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1973 - Reeves’ Resurgence from Retirement

When Steve’s last movie, “A Long Ride from Hell”, completed filming in late 1968, the world famous actor and acclaimed bodybuilder abruptly retired from the public arena at the young age of 42. Steve spent those early years of anonymity, peacefulness, and solitude with his wife Aline alternating between their residences in Switzerland and California. And on occasion, they would sometimes reside for a short time at their cattle ranch in Oregon. During those early years of retirement, little was ever published about him, and he gave few interviews.. One could say, he quickly fell into the category of, “Whatever ever happened to?”

But that all changed almost five years later when Steve decided to appear back in public thanks to a persistent bodybuilding entrepreneur and promoter from New York City named Dan Lurie. Dan is the person responsible for bringing the name Steve Reeves back into the public forefront. Thanks to Dan, the legion of Reeves fans would be treated to seeing that distinguished celebrity of the cinema and bodybuilding icon once again, front and center. As official Reeves biographer Milton T. Moore, Jr. once wrote, “The year 1973 was the resurrection of Steve Reeves.”

Steve, Aline, and Promoter Dan Lurie (September 8, 1973)

Dan Lurie had always dreamed of one day getting Steve Reeves to attend one of his World Bodybuilding Guild (WBBG) Professional Mr. America contests. The first time was in 1971 when he tried convincing Steve to emcee that year’s event, but Steve declined preferring to remain in retirement. Dan never gave up and less than two years later his persistence paid off as Steve accepted Dan’s invite to attend the 1973 WBBG event with Steve as the event’s special guest.

Lurie’s efforts of luring Reeves out of retirement began by contacting Steve in late 1972 while he was temporarily living in Switzerland. He explained in detail to Steve all the interesting logistics of the trip and told him it was well worth his while for him and his fans to make this one appearance. Steve was convinced and agreed to Dan’s generous terms. The planned weekend would first involve flying Steve and his wife Aline from California to New York. Upon their arrival, Dan and Steve would hold a press conference, answer a few questions, and be able to meet his many east coast fans. After the conference the stay in New York would consist of local TV interviews, sightseeing, a Broadway show, etc. and then attend the Pro Mr. America Contest at Hunter College in Manhattan as the honored guest.

According to Dan in his book, “Heart of Steel, The Dan Lurie Story” the Hunter College appearance would be historical. “It was the first time Reeves appeared before a bodybuilding crowd for many, many years. When he became an actor, he still trained hard with weights, but due to his film commitments, he began to distance himself from the bodybuilding scene. His appearance at my show was like a comeback, a welcoming back to bodybuilding. He did not disappoint as he made a magnificent speech for the crowd and awed everyone with his presence. I inducted him into the WBBG the following day.”

With Steve’s attendance now confirmed, Dan booked Hunter College for the Sept 8 th weekend in order to showcase perhaps the best physique lineup he had ever assembled. It wasn’t just the drawing power of the competitors, vying for his WBBG Pro Mr. America and Teen Mr. America titles, he had also booked Sergio Oliva, Frank Zane, and Dave Draper as guest posers. However, Lurie’s biggest promotion was really the special guest appearance of the legendary Steve Reeves.

Dan Lurie - Circa 1960s Dan with Steve and Jack LaLanne in 1977

1973 Poster for Steve’s New York appearance

September 6, 1973 - Arrival at JFK Airport and the Weekend Begins

On a late Thursday afternoon, September 6, 1973, Steve and Aline Reeves stepped off their American Airlines flight from San Diego and on to the tarmac at New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport. Their long, busy weekend in New York City, all compliments of iron game promoter and Muscle Training Illustrated publisher Mr. Lurie, was officially underway. Their arrival marked almost 20 years since the Reeves set foot on the east coast. (This was the first of a few New York trips for Steve since his retirement. He would return again in 1977, 1981, 1983, 1988, and 1999 as an honored guest at award shows or conventions.)

Dan recalled when he first saw Steve at the airport, “The day of his arrival came, and I didn’t know what to expect: would he be wearing a beard like in the “Hercules” movies or would he be clean-shaven as he was when I first saw him as a Broadway actor? He was clean-shaven and looked every inch the film star he was, a very good-looking man.”

After Dan greeted Aline with a bouquet of flowers and then shook hands with his 47-year old bodybuilding idol, the Reeves were led to a scheduled press conference at the airport. There theywere greeted by a packed room of reporters from various media outlets, many flash bulbs, and more than a few of questions for about an hour.

Some of the questions centered on how the Reeves spend their early retirement days, their training and eating habits as well as their plans for the future. But the majority of inquiries were directed at Steve as one would expect. He was asked about his diet while competing in bodybuilding, what contributed to his success in that field, and if he had any bodybuilding heroes when he started in the sport. He answered, “When I had a Volkswagen body, I put Volkswagen fuel into it. When I had a Cadillac body, I put Cadillac fuel into it. With training, I was able to concentrate. When I started, I exhausted myself one day, and then rested two. I got an inch bigger every day. I had no one person as a hero. I chose parts of different people; for example, the thighs of one male and the arms of another.” Honing in on the Reeves comment, the press conference moderator then jokingly chimed in, “What we have here then is a collage of all the best-built people in the world.”

Steve then spoke fondly about how he and Aline enjoy spending 6 months in Switzerland during thewinter and the remainder at his ranch in Southern California. Reeves said he didn’t miss acting, had no regrets about retiring from films at age 42, but would entertain returning to the screen if the part was right. He then told the audience, “Today I enjoy photography, music, and above all, I look forward to those good-weather days when I can pack some food, pick two of my favorite Morgan horses and get my wife to join me on a holiday in the mountains of the Pacific, which have been for many years one of my favorite places in this world.”

Press conference photos at JFK Airport

“A.M. New York” Appearance

Friday morning got off to an early start with Steve’s appearance on the local New York TV show, “A.M. New York” on WABC-TV, New York City. Despite not being syndicated, the show had a viewership of millions. The hour-long news and talk show originated in 1970 as a local version of NBC’s “Today Show”. To Steve’s surprise and delight, Frank Zane and his lovely wife Chris were there to greet him at the studio prior to the broadcast.

A succession of known personalities hosted the show until its cancellation in 1983 (renamed by then to “Good Morning New York”). Hosting the day of Steve’s appearance was sports journalist and TV personality, Howard Cosell. Along with Steve, comic Soupy Sales joined the guest list that day. (Years later in October 1999, Steve and Soupy along with Troy Donahue and Gale Storm would appear together at a New York City movie memorabilia show.)

That morning in typical Cosell fashion, Howard tried throwing some what he thought would be unanswerable zingers at Steve. But, Reeves had no problem returning sharp-witted volleys to Howard each time with a generous smile. Unlike Howard, Soupy remained cordial and a gentleman the entire interview.

Steve and Howard Cosell

Soupy Sales, Steve, and Howard Cosell

Following Howard’s show that Friday morning, Steve and Aline joined Dan, Frank Zane and his wife Chris, and the WBBG’s Show Coordinator, Tony Schittina, for breakfast at the St. Moritz Hotel in Central Park South.

“Joe Franklin Show” Appearance

For years, Joe Franklin (real name Joseph Fortgang) was a popular television and radio personality from Manhattan . His hour-long TV talk show ran from 1951 until 1993, one of the longest running uninterrupted careers in broadcasting history. The show was originally limited to viewers in New York City and its suburbs, but later went into syndication across the U.S. His shows usually focused on going down memory lane or revisiting yesteryear with various celebrities.

Steve made his debut on Joe’s show late Friday morning, September 7 via WOR-TV, Channel 9. After Joe interviewed Steve for 15 minutes, Dan Lurie joined the broadcast and later paid Steve an unforgettable comment with the words, “Steve Reeves is the greatest name in the history of bodybuilding, and will be the greatest for the next 2000 years.” Joe also paid Steve a nice compliment about his film career by describing Steve to his audience as, “One of the greatest movie box-office attractions of all time.”

Steve enjoyed being on the show and was later heard saying, “It was one of the very best TV shows I have ever done.” And due to audience demand, the show was rebroadcast six additional times. In 1977 he revisited Joe’s show and would cross paths with him for the last time in New York City in October 1999 at a movie memorabilia show.

Steve, Dan Lurie, and Joe Franklin

Friday afternoon Dan had arranged a meeting at the Office of Public Events where Deputy Commissioner Milito welcomed Steve and Aline to the city and told them the award of Key to the City, which would be given to Steve the next day, and it was the first time that honor was being given “To a great physical culturist”. The commissioner said he was indeed proud to have Steve in our midst because, “In this time of great unrest, our youth sorely need guidance and inspiration.”

The royal treatment continued for Steve and Aline as lunch followed at the Russian Tea Room near Carnegie Hall followed later that night by a Broadway show with Dan and his wife Thelma.

Downing Stadium at Randall’s Island Appearance

On Saturday morning the Commissioner of Parks, Joseph Davidson, picked up Steve and Aline at their hotel and headed to Downing Stadium at Randall’s Island. Also in the car was Steve’s old friend and Embassy Pictures movie producer, Joseph E. Levine. As many know, it was Levine who first introduced the name Steve Reeves to the U.S. movie market with his remarkable promotion of “Hercules” years earlier in 1959.

Upon arriving, Steve and Aline met with Dan Lurie and Commissioner Davidson, who presented Steve with The Key to the City plus a copy of the Proclamation that declared Saturday, September 8 th , was “Physical Culture Day” in honor of Steve Reeves. Written on the Proclamation were the inspiring words always used by Dan Lurie, “Health Is Your Greatest Wealth.” Steve gave a short speech and a gracious “thank you” immediately following the presentation.

With Key to the City and Proclamation

With Randall’s Island officials and Aline and Dan following the ceremonies

One last autograph before leaving

Later that afternoon the Reeves were treated to the Mexican Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. Much to their surprise, they received a standing ovation when they were introduced to the crowd by Steve’s good friend and star of the show, Tony Aguilar.

WBBG Recognition Night

Over at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Tom Minichiello had booked that year’s IFBB Mr. America, Mr. World, and Mr. Olympia contests on the very same day as Lurie’s show. His main event had the likes of Franco Columbu and Serge Nubret challenging for Arnold Schwarzneggar’s Mr. Olympia crown. Lou Ferrigno had also defected from Lurie’s WBBG at the last moment to compete in Weider’s IFBB Mr. America. This was a very unfortunate situation for the loyal fans of bodybuilding who would have gladly paid for both shows had they been spaced properly. Regardless, Reeves made a spectacular entrance at Dan’s event that same night. “This was without a doubt, one of the happiest successful days of my life, recalled Dan.

On Saturday evening, September 8, 1973 on the stage of Hunter College in Manhattan, Dan Lurie presented Steve with the WBBG Hall of Fame award. While handing the plague to Steve, he proudly said: “This is the proudest moment of my busy life to have you honor my organization and me with your presence, and to know that you are, have been, and will always be the greatest inspiration the world of physical culture has.”

Dan then read the award’s inscription:

“The Dan Lurie award presented to the immortal Steve Reeves – The World’s Greatest Bodybuilder for 30 years the foremost inspiration to millions throughout the world, for his outstanding Leadership in the field of physical fitness presented by the World Body Building Guild, Sept. 8, 1973, Hunter College, NYC.”

After graciously accepting the award and when the loud applause of 5,000 finally subsided, Steve spoke the following kind words: “I’m sure I don’t deserve it, but I want to thank all the fans who have supported me over the years. If I have been an inspiration for many of you in these past years in any way, then I am happy to have been. I am deeply grateful that you have seen fit to honor me, and I’m extremely pleased. Thank you.”

Steve (with wife Aline) receiving the award from Dan

After the show and a long weekend

Years later Dan recalled that special night. “I enjoyed running all the WBBG shows that I had. All the world’s best built men appeared at my shows, and I had the greatest bodybuilding shows ever. The highlight for me was to get someone that everyone considered a god to appear. They said I would never get him. He lived in Switzerland at the time. His name was Steve Reeves. I got him to come to my show and we put on a great show. We had coming attractions on the screen and in a very famous part of his picture Hercules, Steve Reeves broke down the columns with all his muscles tensing. My son worked the projection room and as Steve Reeves broke down the columns he with his wife and me walked out on stage and, I’ll never forget how wild the crowd went. They were uncontrollable. They all wanted to jump up on the stage. That would be one of the highlights of all the shows I ran.”

Physical culturist and bodybuilding promoter, Mario Strong, also recalled that night and what he considers the best show ever staged for the sport.

“On September 8, 1973, I had the pleasure to attend Dan Lurie’s WBBG World Bodybuilding Championships in New York City. The show featured guest posers Sergio Oliva, Frank Zane, Dave Draper, and Kenny Hall. Among the dozens of competitors that night were Chris Dickerson, who won the Pro Mr. America and Boyer Coe, who won the Pro Mr. World. It was a great thrill to see all the champs flex their stuff, but they were shadowed by what was about to come.

“Finally, the much anticipated event that drew thousands of muscle builders from all over the country had arrived. Dan Lurie’s heavily promoted appearance of the legendary Steve Reeves at the 1973 WBBG World Championships was about to become a reality. Those loyal to this Herculean legend held right onto their seats as a stage wide movie screen lowered to the floor. All eyes stared forward, not daring to miss a second of this historic moment. Suddenly, the screen filled with images of “Hercules”, revealing this perfectly developed being, whose symmetrical structure could have only been created by the gods. No mere mortal was he, standing there beneath the great coliseum’s entrance, holding two heavily steeled chains on both sides of his muscular physique. “Hercules”, the filmed echoed loudly across the theater, bringing the now standing room only crowd into a near frenzy. “Hercules” screamed this thunderous voice again as it sent legions of fans into a moment of disbelief, as they witnessed this immortal figure pull down the great coliseum walls with his seemingly inhuman strength. HERCULES, HERCULES, roared the film, as jolts of lightning flashed across the screen electrifying every muscle in the house and sending hundreds in attendance rushing toward the stage. Then suddenly the moment of a lifetime had come. Onto the center of the stage walked Dan Lurie, Steve Reeves, and his wife, Aline. There they stood, side by side, smiling and waving in awe at this sea of Herculean admiring fans. In an instant, without notice or cause, one massive fellow jumped from the seating area and onto the stage as he rushed toward a startled Steve Reeves and his wife. Acting with instinct, Dan Lurie immediately ran in the direction of this crazed intruder and blocked the guy’s path to Reeves like a pro wrestler, by grabbing and thrusting this unwanted spectator off the stage and into the hands of security personnel. The crowd cheered and applauded wildly with relief as Dan, Steve, and his wife Aline walked over to the microphone to address the crowd at the greatest bodybuilding show ever held.”

Final Thoughts

In September 1973, Steve Reeves made his first public appearance in a long time. The biggest name in bodybuilding and one of the major names in cinema history had temporarily emerged from his brief retirement in 1968. Although event organizer Dan Lurie predicted Steve’s appearance at a physique contest a few years earlier, many people doubted him right up until Steve’s plane landed at JFK. But Steve accepted Dan Lurie’s invitation and decided to fly with his wife Aline the 3,000 miles to New York.

Dan achieved such a goal in getting Steve to come out of retirement and be in New York, but also to be on the same stage of Hunter College auditorium standing next to Steve and Aline in front of thousands. For those few days that late summer of 1973, Dan Lurie was the Joseph E. Levine of bodybuilding promotion. He got it done, and he delivered just like he said he would.

People from various locales were treated to an event that weekend that they will never forget. Unlike many, those people have the unique claim of seeing Mr. America, Mr. Universe, Mr. World, and a popular international film star all at the same time. Many of us today wish we could have been there as well.

Dan Lurie and Steve Reeves would once again cross paths in 1977 as Steve attended Dan’s WBBG event at New York’s Statler Hilton and be honored with the WBBG Hall of Fame and Lifetime Achievement Award along with bodybuilder Serge Nubret, wrestler Billy Graham, boxer Joe Louis and actor Sly Stallone. Previous winners of the award include Bill Pearl, Peter Lupus, Bob Bednarski, Chris Dickerson, Dave Draper, Johnny Weissmuller, and Buster Crabbe.

From left in 1977: Serge Nubret, Steve, Joe Louis, Dan, Billy Graham, Vince McMahon, and Frank Stallone (standing in for his brother Sly)

Dan Lurie Remembers Steve The following is an excerpt from Dan’s excellent 2009 autobiography, “Heart of Steel: The Dan Lurie Story by Dan Lurie with David Robson. We thank them both.

“Meeting Steve Reeves for the first time in 1973 was a realization of a dream for me. I was always an admirer of his acting, the way he lived his life and especially his physique. I made it my mission to get him to the east coast. He lived in California at the time, and audiences from my neck of the words dearly wanted to see him. Long before we met in person, I watched him perform in the Broadway show “Kismet” in the 1950s, a time when I was appearing on the “Big Top Circus TV Show”. At this time I was very impressed by his acting skills and of course knew of his success as a bodybuilder, but I hadn’t planned to meet him at that stage. This would come 18 years later.

“For many years, Reeves and I would meet whenever he came to the east coast. Attending Broadway shows and eating at restaurants together were nice times for us both. One time when he came to New York (1977) we had a snowball fight. He loved this, as where he came from it was usually hot and humid. We threw snow around like a couple of big kids and attracted much attention. (Note that it was this visit by Reeves where Dan presented him with the WBBG Lifetime Achievement Award for being the greatest bodybuilder of all time.)

The Lurie - Reeves snowball fight (New York 1977)

“When he used to visit our home, he would go up to our attic and put on my Sealtest strongman cape, and it thrilled me to discover he had been a regular watcher of the “Big Top Circus Show”. His physique was admired because of its near perfect symmetry and proportion: his arms, calves, and neck were each 18.5 inches around and his waist was a mere 29 inches. He did not have the big, bloated look that typifies so many of today’s bodybuilders.”

Steve and Dan in April 1983

“One of the things that impressed me most about Steve Reeves was his sincerity and humility. He was a genuinely nice guy who never let success go to his head. I will always remember him for his warmth and genuine personality and as holder of the most beautiful physique of the 20 th century. We had some great times together.”

We Remember Dan Lurie (1923 – 2013)

Besides a good friend of Steve’s, Dan Lurie was a person of many facets and talents. This included a founding father of bodybuilding, an entrepreneur, a publisher, a promoter, the world record holder for amazing feats of strength, and the three-time winner of, "America's Most Muscular Man" by 1949. His career in fitness spanned an incredible 70 years. Though the bodybuilding titles always eluded him, he was recognized in the 1940s as having one of the best physiques in the world. His motto of “Health is your greatest wealth” was followed by thousands of fitness enthusiasts.

Circa 1950s

In the 1950s he rose to fame as “Sealtest Dan the Muscleman” on TV’s “Sealtest Big Top Circus Variety Show”, which originated from Philadelphia’s WCAU Saturday afternoons. The next decade witnessed him establishing the World Bodybuilding Guild (WBBG), creating a full line of weightlifting equipment, and publishing the popular Muscle Training Illustrated (MTI) magazine. In his bodybuilding prime, he also appeared on covers of a few magazines. But despite his many achievements, many will remember Dan when in 1982 the strongman (jokingly) challenged President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office to an arm wrestling contest. Dan knew well in advance, presidents will win every time.

Magazine Cover 1942 (Age 18) Arm wrestling with President Regan 1982

Reeves only authorized biographer, Milton T. Moore Jr., best summed up Dan’s respect for Steve in his Reeves authorized biography, “Steve Reeves - One of a Kind”: “Dan, a long-time devoted Reeves admirer, possessed the sensitivity, resourcefulness, and the executive will to translate his inner appreciation into something concrete and substantive, which others could recognize and share in. Throughout the decade of the 1970s, Dan extended the hand of friendship to Steve and honored him with various awards and testimonial dinners, and encouraged others to do likewise. During the process, the world gained an occasional refreshing glimpse into the life of a very private man during one of the most colorful, ambitious, and rewarding periods of his life. Every Reeves fan should be grateful to Dan Lurie.”

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