tromp van Digglen from South Africa, Bob Hoffman from the York Barbell Club in the USA, and George Greenwood from Britain.
That day, two of the greatest physiques met on stage-John Grimek in his thirties and Steve Reeves in his early twenties. After the primaries were over three finalists were named. First was Andre Drapp then Steve Reeves and finally John Grimek.
All three men wanted the title very much. The scoring was very close between them. Finally the judges announced that they could not pick a winner between Steve and John, and "declared the contest a draw. The judges evoked that little line about "physical powers," a line that was open to interpretation as the sponsors and judges saw fit.
Also in this Issue:
SRIS News - Six articles on recent activity by Steve and SRIS
Celebrity Profile - Detailed account of Steve being honored at Mr./Mrs. America in Virginia
Nutrition and Fitness - Steve's basic diet, early inspirations, his enduring popularity
Steve Reeves Mailbox
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