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Offline Sergio

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Steve Reeves interview about his film years
« on: July 17, 2016, 07:30:58 PM »

An Interview with Steeve Reeves from The Perfect Vision Magazine
Volume 6 Issue #22 July 1994
Used with the kind permission of the editor Roy Frumkes

Long ago, the back pages of magazines featured body-building advertisements by Charles Atlas and Joe Bonomo. Today, the body beautiful has become mega-box office, led by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. In between those eras, in the late 1950s, there was a turning point, where the sport of body-building suddenly became mainstream, because one of its practitioners had achieved stardom. Steve Reeves seemed to lead as Spartan an existence as one would assume a man devoted to physical fitness might. There were never any tabloid scandals, so instead there were rumors: He was 5' 7", and the producers of his films had to hire actors two inches shorter than him to make him look larger (untrue); sets had to be scaled down to further pump up his stature (wrong again); his voice was dubbed, therefore he had a high voice, or a Brooklyn accent, or no voice at all due to steroid use (all false). As suddenly as his film career began, it ended in the late Sixties, and Reeves retired into the relative obscurity of private life. Having served for 15 years as a role model to millions--of physical perfection, and of living proof that self-made stardom was possible-it was fervently hoped that his disappearance from public activity was self-imposed, and that wherever he was, he was both happy and financially secure.

TPV: If I grew up on your films, whose films did you grow up on? There was literally no precedent for your appearance in film.

Steve Reeves: I grew up on Johnny Weissmuller.

TPV: What did you think of Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah?

SR: Did you know that I was under contract to do that picture?

TPV: No.

SR: Well, here it is. In 1947, when I won the Mr. America title in Chicago, I got back to my hotel and there was a letter from an agent in New York City. It said “If you're interested in show business, I think you have potential. Give me a call or write me a letter and I'll see that you go to acting school on the GI Bill of Rights. We'll find you a little apartment, and on weekends we'll get you into vaudeville acts so you can make some extra money.”

I had gotten out of the army six months before and was attending California Chiropractic College in San Francisco. Chiropractic was my major, and my minor was physical therapy and massage. When I got that offer, I said, why not? I went back to New York and went to Marlon Brando's coach, Stella Adler. I was in her class and one day she gave me the project of acting pigeon-toed. I was walking around like she wanted me to, and she said, 'You're not doing it right.' I stopped and said, 'From the age of six to the age of ten I had to force myself not to be pigeon-toed. So don't tell me I'm not doing it right. Most of the people in this class want to be character actors. They like to walk pigeon-toed, stutter, and lisp. But I want to be a leading man. I want to learn how to walk well and speak well.' She said, 'Would you see me after class, please?' So I went after class and she said, 'You know, you're disrupting the class. I think I'll have to give you your money back.' I said, 'Yes, I think you'll have to.' Then I enrolled in the Theodora Irvin School of the Theater, which wasn't all theory and gave us little plays to perform. And during the time I was there, I was doing a vaudeville act with a comedian named Dick Burney. We would go to all the different circuits on weekends. One of Cecil B. De Mille's talent scouts saw me and brought me into Paramount, New York City, for a screen test for Samson and Delilah. I did the test in my street clothes but I passed it, and he sent me a seven year contract. So, on my 22nd birthday, I left New York City on a plane to Hollywood and got myself a little apartment within walking distance of Paramount Studios, because I didn't have a car.

I arrived at Paramount and walked into Mr. De Mille's office. He had five two-foot by three-foot blow-ups of pictures on his wall. The pictures were of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, Alan Ladd, and me, in a pose called "Perfection in the Clouds," where I'm standing with my hands over my head stretching toward the sky.

And he said, 'This is my Samson.' Then he added, 'But you must realize that the motion picture camera puts on 15 pounds, so you're going to have to lose 15 pounds. You understand?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' He gave me a coach who would spend a couple of hours a day with me, and he'd invite me to have lunch with him every day. All the starlets on the lot came up to me and said, 'Why don't you take me to lunch today?' I couldn't figure out why they were so interested in me. I thought, I'm a pretty good-looking guy and all, but not this much. I found out later the main reason was that they wanted to have lunch with Mr. De Mille, because they'd, been there for years and never even met the man.So I'd lose five pounds, then I'd go out to the beach on Sunday and all my friends would say, 'Steve, you're looking terrible. You're ruining yourself. You're the world s greatest; what do you want to be just another actor for? Why don't you stay in this field.’ Then I'd go back to the studio and De Mille would say, 'Look, you've only lost five pounds, and I've got to start the picture about three or four months from now.'Once a week I would have to do a skit for him. I would study it, and they'd give me other actors to work with. I was on a stage where they had a glass window between the seats and me, and I couldn't see him. I did this on and off, I guess, for about three months. Then he called me into his office and said, 'You've lost seven pounds in three months. Some days your skits are really good; and some days they're terrible. It looks like you're preoccupied with something. I'm going to start the picture a month from now, and I'm going to have to use Victor Mature. He's not ideal for it, but he's an experienced actor, and I can depend on him.'

TPV: What did you think of the final product?

SR: Nothing against Victor Mature, but I learned that a person has to have the sympathy of the public. In Samson and Delilah, in the scene where they blinded him, there were little 'oohs' and 'ahs,' but within six months I saw Captain From Castille with Tyrone Power, where he gets wounded on the side of his head, and all the women in the audience went 'Ohhhh!' Tyrone Power had the sympathy of the audience and Victor Mature didn't - at least in that picture.

TPV: After that you toured with Mae West?

SR: I never toured with Mae West. That's a fallacy that's always reported about me. During the time the 'Mae West Show' was on, I was playing in Kismet on Broadway.

TPV: Were you in Ed Wood's Jail Bait?

SR: Yes. The picture was originally called The Hidden Face. It's about a criminal who goes to a plastic surgeon who changes the criminal’s face to resemble his own. Somewhere in the film there was something about 'jail bait,' so they decided the title Jail Bait was more commercial. It was my first film, and I got my Screen Actors Guild card for it.

TPV: Are you aware that Hollywood is doing an $18 million dollar film about Ed Wood, directed by Tim Burton?

SR: I didn't know about that, but I know he has a big following. I was contacted about two years ago and asked to write a letter about my impressions of him on the set. Wood was a very cooperative guy who let you do things the way you wanted to, and if they weren't quite right he would direct you. But he wasn't the kind of director who was always on you. The shoot lasted two or three weeks for me, off and on. I played a young detective, and I had a suit on at all times. I even had a tie. Only took my shirt off once. Those were the days, huh?

TPV: What brought you to Italy for the Hercules films?

SR: Pietro Francisci, the director of Hercules. He wrote the script also, and he had I been looking for Hercules for about five years. Around' Italy, he'd find somebody who was good looking and tall, but had no body. Or someone who was good looking but short, and had a great body. He just couldn't find the right combination. One day his daughter, who was 13, went to the theater and saw Athena [MGM, 1954, starring Jane Powell, in which Reeves appeared], which had gotten to Italy by then. And she ran home and said, 'Daddy, I think I have your Hercules.' He went to the theater the next day, pictured me with a goatee and moustache, and felt I would be his man. At the time I was working for American Health Studios in public relations. I'd go to Riverside and open up a fitness studio with the mayor and Miss Riverside, then wait another two weeks or so and open another one someplace else. I had a good job with them, it didn't use too much of my time, and the owner made me promise I'd forget about show business if I worked with him. So when the Hercules offer came, I just ignored it. Then Francisci wrote me another letter and said 'Look, this is serious. Here's an airplane ticket.' There was also an advance of $5000, which in those days was quite an advance. I realized the guy was serious. I started growing a moustache and goatee on my job. This way I didn't have to have something glued on, which is terrible. My boss asked me what I was doing it for, and I said I wanted to look more distinguished. I was only paid $10,000 for Hercules and I had no percentage. The film cost a half million to make, and it earned $40 million in the United States alone. It was the box office champion of 1959. I outgrossed John Wayne, Rock Hudson, and Doris Day, who were the big money makers at the time. And I was the biggest box office star, not only in the United States, but around the world.

TPV: Considering that, what kept you from going to Hollywood? I'm surprised they didn't grab you.

SR: Hercules was made in the summer and fall of '57. It didn't get to the States until the summer of '59, and by the time it opened here I'd already made four other films, and had committed myself to others. I did Hercules Unchained for the same salary as Hercules, but with every picture from then on I doubled my salary from the previous one.

TPV: You made 16 films. I guess I could do the math.

SR: At the end I was making $250,000 a film, which was good in those days. Sophia Loren and I were the highest paid actors in Europe.

TPV: What was the shooting schedule on Hercules?

SR: Three months. Most of my pictures were about three months. In the case of Hercules, the picture was over, but my contract said I had to stay around in case they needed some retakes. I waited about three days, then shaved off my beard. Then they called me and said they would need a day of retakes. But they added, 'We don't have any money. You have to do it for nothing.' I went and talked to Francisci, and he said, 'If you're my friend, you'll do it for nothing.' And I said, 'If you're my friend, you wouldn't ask me to do it for nothing.' Eventually, they agreed to pay me. 'We'll have the money there when you get on the set.' I went there and got my goatee and mustache pasted on, got into my costume, ready to shoot, and the money didn't show up. So I sat down in a yoga position, pretending to put myself in a trance. I played the part of a god, and the clouds actually started coming in so that they couldn't shoot. So they said, 'We'll have the money here by noon,' and sure enough, they arrived with half the money at about 12 o'clock, and the clouds parted and we did half a day's shooting. The next day they came on the set with the rest of the money and that was it.'

TPV: Did you have to work out a few hours a day on the set?

SR: No. That's an amazing thing. My body responds so well to exercise, and it keeps it so long, that I didn't have to. I didn't take any steroids, they didn't exist at that time. It was just easy for me to get in shape and to stay in shape. During the 15 years I was in Europe, I would work out possibly one month a year, usually the month of May. I lived in Switzerland most of the time and I would go skiing and take walks with my dog. But the food there was so great that I would gain maybe 10 pounds during the winter. So during May I'd work like son-of-a-gun. Run through the mountains there, use the weights, and get in top form that month, and that would last me through the season. During filming you're too exhausted I get a decent workout, and I really didn't need because the stress that there is in acting kept the fat off me and the muscle didn't want to go away.

TPV: Did you really hoist Primo Carne over your head in Hercules Unchained?

SR: Yes. He was a big old guy, a real great guy. He didn't always know his own strength but that's okay. There was no competition or friction between us. He was very helpful. He said, 'When you have to lift me up, the best way to do it is this way and this way to get leverage. And that'll make you look better.’ Very nice guy.

TPV: Did you do your own dubbing for the Italian films?

SR: No. In Jail Bait and Athena I used my own voice, and I'm using my own voice now. But in Italy they had actors who would speak different languages and different dialects in the same scene. And also, if an airplane flew over, it wouldn't bother them, whereas here in the States they say 'Silence.' They say it there, too, but it doesn't happen. At the end of the film, they mail the script and the film to New York City and hire radio actors to dub it. 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, an 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.

TPV: Were there foreign cuts of your films? So many European films, particularly the horor films, had more violence and nudity in the foreign cuts.

SR: No, mine were always filmed the way they were going to be in all markets. There was no more violence or nudity than what you saw.

continue to part 2


Offline Sergio

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Re: Steve Reeves interview about his film years
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2016, 07:31:53 PM »
Part 2:

An Interview with Steeve Reeves from The Perfect Vision Magazine (cont.)

TPV: I don't know if he's your nemesis or evil twin, but I'd like to discuss Joseph E. Levine.

SR: Joe Levine owned a theater in Boston. Through a friend of his, he used to buy films from Europe. I think the biggest one he bought before Hercules was Attila the Hun with Anthony Quinn. They were making pretty good money over here compared to what he paid for them. So his friend told him that Hercules was outselling every other picture, and that the people who made it had sold it to every country in the world except America, and that in Bombay it had played four times a day for two years.Knowing it was a winner in other countries, he bought it for the States, then put money behind it and did a great job promoting it.

TPV: Outside of his business skills, which were sizable, I haven't heard many humanitarian words about him.

SR: I haven't either. Two different times I was did pictures under contract to him, and both times he reneged on the contracts. Those were Thief of Baghdad and Morgan the Pirate. On Morgan, if the picture did over a certain amount at the box office, I would get an extra $50,000. The picture made well over what it was supposed to, and he wouldn't come up with the money. So I sued him, and in the pre-trial his lawyer advised him to pay me, so I got what I was owed from him that way. Then he came to Rome and threw a big party in his suite at the Excelsior Hotel. And he served something like spaghetti and meatballs. Now in show business you have to protect yourself, and what I always did, for prestige, would be to have my name above all other names, 70 percent the size of the film's title. Otherwise they could put it at the bottom under 20 other names, at 10 percent the size of the title. So I did that: 'No other name including director, producer, etc…' Joe Levine wanted his name as big as mine or bigger, and I said, 'No way. You made the contract, I'm the star of this picture.' So he got ticked off and threw his spaghetti up in the air, and it was hanging off the crystal chandelier. If he didn't get everything his way, he got angry.Those were the only two run-ins I had with him. In 1976, he was putting Hercules in theaters for the second time and he wanted me to do personal appearances with it. I asked for $500 a day, plus my expenses, and he said, 'Oh, we'll just get some look-alike for $25' It was ridiculous. Today, if I go to openings of fitness centers, or to a contest where they want the winner to receive a crown or a trophy from me, I'm there for two hours and I get $2000. And he wouldn't give me $500 for the whole day to publicize a picture which I starred in and which made him a fortune.

TPV: I heard you were offered the role in A Fistful of Dollars and didn't take it.

SR: Yeah. The director of The Last Days of Pompeii was an older gentleman and he was just a figurehead. Sergio Leone was his assistant and did about 90 percent of the directing. We had a little tussle one time because there was a scene where I was being filmed behind bars and he told me to do it a certain way, and I said 'Why?' - in other words, I needed a motivation. I'm not a great method actor, but you have to know why you're doing something. So he said, 'Because I said so.' I didn't like that, and I went after him. They grabbed me, and I cooled off, and after that everything was fine.Later he wanted me to do this Western, and I love the West. He told me about it, but then I found out it was based on Kurosawa's Yojimbo - he had taken it scene by scene and changed it into a Western. In fact, after it came out, Kurosawa saw it and demanded either a royalty or a buy-out. I personally thought, how could an Italian director make a good Western out of a Japanese samurai film? So I turned it down on that basis. That was the first Western in Italy, you know, and it turned out well. But also, I wouldn't have felt real good smoking a little cigar and squinting my eyes for three months. Frankly, Clint Eastwood was much better for it than I would have been. There are certain parts for certain people. To me, Johnny Weissmuller was the greatest Tarzan ever, And some other people, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, have tried to make Hercules and they bombed. If anybody tried to play Rocky but Stallone, they would bomb. Same with Eastwood; he was perfect for that part.

TPV: Speaking of Schwarzenegger, what do you feel about the fact that you had to go to Italy to become a star, and he did it by coming over here?

SR: The times have changed. When I was going to high school the football coach would tell the players, 'You can't swim because it softens up your muscles. You can't lift weights because it makes you musclebound. You can't ride a bicycle because it makes you run slow. All the things that professional football players do today, hit the weights, ride the bicycle, do some swimming to loosen up, I had to fight for every inch of the way. Similarly, people weren't accepting bodies like mine on the screen, and if I'd had a face that wasn't, shall we say, noble, it probably wouldn't have happened for me either, because people weren't ready for just the body.

TPV: Have you ever crossed paths with Schwarzenegger?SR: I met him about 15 years ago for the first time. We were at Jack La Lanne's 65th birthday party, and Schwarzenegger came up to me and said, 'Steve, you've always been an idol of mine.' I looked him straight in the eye, half-smiling, and said, 'Don't give me that crap, Arnold. I read your book, and Reg Park was your idol.'He said, 'Well... only because I knew I couldn't look like you.'

TPV: What led you to retire from film?

SR: I retired for three reasons. One was the stress. Two actors who were friends of mine, Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, died young. Flynn died at 50, but he drank a lot. But Tyrone Power hardly drank at all, and he died at 45. I thought, if those guys go at 50 and 45, I want to have a good life. I want to do exactly what I want in life, so I'm going to retire at 45.When 45 came, mythological films and action films were going out of style, and the Westerns were starting to come in. It wasn't difficult for me, because it wasn't like I was at the top of my career and they wanted me for everything and I really had to resist. Also, I had hurt my shoulder on The Last Days of Pompeii. The film was two days from being over and there was a scene where a chariot was running away with the hero and heroine in it, and I was supposed to ride up, grab her off the chariot, and throw her on the back of my horse. An Italian stunt man was driving it, but the hood of the chariot blocked his view. They hit a bump and he was thrown off, and it really became a runaway. I had a fast horse, and I actually swung onto the chariot like in the movies, and was able to pull the horses to a stop. But the chariot skidded and my shoulder hit a tree. Boom! My index finger was bent the opposite way, up towards my wrist. So I pulled it down, straightening it out. And my shoulder was jammed, so I put my fist between my knees and pulled up, and it sounded like a cannon going off when my shoulder went back in. The next day I woke up sore, but it wasn't really bad. It was the last day of filming, and there was a scene where Pompeii is burning. People are fleeing for cover. I'm in the harbor after getting all the people out of the town, and the sea is on fire. They had put diesel fuel across the water, and the scene called for me to jump off the wharf, dive under the flaming sea, and swim underwater and out to the waiting boat. I dove in, and when I did my first breast stroke, my shoulder ripped. And every stroke was rip, rip, rip. I would have been burned if I'd come to the surface, so I just kept swimming until I got there.After the shoot, I went into physical therapy, and it never did get right. On each picture it would get a little worse.

On my last picture, A Long Ride From Hell, we used to warm it up with hot towels before each scene, then ice it down afterwards. Fifteen years ago I saw in a magazine that Tommy John, a famous pitcher, had the same thing I had, but he was going to have it operated on. So I went to the same doctor as he did and my operation was successful.For all those reasons, I decided to retire. Also, I was getting lonesome for the States. I had a ranch in Oregon before this one, where I spent vacations, but I wanted to spend my full time there.

TPV: Have you been comfortable since your retirement from films?

SR: Oh, yes. Everything's fine. I was very good at picking stocks, and I made quite a bit of money that way in the Sixties. I had the right amount in the bank when I retired. I'm a real Western man. I was born in Montana. At age two, my mother used to put me on a horse bareback, with no bridle, and let it go out in the pasture and eat with the rest of the horses, and at lunchtime she'd ting the bell and it would come trotting in gently. She'd take me off and feed me my lunch and I'd take my nap. So I've been riding horses forever. I have a 14-acre ranch about an hour north of San Diego, and I'm down to about five horses because that's enough for me at this point. You can have more fun and have more contact this way; when you have 20 they're just a number after a while. I also raise avocados and oranges here. That's what keeps me occupied.

TPV: How are you looking nowadays?

SR: I'm in good shape. I weigh a solid 200. I get up in the morning about six o'clock and go power walking for about a half hour, then go back in and do the weights for about a half hour, and then, in the summertime - at least nine months a year - I do pool exercises. Then I go and ride my horses for about an hour, so from about six till ten it's all exercise, but pleasurable exercise. Years ago I used to use comparably heavy weights and maybe 10 repetitions for each muscle. Now I lift lighter weights and do about 15 repetitions. It keeps me where I want to be and it's no great stress on the body. I feel good, I look good, I'm in great shape, and I don't have any injuries.

TPV: That's great. Do you have any recommendations for a herniated disc?

SR: I've helped people with other things, but not that. Do you do stretching?

TPV: Yes, that's what my physical therapist has been instructing me to do.

SR: Put in a bar at home where you can hang, and possibly get some iron boots, or put some weights around your ankles so you can stretch your lower back a little bit.

TPV: Thanks.

SR: You're welcome.

Many thanks to The Perfect Vision Magazine for their kind permission to use
this article.