Highlights from the Steve Reeves Fitness and Film Festival
August 22 – 23, 2008
On August 22 and 23, 2008 a Steve Reeves Fitness and Film Festival was held at the Harrah's Rincon Hotel and Casino Resort in Valley Center, California (about 35 miles north of San Diego). This two-day event was attended by about 75 people, all of whom came from various parts of the U.S. This article recaps some of the highlights of that weekend.
Specific Festival Activities
The optional activities for people attending that weekend included:
Friday, August 22:
Meet and greet reception
Viewing of Steve’s home movies
Recognition of special guest
Panel discussion on Steve’s life and career
Saturday, August 23:
Extensive display of Reeves memorabilia
Bodybuilding/fitness and film seminars
Discounted sales of SRIS products and Milton Moore photos
Tour of Steve’s former 14-acre ranch in Valley Center, CA
Tour of the Valley Center Museum with many Reeves items on display
Special Guests – Mrs. Sandra Smith Howard and Milton T. Moore
We were honored to have two special guests grace our event with their attendance: Sandra Smith Howard (Steve’s lovely first wife) and Milton T. Moore (official Steve Reeves biographer).
Steve’s First Wife – Mrs. Sandra Smith Howard Sandra kindly made the trip from her home (at the time) in New Mexico (she now lives in San Antonio,TX). Throughout that Friday evening, she graciously shared with us many personal stories of her time with Steve.
Upon her arrival, she immediately became quite the center of attention as many people questioned her about being the first Mrs. Reeves and what it was like. Without any hesitation, she recalled her brief marriage to Steve, the many happy times she shared with him, and how to his last days she always admired him and felt the global recognition he accomplished in life was well deserved. She did emphasize he was passionate about exercise, nutrition, and public appearance in addition to being a perfectionist about many things. As a constant high achiever, he expected a lot of himself and he expected a lot from others as well, according to Sandra.
Despite their divorce, Mrs. Howard told us there was never any bitterness between them, their parting was amicable, and the two of them remained great friends until Steve’s final days. The communication channels remained opened over the years as phone calls and an occasional brief visit by Steve were not uncommon. Because she always believed Steve was destined to be something special one day, she wasn’t at all surprised when the name Steve Reeves became a household and international name. It was interesting to hear Sandra say that after initially seeing “Hercules” in the theater in 1959, she was totally surprised to learn later that Steve’s voice was dubbed. According to Sandra, she was totally fooled because the film’s substitute voice was a close match to Steve’s own deep baritone vocal sound.
At the festival 2008 Wedding day 1955
Steve’s Official Biographer – Milton T. Moore
We were also fortunate to have Steve’s official biographer, Milton T. Moore of Las Vegas, join our special gathering that weekend. Milton has the unique distinction of writing the only Steve Reeves approved biography with his 1983 release, “Steve Reeves - One of a Kind”. (In some ways, this book is considered almost a sequel to his 1982 smaller publication on Steve called, “Steve Reeves – A Tribute”. But, it contains far less biographical information.) With its almost 200 pages, the second book is much larger and contains considerably more comprehensive material than his previous work. Starting with Steve’s early childhood, this excellent biography thoroughly captures in words and hundreds of photos, the highlights and accolades of Steve’s life and career.
While at the festival, Milton answered many questions about Steve. He discussed in detail the diligent process of working with Steve and his second wife, Aline, in developing the book. Knowing how Steve was such a stickler for accuracy and completeness, Milton knew he faced a tough task. Absolute accuracy and error free text were top priorities for Steve, so constant churn and rewrites were givens. By Milton’s estimates, the book encountered at least six revisions, some of them being extensive, before Steve finally granted his approval and authorization to publish. In the end though, Steve was so pleased with the final output that he eagerly promoted and sold it at his public appearances while supplies lasted. Because there were only 1,200 copies printed back in 1983, today that Reeves officially-approved biography is a much sought after collector’s item that can garner quite a premium price.
Author Milton T. Moore The Official Biography of Steve Reeves
Friday Evening - August 22
After a 1-hour meet and greet, all attendees were served a delicious meal of their choice prepared by the hotel kitchen staff. Appetizers were tasty, entrees and sides were generous, and a fine dessert definitely pleased the taste buds. A sincere “thank you” goes to the hotel staff for its exceptional culinary and fine service that enjoyable evening.
Attendees who opted for the festival dinner
After dinner, several Steve Reeves home movies were shown. The clips were from the original 8 mm color films currently in our collection. These considerably old films were carefully digitally restored to a much improved quality just for the festival. Upon viewing them, we were able to see Steve:
Riding his bike at age 12
With George Eiferman in Hawaii 1949
At his home in Oakland in the 1950s
Driving his 1950 Ford convertible
Behind the scenes footage from his film, “Sandokan the Great”
Honoree – Mrs. Sandra Smith Howard
Following the screening of the home movies, Mrs. Sandra Smith Howard was then introduced to the assembled and duly recognized as the evening’s special honoree.
From SRIS’s start in 1995, Sandra always made herself available to the society as a dedicated
resource whenever questions about Steve’s life arose. For Sandra, it was never an inconvenience for her to answer our questions or share something about Steve we didn’t know. Her continued support and cooperation through the years have always been greatly valued. The wealth of information she shared about Steve with the society since its inception not only gave us further insight and clarification into his life, but also added to our organization’s credibility and help make what it is today. And for that, we are sincerely grateful.
In appreciation for her continued and steadfast help, a lovely dinnerware set was presented to Sandra by the event’s organizer and SRIS President, George Helmer. Sandra was truly touched, appreciative, and surprised by the recognition.
George Helmer presenting Sandra with her special gift, the original silverware set from her wedding to Steve.
To the enjoyment of all, a rare home movie of Sandra and Steve’s 1955 wedding ceremony was shown immediately following the special presentation.
Panel Discussion and Q&A on Steve Reeves
After a short trivia contest, a panel of Reeves specialists joined Mr. Helmer on stage in a discussion about Steve’s personal and professional life. The panel included Sandra Smith Howard, fitness writer and close friend George Coates, biographer Milton Moore, and writer Dave Dowling.
Many questions focused on Steve’s nutritional habits, exercise routines, movie career, family, etc. As panelists shared their Reeves expertise, it was obvious the information exchange kept the audience fully engaged. The discussion lasted until about 10 PM, ending the first day’s activities.
From left: Dave Dowling, Milton Moore, George Helmer, George Coates, and Sandra Smith Howard
Saturday Morning - August 23, Reeves Memorabilia Showing
On display that morning was the largest collection of Reeves memorabilia. Excluding the Bronze Sandow trophy, no items were ever publicly displayed. Though some items were purchased by George Helmer, many were given to him by Steve or donated by Deborah Reeves Stewart, a close companion of Steve in his later years.
Passports, cancelled checks, credit cards, bible, memberships, etc).
Steve’s horse saddles
From left: Steve’s special chair, youth bedroom set, boots, trophies, and on far right his hand-written workout routine discovered by George Helmer at Steve’s Oakland, CA home
Steve’s restoreded 1977 Jaguar XJS 12 cylinder, 2 door coupe (now owned by Dr. Joe Vitale)
Family photos, marriage license, “A Long Ride from Hell” movie script, etc).
Various medals, watches, eye glasses, jewelry, etc.
Key to New York City presented in 1973 Wardrobe for film, “A Long Ride from Hell”
Home gym equipment, Mr. America jacket, and other personal items
Various items of interest
His many trophies (with a bust by Kenneth Kendall in background)
The famous Sandow trophies
His early hand-written workout routines from his Oakland, CA home
(AKA, “Reeves Holy Grail”)
Saturday Morning Seminar, “Reeves Film Career” – Speaker, Dave Dowling
Dave’s 90-minute seminar touched on many aspects of the Reeves movie legacy including: Steve’s thoughts on acting and stardom, producer Joseph E. Levine, other film opportunities, his stunt double, leading ladies and actors, deleted scenes, favorite films, directors and filming locations, working in foreign countries, language barriers, etc.
Saturday Morning Seminar, “Fitness and Bodybuilding” – Speaker, George Helmer
George’s 90-minute seminar centered on Steve’s preparation for bodybuilding contests and how he went about developing the classic physique early on. Also covered were Steve’s favorite exercises and the daily exercise routines (powerwalking, cycling, weight lifting, stretching, etc.) and nutritional habits he practiced during his retirement years.
Saturday Afternoon - Tour of Steve’s Former Ranch
The new owners of Steve’s former ranch in Valley Center kindly gave us special permission to tour the beautiful and renovated property. The 30-minute walking tour around the 14 acres included viewing the ranch house, pool, stables, private gym, and Steve’s original first home on the property.
Steve’s original house on the property prior to building his ranch house
Heading back to the bus
Saturday Afternoon - Tour of Valley Center Museum
The city of Valley Center graciously opened its museum doors at a special time for us so we could see the many Steve Reeves items put on display for us especially for that weekend. By coincidence, the museum was also the home for memorabilia donated by another former Valley Center, CA resident, John (The Duke) Wayne.
From left: Mr. America Lifetime Achievement award, movie insert for
“Morgan the Pirate” and Steve’s other saddle
Some of the recognition received over the years
Two of the many awards also on display
Thanks to everyone’s support and help in making the 2008 Steve Reeves Festival such a great
success. When this idea was in its infancy, it was questionable whether all the logistics and critical elements would come together to become a reality. But as the saying goes, people can make the impossible, possible. And you helped in making all of it possible. The attendance, enthusiasm, and positive feedback we received made it all the more worthwhile and a special time for all of us. A heartfelt appreciation is extended to all of you for making the trip to Valley Center, especially those who traveled long distances from different parts of the country.
Maybe someday this festival will surface again. If you’re interested in attending a possible future Reeves festival, please drop us a note as we’d like to hear from you. You can reach us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
With Special Gratitude to David Olson
A special thanks to David Olson of Colorado for sharing his many photos used in this article. His photographic record allowed all of us to relive that fun August weekend and appreciate the many great memories. This article would not be the same without David’s help and his photo expertise. David also was a big help following the festival as he was there to lend his muscle in packing our trailer with the many items that were featured in the displays. That took some time, and it was certainly generous of him to adjust his own schedule to make the cleanup and transfer that much easier. He’s a member of the Steve Reeves International team, and we’re proud to have him onboard. Like Steve Reeves, David Olson is one of a kind. Thank you for everything.
David with George Helmer following the festival