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Retro Reeves Road Trip – Falls Church, VA September 12 – 14, 1996

It doesn’t seem possible that almost 23 years have passed since Steve Reeves was honored for the Mr. America Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1996 Mr./Ms. America Bodybuilding Championships in Falls Church, Virginia. It was the first time Steve was back to the east coast since his 1998 appearance at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York where he was the guest of honor. The Mr./Ms America event in Falls Church was well organized and well thought out by all parties involved and a tremendous success for Steve, the Reeves’ fans, and the Steve Reeves International Society (SRIS).

Official poster

We met many SRIS members for the first time, all of them just great people and obvious Reeves’ devotees. These people came from many states including Alabama and Florida, and to date it was the largest gathering of SRIS members. Some of the SRIS members we met included: Lou Mezzanotte, William Brown, William Thomas, Mary Coco, Dr. and Mrs. Grover Porter, John Mease, R.G. Wilinson, Joe and Peggy Matrisciano, Thomas Bain, Clark Sickles,

Mike Dichov, Michael Sigafoose, Mr. and Mrs. Mike Como, Rodney Williams, and John Karas (hopefully we've spelled everyone's name correctly). John actually showed Steve an original painting of Steve as Hercules. Steve was quite impressed and commented to John about his talents.

SRIS member John Karas with his impressive “Hercules” painting

Some of the other SRIS members who attended that weekend

Thursday, September 12, 1996

The east coast trip got underway as Steve and his close companion, Deborah, left San Diego, CA on Thursday morning, September 12 and landed in southern Virginia (near Washington D.C.) late that afternoon. There they were greeted by the contest’s director, Fairfax Hackley. Fairfax was a gracious, organized host who took care of Steve and Deborah’s every need, including a lovely three-night stay at the posh Fairview Park Hotel in Falls Church.

Fairview Park Hotel in Falls Church, VA

Later that evening, Steve, Deborah, and Fairfax’s friends attended a dinner party in Steve’s honor at an upscale Washington, D.C. area restaurant. Soon after their arrival, the Secret Service entered the establishment for a quick site survey, and moments later President George H. Bush was seen by all being escorted to another part of the restaurant. Talk about timing.

Friday Morning, September 13, 1996

Early Friday morning got underway for Steve, Deborah and Fairfax’s party when a fully stretched 1957 Chevy limo arrived at the hotel to take all of them to the White House for its public tour. Steve and Deborah were thrilled, especially Deborah considering she had never been to D.C. before. Steve later commented about the limo trip, “On the way over and back, it was difficult seeing all the historical buildings the chauffeur identified because the limo’s design was low and difficult to see out of at times. But still enjoyable.” While the tour was going on, my friend Dave Dowling and I began setting up the SRIS booth at the Fairfax High School for Saturday’s upcoming itinerary.

Friday Evening, September 13, 1996

Later that Friday evening, Deborah and Steve arranged dinner for Dave and me at their hotel. At the table next to us were SRIS member Joe Matrisciano and his wife Peggy from Madison, NJ, both of whom Dave and I never met before. It was lovely meeting them that night, and seeingthem again at the contest the next day. We’ve remained good friends ever since.

While waiting for dinner, Steve mentioned how hungry he was, and fortunately the bread rolls soon arrived. Guess who grabbed the bread basket first? All but Dave ordered prime rib, with Steve finishing his dinner first including eating every bit of fat that surrounded the prime rib. Steve, seeing that Dave ordered swordfish, remarked to him that swordfish is one of his favorite meals as it’s very high in good protein, and he tries to have it weekly. He also commented that while making films in Europe, many of his meals consisted of pasta dishes, and he never tired of it. “It was great pasta, period”, Steve recalled.

Conversation over the dinner also included Steve talking about the lucky arrival in Falls Church of his new book, Building the Classic Physique – The Natural Way. He was very happy the book was printed in time and the public could obtain copies. When he priced the book at $20 that evening, which included his autograph, Deborah questioned the low price but Steve didn’t budge.

Steve with an admirer and the first edition of “Building the Classic Physique”

Reeves also remarked how he thought 1997 rather 1996 would have been a better time to give him the Mr. America Lifetime Achievement Award because it would have marked 50 years since he won the title. Then Steve asked Dave his opinion of the ticket prices for Saturday’s contest, and Steve agreed they were too high and the steep prices could discourage attendance.

$40 VIP ticket from the show

Other dinner remarks by Steve included how he enjoyed working with Hollywood film directors Andre de Toth (Morgan the Pirate) and Jacques Tourneau (Giant of Marathon), but he did not enjoy working with American director Arthur Lubin (Thief of Baghdad). He did agree taking direction from someone who speaks English fluently makes things much easier on the set for an American actor. And though his co-stars were mainly foreign actors throughout his movie career, Steve said many of those same actors spoke broken English off camera and it was easy to converse. But for the most part they spoke their native language on camera, not English.

Reeves then mentioned a fan came up to him earlier that day and told him that he waited his entire life to meet “the Steve Reeves” in person. Steve said he was appreciative to the person for expressing those thoughts, but inside felt that person must have had a boring life if meeting him was such a top priority. Then Steve said to us at the table in his humble and honest tone, “I don’t think my life was boring.” Not even close, Steve.

Our dinner ended with all but Steve ordering ice cream for dessert. Though it was to his slight displeasure that we indulged in a sweet temptation, he did however sample Deborah’s dessert with one spoonful. Then he just smiled at the rest of us as if to say, “People, you’re not doing your bodies any good with some late night sugar”. When the check came, Steve graciously and generously took care of the debt.

Saturday Morning, September 14, 1996

About 8:30 the next morning, Dave and I picked up Steve and Deborah at their hotel and headed directly to Fairfax High School where Steve was scheduled to appear for the morning hours hours and return late in the afternoon. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with cheers by many Reeves’ fans waiting in the parking lot as well as the school’s lobby. Steve and Deborah quickly went to their table and the autograph signing and picture taking began.

Steve and Deborah Saturday morning

Despite the high energy and enthusiasm shown by the people, the crowd was very patient and polite. Steve was happy to sign his new book as well as other Reeves’ memorabilia that some people brought. The SRIS booth, just adjacent to Steve, was busy as well. About 1 pm, Steve and Deborah were driven back to the hotel, and the SRIS booth soon closed until later that afternoon.

The SRIS booth with George and Dave

Saturday Evening, September 14, 1996

Around 5:30 p.m. Steve and Deborah boarded their ride from the hotel to the high school for the upcoming evening’s affair. Once again upon his arrival in the parking lot, Steve met the enthusiasm of a large crowd with loud applause and excited cheers. Handshakes and waves monopolized his time until he could make his way into the school and resume his autographing and picture taking for the many who waited. After about 45 minutes, everyone was directed to head to the large auditorium for the night’s big events, the 1996 Mr./Ms. America Bodybuilding Championships and the honoring of the legend, Steve Reeves.

Steve and Deborah busy meeting the people Saturday evening

About three quarters through the program, I presented the Classic Physique trophy to Contestant 14, John Puskasicw. In addition to designing the trophy, Steve and I also judged the contest that night and selected John as the individual who best represented Steve’s own formula for correct proportions, as documented in his Building the Classic Physique book.

Steve and George Helmer with the Classic Physique trophy

Steve’s Special Moment – The Lifetime Achievement Award

After the announcement of the Women’s and Men’s division finals, it was time for Steve’s recognition via the Mr. America Lifetime Achievement Award.

Steve’s Mr. America Lifetime Achievement Award

While simultaneously showing the climax of the original Hercules film off to the side of the stage, the program’s director Fairfax Hackley discussed in great length Steve’s bodybuilding and film careers. Then he brought Steve on stage with this kind introduction:

The gentleman we are honoring tonight is making his first appearance at the competition in 49 years, since he won in 1947. He has influenced thousands of people around the world. He is synonymous with male beauty, both inside and outside. And he was known to have the classic physique. It is truly an honor and a privilege that we are fortunate enough to have in our presence tonight, the one and the only, please welcome Steve Reeves.”

As Steve entered the stage, the theme from the 1984 sports film, “The Natural”, was playing in the background. This was done as a tribute to Reeves as well as a reminder to many of how Steve Reeves achieved bodybuilding fame. After the loud applause, Steve went to the microphone and graciously told the audience:

Thank you very much. It’s a great honor. I want to congratulate all the winners tonight as well as the promoters for putting on such a great event in addition to promoting a show that encourages steroid-free bodybuilding. My motto is to be the best you can naturally. God gave us a certain amount of hormones to build the body up, and if you don’t have enough of them to be a champion bodybuilder or weightlifter, take up something easier like ping pong.”

Steve on stage with program director Fairfax Hackley Saturday night

Steve was then presented with many gifts. These included: the Mr. America Lifetime Achievement Award, the Mr. America Championship weightlifting belt with Steve’s name engraved, the Mr. America championship jacket, and the Mr. America watch.

Following the night’s program, Steve headed back to his table for a few more minutes of signings and photos and then back to the hotel. The next morning it was off to the west coast and the Reeves’ ranch to feed the horses and recoup from the jet lag.

With Appreciation

A special thanks to Fairfax Hackley for all his work in coordinating the weekend’s festivities. His efforts made it much easier for all of us, especially Steve and Deborah. In October 2002 I had the pleasure of seeing Fairfax again at the Mr. Olympia Expo in Las Vegas. He kindly paid a visit to our SRIS booth, and we reminisced about the Falls Church, VA days. Fairfax is truly a gentleman and will always remain that kind and considerate gentleman I first met in 1996.

Fairfax and George after the show

A big thank you also extends to Fairfax High School for hosting those few days and the many people that came to greet and honor Steve Reeves, especially the numerous SRIS members that made the gathering such a big success. Steve definitely was touched by the admiration and respect he received from everyone.

The event was fun and we had a great time.

Finally, let me give a big shout out to Joe Matrisciano of Madison, New Jersey for supplying many of the photos used in this article. Thanks Joe!

George Helmer

The official program schedule for Saturday night

An autographed official program

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