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Steve Reeves: 1926 – 2000
(Photo by Russ Warner, and hand-colored by John Russell)
Iron Game History Remembers Steve Reeves
When Steve Reeves, the Mr. America (1947) and Mr. Universe (1950) who went on to achieve worldwide fame playing the mythical strongman Hercules in the movies, died from a form of cancer on May 1, 2000, we received quite a number of emails from his fans and friends asking if we were going to do anything on our Website or if we knew of any special memorials being planned. We didn’t have any inside knowledge, but assured everyone that there would be many tributes – there were, not only in the bodybuilding press, but in newspapers and magazines around the world. The coverage we most looked forward to, however, was that by Jan and Terry Todd in Iron Game History. Well, it’s finally here. The December 2000 IGH, a jumbo-sized 44 page issue, is devoted entirely to Steve Reeves – and it’s well worth the wait!
We didn’t write anything about Reeve’s passing, because we didn’t know him personally and had nothing special to offer. Frankly, I’ve never been very interested in Steve Reeves. He was a natural; his muscles responded to training like few others before or since. For example, by the age of 16 he had already developed huge calves, simply by riding his bike up hills in his Oakland, California, neighborhood. John Grimek wrote an article telling how he watched Reeves whip himself into shape in the York Barbell gym to win the 1950 Mr. Universe contest -- with only four weeks of hard training. It’s well-known that he only trained a few weeks to prepare for his movie roles. In later years, he revealed in a Muscle Training Illustrated interview that he no longer lifted weights; he much preferred riding his horse and walking in the hills with his dog. "Working with weights is a discipline," he said, "and I would rather do things that are fun rather than disciplinarian." One sensed that his body responded so easily that he found little challenge in weight training.
The fact that his body responded to training so miraculously suggested to me that his methods had little or no relevance to other people. Plus, the fact that he gave up serious weight training early in life made me even less interested in him. I much preferred someone like John Grimek, who continued lifting well into his 80s. [Terry Todd tells me that Reeves began training with weights again after the MTI interview, and that the results were apparent in his later years.]
It wasn’t until I read the many articles, remembrances and tributes in Iron Game History that I was sorry that I didn’t follow Steve Reeves more intently. I regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to know him on a personal basis.
I was probably correct about his training methods, but I now realize that Steve Reeves had something more important to offer. He was, of course, an inspiration to many bodybuilders. It made little difference that any attempt to imitate him was probably folly. Perhaps the handsomest and certainly one of the best built men of his era, Reeves motivated many people to start training, and to continue serious training long after he stopped. But Reeves was more than a bodybuilding icon. With all his natural gifts and fame, he remained a humble man. He led a clean, dignified and scandal-free life. To my way of thinking, that makes his a life worth remembering, especially in this day and age of fallen idols and crumbling mores.
To learn more about the life and times of Steve Reeves, including his last interview (June 10, 1999, by Jan and Terry Todd), an insightful article by historian John Fair, Ph.D., about Reeves’ later years when the limelight had faded, many wonderful photos and much more, get your copy of the December 2000 issue of Iron Game History. U.S. subscription rates are $25 per year (4 issues) or $55 (8 issues). Write: Iron Game History, Subscriptions, Stark Center, NEZ 5,700, D3600, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712. This journal is published quarterly. (Canada & other foreign: $35 per four issues and $45 per eight issues). Back issues are $5.00 each. Do it today. You'll be glad you did. Phone: 512-471-3205 or email Associate Editor Kim Beckwith at email@example.com Website: www.starkcenter.org
Book on Steve Reeves
Link to new (2007) website below
I’ve just finished reading Chris LeClaire’s Worlds To Conquer, Steve Reeves: An Authorized Biography. It’s far and away the best and most complete book on the life and times of Steve Reeves. If, like me, you regret not having had the opportunity to know Steve Reeves on a personal basis, this book is the next best thing.
Chris LeClaire is a commercial shell fishermen and visual artist from Massachusetts who became obsessed with learning – everything -- about Steve Reeves. He spent seven years researching and getting to know Reeves. Initially rebuffed – when he called to ask if he could write his biography, Reeves told him, "I just don’t find my life all that interesting, thank you" – LeClaire flew across the country to take advantage of the hour Reeves grudgingly promised him, and ended up living on Reeves’ ranch outside San Diego, working during the day and interviewing his hero in the evening.
The result isn't a literary masterpiece -- this is LeClaire’s first book and self published – but it is a feast for anyone interested in learning the whole story of Steve Reeves: His humble beginning on a ranch in Montana (LeClaire traveled to Montana and interviewed old-timers who knew his mother and the father who died when he was a baby), boyhood learning to ride on his grandfather’s horses and being put in boarding school while his mother worked to support the family, discovery of bodybuilding and early training in Northern California, overseas service in the military during World War II, rise to become arguably the greatest bodybuilder ever, first marriage and divorce, two years living on Muscle Beach, struggling to break into show business, becoming the first bodybuilder to make it big in the movies, eventually achieving No.1 status worldwide at the box office, marriage to a princess, 10 years living in Switzerland, and finally retirement – due largely to unrelenting pain from an undisclosed shoulder injury suffered while filming an underwater scene -- and the quiet years as a gentleman rancher raising Morgan horses in Southern California.
The book provides many new and interesting facts and gives the reader a deeper understanding of Reeves the man and the legend. Plus, it’s a good read, even if you’re not a musclehead.
And I shouldn’t forget the photos, wonderful photos, over 190 – many never before published.
[Chris LeClaire's book is out of print, but he has a new website (winter 2007) telling the story of Steve Reeves with many wonderful photos and tells us he is may do a second printing of Worlds to Conquer in the near future; www.stevereevesbiography.com.]
We've received notice that Steve Reeves books, videos and DVD movies are available from Steve Reeves International, P.O. Box 2625, Malibu, CA 90265, phone 1-626-287-9128, website: www.stevereeves.com
Ever heard of John Davis? Probably not, unless you were on the scene in the '40s & '50s. Davis was called the "Strongest Man In The World" when he won the Olympic heavyweight weightlifting gold medal at the 1948 and 1952 Games. He won his first world championship in 1938, at 17, and went undefeated in 15 years of national, international and Olympic competition.
I discovered John Davis in the mid-50s when his glory days were ending, and I was just beginning my love affair with the barbell. I only saw Davis lift once, his last appearance on the lifting platform at the 1956 Olympic trials. It was not a happy time for the mighty one. I'll never forget it. He tore a ligament in his knee attempting to clean close to 400 pounds and had to be carried off the stage on a stretcher. His knee popped and he collapsed on the floor in a heap. It was an unpleasant ending to a lifting career that will probably never be equaled.
What brings back these memories is a 1986 article by famed Olympic Games documentary maker Bud Greenspan reprinted in the April 1997 issue of the Newsletter of the Association of Oldetime Barbell & Strongmen. Greenspan, writing in Sports Illustrated, tells of his first meeting with Davis, as a 21-year-old New York City radio station sports director, and how Davis became the subject of his first film. It was called "The Strongest Man in the World." They became friends, and Greenspan tells of his many subsequent contacts with John Davis and how, like me, he was saddened by the final photo of a pajama-clad Davis in an Albuquerque nursing home dying of cancer. It's a wonderful story - including photos of Davis becoming only the third man to lift the Appollon Railway Wheels - about the career of one of America's greatest athletes.
You'll find many more such features about old-time strongmen (and women) in the Newsletter of the Association of Oldetime Barbell & Strongmen, 33-30 150th Street, Flushing, NY 11354, telephone (718) 661-3195. For example, a past issue contains reprints of articles about Muscle Beach legend Abbye "Pudgy" Stockton and Professor Louis Attila, the man who discovered and developed world famous strongman Eugene Sandow - and many other old time greats. It takes only a $25.00 donation to become a "supporter" of the AOBS (both young and old are welcome). You'll get the newsletter in the bargain - and an invitation to the famous reunion the Association hosts each year to honor great men and women of the iron game. Even if you never attend the reunion, the newsletter, though not fancy, is well worth the annual contribution.
Send in your check today and begin learning about (or remembering) the many greats of the iron game past. Association founder and President Vic Boff passed away in November 2002. Artie Drechsler, who assisted Boff with arrangements for the reunion dinners for many years, has taken over day-to-day operations and is now President. Boff's long-time friend and associate Johnny Mandell continues as Chairman. AOBS website: www.wlinfo.com/AOBS.htm.
If you like this kind of stuff -- I love reading about iron game legends, how they trained and especially what they are doing now -- another publication to check out is The Iron Master, which was published by Osmo "John" Kiiha. Unfortunately, Osmo ceased publication with the April 2000 issue, No. 29. Back issues are still available, however. I’ll tell you a little about the publication and then how to get back copies, if you are interested.
A truly one-of-a-kind publication, The Iron Master featured one iron game great in each issue (along with other articles) and did an absolutely marvelous job. It was one of the few publications I read cover to cover. I loved this little magazine and recommend that you order some back issues , which feature the likes of Reg Park, Frank Spellman, Larry Barnholth, Ronald Essmaker, Tony Terlazzo, Roy Hilligenn, Stanley Stanczyk, Appollon, Arthur Saxon, Dave Sheppard, Marvin Eder, Michael Karchut, John Davis, Norbert Schemansky, the George Brothers, Ron Lacy, Gary Cleveland, the Saxon Brothers, Jim Park, Ken Patera and Maxick. If you've never heard of these guys you are in for a real treat. And if (like me) you've heard of them all and seen many of them in action, you'll enjoy the trip down memory lane -- perhaps even more.
If you are interested in back issues – 9 dollars or $12 including postage depending on the issue -- contact Osmo at 1 – 541 – 667 – 8123 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to 199 SE 10th Court, Hermiston, Oregon 97838. Tell him I said that he performed a great service to the Iron Game. Also ask him to put you on his mailing list for one-time publications he will be offering from time to time.
You may have noticed our reference in the "Keep That Spring" article to Iron Game History, a publication by University of Texas, Austin, faculty members Jan and Terry Todd. Iron Game History is the only publication we know devoted exclusively to the history of physical culture. Terry and Jan are both former world-class powerlifters. Terry was editor of Strength & Health magazine at one time and one of the very first national champions in power lifting. Jan was the first woman to squat with 500 pounds. They oversee The Stark Center physical culture collection at the University of Texas and are uniquely positioned and qualified to edit a scholarly publication about the history of the iron game.
Iron Game History is first class all the way. The graphics and photos are great and the articles are well-written, informative and generally fascinating. Highly recommended.
To subscribe write Iron Game History Subscriptions, Stark Center, NEZ 5,700, D3600, The University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712. This journal is published quarterly. Subscription rate is $25.00 for four issues or $40.00 for eight issues (Canada & other foreign: $35 per four issues and $45 per eight issues). Back issues are $5.00 each. Do it today. You'll be glad you did. Phone: 512-471-3205
Their website address is www.starkcenter.org. Check it out to see more about the quarterly journal and the collection.
Customer Service, Ripped Enterprises: Phone (505-266-5858) FAX: (505-266-9123) M-F, 8-5 Mountain time. E-mail: email@example.com, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108.
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Copyright©1997 Clarence and Carol Bass. All rights reserved.