Steve Reeves International Society Newsletter Volumne 6 Number 1
The Steve Reeves Story
When my wife Cejay and I founded the Steve Reeves International Society in 1994, we never thought just six years later we would be writing and dedicating a memorial tribute to its leader, and certainly my close friend, Steve Reeves.
This special tribute issue is to honor Steve, to echo all his accomplishments and to keep alive the legacy and spirit of a man who meant so much, to so many, for so long. Steve would be pleased to know that the many things he felt so strongly about would continue to be remembered and practiced in his name through the SRIS.
For almost 15 years, Steve was a great friend, mentor and business partner. Always kind to children, my six and nine year old girls Mariah and Kira loved seeing him. I always respected Steve's ideas and looked to him many times for advice and direction. Steve was generous with his time making my mission that much easier. You always knew that you were in the presence of an extraordinary person no matter how many times you were with him.
Hearing the stories of his life has been an experience that will live with me forever. There were times when I would ask a question about his life and he would reply with an event that was beyond anything I would have ever imagined. I remember saying to him one day, "Steve, why haven't I heard this story before?" His reply was, " Nobody has asked me". A man of few words, Steve considered himself just another person-.- like anyone else. Yet he was truly a man of greatness.
Yes, Steve's death was very unexpected. I never doubted that his strength and courage would pull him through as they had throughout his life. Unfortunately, he didn't even have a chance to fight; God had different plans. I can thank God that He did allow me to be there for Steve during his final days, minutes and moments on earth.
My sincere thanks to all of you for the many prayers, cards and letters of sympathy during this unfortunate and untimely event. I know the family and friends of Steve Reeves also appreciate your generous acts of kindness.
A day won't go by when we won't think of Steve. Moreover, we will always consider him a true legend and an exceptional human being that did exceptional things during an exceptional lifetime. Yes, Steve you were truly one of a kind and we thank you for letting us be a part of your unique world.
George & Cejay Helmer Steve Reeves International
We Say Goodbye to Steve
On Saturday, May 6 about 100 close friends and relatives of Steve gathered for a small private memorial service at the McLeod Mortuary Chapel in Escondido, California.
Just some of those who came to pay their final respects were George & Tuesday Coates; George, Cejay, Tye, Kira & Mariah Helmer; Deborah Englehorn and family; Gordon Reeves & family; Russ Warner; Leo Stern; Joe & Betty Weider; Lou Ferrigno; Gene Mozee; Reg Lewis; Richard Harrison; Roland and Virginia Essmaker; Dave Dowling; Robert Panarello; John Balk; Ed Fury; and Milton T. Moore.
The beautiful service began at 3:30 p.m. with Hank Williams' I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and ended with the Chordetts' Mr Sandman, two of Steve's favorite songs. Officiating the service was Rev. Richard Huls from Valley Center, Steve's hometown. Rev. Huls' tribute to Steve was very warm, thoughtful and certainly quite touching.
"Good afternoon. We're here today to honor a man who was bigger than life. "For most of us, our introduction to Steve Reeves was movies, a character known as Hercules: half man, half god. Looking at his pictures here, it hurts all of us I'm sure. But even more so, the unexpected death of Steve brought so many of you a relationship that is extremely meaningful. I wish to express my condolences to family members, friends, and to all of you who have come to share with us today.
"I understand that Steve was a very humble man, he didn't tell people how humble he was, and I want you all to know that it humbles me to be here. I am a resident of Escondido and valley Center. Our paths never crossed. But simply as a member of the community, I can appreciate how a service like this can humble anyone. And as we all join together, I'm sure this is how he would have wanted it, not to somehow make him more than what he was, but simply recognize that he was a member of the community as much as he was a star. We join together today to remember him, pay our respects to him, and recognize the qualities of his life that all of us in many ways vie for in ourselves. And hopefully, we have already taken some of those. "I'd like to pause, as Steve often did, for a word of prayer. Pray for God's company and strength.
'Our father in heaven we pause here, to think of a man you gave life to, who went through many experiences in hfe, not without trials and tribulations but certainly with successes and recognition. A man who not only was able to achieve but wanted to achieve on behalf of others and to enable them to become achievers as well. We want the very best for the body you have given and for the spirit that makes it possible for us to be people of success. We are thankful for those who have come to join together this afternoon and as we bow in prayer we would ask that your peace will rule over all of us in the name of our Lord we pray'
"I'd like to begin today with a poem that Steve wrote. I think it's commendable that one would reflect upon his own life and his mortality and the conclusion of his life.
When my days on earth are over, With my faithful dogs by my side, I will ride through new deep clover On a horse called Classic Pride. They have been my true companions, Along mountain trails and rivers wide, My friends will look at me with envy When we cross the great divide.
"I'm sure that Steve didn't know that when he wrote this poem when the crossing of that great divide would take place. But as it has happened, he recognized some aspects of his life. He highlighted them.
"His date of birth was Jan 21, 1926-- born in Montana, and it is my understanding that his remains will go there. He died May 1, the year 2000. Steve was 74 years old. And, as so many of you know, his death was totally unexpected.
Some way or another, he touched you--maybe as a neighbor or as a friend-- whose life found meaning in a meaningful relationship. There are really two ways to look at that. As you look at these pictures, here's a man who lived in Valley Center for 43 years--much of his life. The people who touched him, who said things to him, who shared time with him and rejoiced with him, found things meaningful--just as your lives were touched by him.
"But his life was really a representation of your lives; and your lives in many ways are a representation of his. It is I think worthy of those of you who knew him to say a few words about him. Certainly from my perspective, it would only be second hand. But many of you knew him perhaps more directly.
Many beautiful tributes were then given about Steve. We've included a few here from people who knew Steve for many years.
Tribute from Richard Harrison:
"I've been a friend of Steve's since 1955. When I first met Steve I was a manager in a gymnasium for Vic Tanny. Steve had just come back from New York City about the time he was in the film 'Athena'. He stayed with me at my place and we got along very well. It was a time when his career as an actor wasn't going too well so I introduced him to friends of mine who owned gyms and he went to work for them. Then, thank God, he got the part of 'Hercules' in Italy very soon afterward, I was under contract for a couple of studios and I went to Italy and joined him. We had a wonderful time together in Spain, Italy and Malaysia and all over in films.
"Many people would say it's true that if you looked in the dictionary under perfection the first definition you'd expect to see is Steve Reeves. He definitely was the most handsome and developed adult man who was ever born. Probably it would take a laboratory to make another one like him. But Steve was much more than that. I think his main thing in life was living. He loved to do many things.
"When he worked out in a gym, he didn't talk much about working out. He did what he had to do because it was his job. He did win Mr. America and Mr. Universe. He was paid as an actor and he did a very good job as an actor too. But he never once wanted to talk about bodybuilding. He knew his body very well; he knew it like a doctor. He would work out just like a doctor, moving every little muscle, but he never wanted to show off in any way. He was incredibly strong by the way I've heard people in the past say "Well he couldn't be very strong with a beautiful body like that' He was incredibly strong. I remember in the gym when he and Gordon Scott would work out they would take 120 pounds in each hand and do 20 reps at a time. Steve would do everything perfect without any exertion whatsoever.
"I never heard Steve once say a bad word about anybody. He was a very private person and he didn't talk a lot either. He was extremely intelligent, didn't like to waste words and didn't like to hear stupid words either. He was a beautiful human being.
"I am so thankful that Steve came into my life because like everybody else, he was my hero and I was so proud to be his friend. I was also so proud to know so many of the people that were friends of his. I'm going to miss him very much. But I'll tell you one thing, he's going to be here forever because there was only one living god that I ever met and that was Steve Reeves. He'll be around for a long time for all of us to admire. Thank you."
Tribute from Gene Mozee:
"I am a longtime friend of Steve's and I was proud to have known him for many, many years. I first read about him in a copy of Joe Weider's magazines 'Muscle Power' and 'Your Physique' in 1950.
"When I was 16 years old, one day my brother and l journeyed down to Muscle Beach on the bus and the first person we looked for was Steve Reeves. We went up and approached him and he was so kind to us and treated us like his little brothers. I had this relationship with him ever since that day. I've called his home on occasions and he was always pleasant to talk to. He would remember my family always asking how my brother and mother were. He was just the greatest human being that anyone could meet.
"As a bodybuilder he was unmatched. Michelangelo once made a drawing of what he considered to be the perfect human being: so many cubits tall, so many hands wide and exact proportions. David P. Willoughby, one of the experts in the field of bodybuilding, found that Steve's measurements were almost identical to the depiction of the perfect man by Michelangelo.
"Not only was Steve perfect physically, but I never met a man who was more thoughtful. I never heard him utter a negative word against anyone. He was always grateful for his success and very modest. If you started to compliment him, he'd stop you if you went too far, but he appreciated your compliment. He was not a man who had an actor's ego.
"Steve was a man who knew who he was and what he was. I don't know if he really understood how much he meant to the world. In my three gyms, Steve Reeves was always the man whose picture was in the place of honor. He was always the hero of our gyms because he was like the King of the Spartans, Leonidas, who lead the 300 Spartans against 30,000 Persians. Steve Reeves was every bit the great man that all of you knew.
"I want everyone to know that Steve Reeves was a man who would give his time and help people. For a couple of unknown kids, like my brother and me to walk up to a big superstar like Steve and for him immediately to be so kind, so generous with his time and become lifelong friends it says it all. I don't know of an actor or a bodybuilder in the world today you could walk up to and become instant friends. Steve was that type of man. He was the greatest man I ever met. Thank you"
Tribute from Reg Lewis:
"I worked out at the same gym as Steve Reeves, Ed Yarick's gym. When I first went there, I asked about the equipment that Steve Reeves used. People told me, 'See that machine over there, that's it.' Well, I quickly went over to use it and then asked how much weight did Steve use. They told me, 'Put on 140 pounds.'
Well, with that weight I couldn't do anything on that machine. I then asked if Steve used those dumbbells over there. They relied, 'Yes he did. They're 120-pound dumbbells'. I next tried those and once again I couldn't do anything with that weight.
"To me Steve Reeves was like meeting a real movie star. One look at his face and body was the epitome of what a movie star should look like. I will always remember him as the perfect movie star. Thank you."
Tribute from Joe Weider:
"I have been a friend of Steve Reeves since 1947. This was when he first corresponded with us and he came to Montreal to have photographs taken after his Mr. America title. We all know from what everybody has said here today what a wonderful human being he was.
"Steve Reeves was one of the first models that made the world see the human body: what it is and what it could accomplish. He helped to start a whole physical movement that changed the world by his example as a human being and as a physical specimen. Nobody approached him at that time, and he influenced everybody through his character and personality. With his great body and great face, he was almost like a Greek god. The combination of his looks and character made him so startling.
"But most important, he was like the boy next door. With all these characteristics, he inspired me in my business and millions of people throughout the world to be great. It was because of him that the world has changed to a physical way of thinking about the human being. I and hundreds of millions of people throughout the world knew him, loved him and admired him.
He has been a great inspiration, and he will remain a great inspiration as long as physical fitness and the love of the human body character remains. Thank you.
really know. I ask if an individual has been religious or been to church or some aspect of that. Being a Pastor you like to know those things.
"I'm sure these words from the Book of Corinthians were meant for Steve Reeves. 'Do you know that you are a temple of God or that your body is a temple of God in his spirit and that the spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him. But the temple of God is holy and that is what you are.'
"As we're here this afternoon, we think of Steve Reeves. I'm sure many of you have seen young people walking down the street with weights in their hands doing powerwalking. The inspiration for that kind of powerwalking came from Steve Reeves. He was a person who enriched an appreciation, as we've heard, for bodybuilding. But more than that, bodybuilding that was drug- free and done just on the merits of one's capabilities.
"I especially find a sentiment here to day because of Steve's service in the Army. He was involved in combat in the Philippines and in the occupational forces of Japan after the war. But for all of us, as we take a look at these scripture passages here today, we would say that Steve surely was a spiritual man. He regarded the body as a gift of God, to be taken care of, to be enriched, to be recognized, not flattered but honored. For each of us here today, we humbly can say thank you to this man. That understood, this is what Paul meant when he wrote these words: 'Do you not know that your body was the temple of God?' Perhaps in some strange way, even ironical, the figure of Steve Reeves was a definition of these words: That the body, physical as we well know, has a time on this earth. Let the spirit dwell within. May *God give to him all that he ever wanted to be as he was on this earth and for all eternity.
"In conclusion today, I was very gratified to have heard this expression of Steve Reeves. 'He was a man who was what he said he believed.' And that is something that all of us can well imitate and emulate in our lives. Thank you all for coming today".
Following Rev. Huls' kind words, Steve's second cousin Gordon Reeves, was then presented with the U.S. flag in honor of Steve's military service. It was a touching moment to end a beautiful service.
Steve Reeves International Society Newsletter Volumne 6 Number 2
Leaving The Chains Behind
Following the 1958 European release of Hercules Unchained, Steve abandoned his famous loincloths and signed on to star in his first non-Herculean adventure, The White Warrior. For Steve, this film was not only a big change in screen character but a big payday as well. Having received only $10,000 for each Hercules film, Steve was increasing his bank account by $25,000 thanks to this third film in Europe.
Never wanting to be typecast, Steve welcomed the opportunity for acting in something totally different. Considering this film came directly on the heels of the success and notoriety of his two prior Hercules' roles, totally different is an understatement. In this film, Steve plays the real-life Caucasian leader Hadji Murad who led a small band of mountain warriors to victory over the superior Russian army of Czar Nicholas I. The film is very loosely based on Leo Tolstoy’s 1912 short story Hadji Murad.
Location filming for White Warrior began in Yugoslavia in November 1958 and would last till early 1959. A few months later, European and Asian audiences were treated to the film's premiere. However, the rest of the world would have to wait a full two years to see Steve as this new character. Joining Steve in this all international cast were two young leading ladies, Italian actresses Georgia Moll and Scilla Gabel. (Georgia would later team with Steve a few years later in The Thief of Baghdad.) The male actor contingent was lead by Italian actor Renato Baldini and German actor Gerard Herter. (Renato could later be seen with Steve in 1963's The Slave.) Compared to the budget, costumes, and speaking roles of the Hercules films, White Warrior far exceeded the two prior Greek adventures.
Marking his directorial debut with Steve was renowned (and sometimes temperamental) Italian director Riccardo Freda. Returning for the third time to capture lighting and cinematography for a Reeves' film was Italian lighting, cinematographer, and special effects master Mario Bava. (Bava would later go on to be a renowned director in his own right, specializing in the Italian horror genre.) Despite Freda's reputation for blowing up on several movie sets, Steve enjoyed working with him and respected his exceptional talent. It is rumored, though unconfirmed, that Freda never finished directing White Warrior and left the chores to cinematographer Mario Bava. This was not the first and last time Bava bailed out Freda. A few times during his career Mario Bava rescued other Freda films.
White Warrior opened in many European and Asian countries during the Spring of 1959 to average reviews, accolades for its star, and better than average box office receipts. Though the turnout fell short of the earlier Hercules films, the anticipation of the third Steve Reeves' film alone helped draw respectable lines to the movie houses. With its emphasis more on the political state of Czarist Russia rather than physical action and Steve's classic physique, the 100 minute film release was unlike earlier Reeves' films. But in general, the international audiences accepted the Reeves' casting change.
While White Warrior sat on the shelves for a full 2 years, North American moviegoers were treated to Steve in Goliath and the Barbarians, Last Days of Pompeii, and the Giant of Marathon (all films being made after White Warrior). But why the delay? We surmise that Hercules and Hercules Unchained American presenter Joseph E. Levine passed on the immediate distribution of White Warrior because American audiences, riding high on the popularity of Levine's two prior Hercules presentations, might not readily accept Steve's new screen character. Levine probably decided not to gamble. Also, White Warrior was also not a vehicle that displayed the Reeves' muscular stature, except for a few brief moments, but more a brief moments, but more a film where 19th century Russian politics were front and center. The slow pace of the film, scene after scene of dialogue, and many dimly lit scenes also contributed to the drastic departure in the Reeves' genre. In short, too much talk not enough action, and not enough muscle. The timing was not right for American audiences.
For North American audiences, Steve appeared on the silver screen as the Caucasian rebel leader Adji Murad in February 1961. Warner Bros., sans Joe Levine, bought the film and exercised its distribution. The numerous television, radio, and promotional ads soon followed. However, it wasn't the same film originally released in 1959. The American release was a truncated, chopped up, poorly English dubbed, 85-minute version. For the most part, the critics panned the film. Although having Steve's name on the marquee initially pumped the long lines to the theaters, the film soon took a steep dive at the box office. Perhaps the U.S. audiences had a difficult time accepting their action hero as a 19th century rebel leader rather than an ancient god who could destroy Greek temples.
As Joe Levine "Americanized" his two Hercules films mainly through soundtrack dubbing and advertising, Warner Bros. did the same with Warrior but sometimes to the extreme. For starters, in the opening credits the distributors unfortunately changed famed Italian director Riccardo Freda's name to Richard Freda. To change the actual director's name would have been unheard of in Steve's earlier films. Warner Bros. also credited the musical composer as Robert Nicolosi (not Roberto Nicolosi), and costume designer- Filippo Sanjust was now Phillip Sanjust. They also went to the trouble of employing a popular 1960's TV announcer to narrate the film. Finally, the American presenters also inserted two English-language letters (one read by Gerard Herter, another later read by Steve). Both letters mistakenly used the same handwriting despite originating from two different characters in the film. (Neither letter can be completely read in the pan and scan video versions.) Despite these efforts by Warner Bros., the fact remained they were distributing a European-made film starring American body builder and actor Steve Reeves. This is something that Levine never tried to hide.
Questionable, if not distracting, the editing also did nothing to help this film. The flaws begin with the opening credits. As the title The White Warrior first appears in the credits over mountain terrain, an abrupt jump occurs in the background scenery, indicating something was intentionally deleted. And, unlike the ample time given to a typical director's film credit, Freda's name appears only momentarily before being engulfed by the presentation of the cast. Another awkward edit comes during Steve's opening scene. While Steve is on horseback approaching a captured coach, the scene suddenly cuts to Steve right next to the coach. Other scenes throughout the film are typical of this abrupt time compression. But beyond these flaws, the poorly English-dubbed soundtrack severely distracts this film from beginning to end. Even Steve's English synchronization is way off. His voice tends to follow his lip movement.
Other obvious post synchronization problems occur with Scilla Gabel and Renato Baldini. Both actors have separate scenes where they move their lips and total silence follows. And one may easily mistake the voice for Steve's son as the same voice used for Rocky the Squirrel from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show. This isn't for certain, but the voices are very similar. Considering language barriers and translation problems, White Warrior was the most difficult film Steve ever made. A multitude of languages were spoken on the set. Steve recalled this problem in an interview he gave to the July 1994 Perfect Vision magazine.
"I remember one scene in The White Warrior in Yugoslavia, where I believe there were seven of us sitting around a campfire. I was speaking English, the person next to me was speaking Spanish, the person on the other side of me was speaking Italian, another person was speaking Yugoslav, another was speaking Serb, and another was speaking some other language. And you know a lot of acting is reacting to the other person, being attentive to what they're saying. Well, I was the most attentive actor you've ever seen. I knew that when the guy would grunt or stomp his foot on the ground, it was my cue to come in. I knew what they were saying, but I didn't know when they were going to end."
If you find this film in a letterbox format, buy it by all means. The video pan and scan transfer does not do justice to Mario Bava's exceptional cinematography. For example, in addition to the two letters that are partially visible in this film, many scenes have several actors, including Steve, out of frame even though their voices are heard. In particular, a scene where Steve is questioned in bed while recuperating from his capture at Prince Sergei's palace. Here we see the Reeves physique in severed sections and feel cheated. Yes, the problems of widescreen video transfer to pan and scan will forever annoy us.
The actors have separate scenes where they move their lips and total silence follows. Unfortunately this film was not your typical Steve Reeves vehicle where action abounds, muscles are flexed, chatter is secondary, and the hero delivers. In White Warrior, the former Hercules hero did more talking and negotiating than fighting. Steve remained in full dress for the most part, got shot, captured, tortured, tied to bed posts, and rode a horse a few times. That's not the typical Steve Reeves movie. Even the battle and cavalry scenes that so dominated Steve's prior films are not there as well as any substantial action.
Considering Bava's exquisite photography, the exceptional interior and exterior sets, colorful costumes, and an acceptable story line, the film failed to deliver the way one would expect it. During its 1961 American release, the film used the promotional tag line, "Make Way for the White Warrior". And many Reeves' film fans did just that by standing on line and buying their tickets. But after seeing the film and comparing it to its predecessors, fans were anxious to make way for another Reeves flick. And thankfully the legions of Reeves' fans were not disappointed. Just 4 months later in the summer of 1961 Joe Levine's presentation of Morgan the Pirate made its way to movie houses across North America. The action hero was now back in his full screen glory.
Copyright Steve Reeves International 2017