Steve Reeves - The Authorized Biography - By Chris LeClaire (1999 and 2019 Editions)
EXTRAORDINARY PRAISE FOR CHRIS LeCLAIRE AND WORLDS TO CONQUER
"A must read authorized biography entitled Worlds To Conquer...The author's text is the product of meticulous research that reveals all facets of Steve Reeves' life, augmented by colorful interviews, providing a who's who in the iron game.”
- FLEX Magazine
"There is plenty to learn in this new biography, even for the most die-hard Steve Reeves fans...for bodybuilding history buffs, and Steve Reeves fans this book is a great learning tool.”
- IRONMAN Magazine
"This book Worlds To Conquer is historically important, both as a social document as well as a fortuitous tribute to one of the greatest physical culturist the world as ever known.”
- HEALTH & STRENGTH Magazine
"LeClaire's book Worlds To Conquer helps you to know the real Steve Reeves. If you read this book you are going to separate the fact from the fiction and will have a true insight into him.
- JACK LALANNE, Global Fitness Legend
“WORLDS TO CONQUER is not a how to book on training, it is more of an exploration of Steve Reeves life. Upon finishing this book, you will have a feel for the very private man that Reeves always was.”
- MUSCLE & FITNESS Magazine
"Worlds To Conquer must sit on the library shelf of anyone purporting knowledge of bodybuilding during the reign of Steve Reeves.”
- FLEX Magazine
May 9th, 1993, Mid-flight from Boston to San Diego. I am en route to meet Steve Reeves. As the plane crosses the continent, I try to imagine how he must look at 67. The only photos I have seen of him were taken more than thirty years ago, in the prime of his bodybuilding days and early in his movie career. I take a folder out of my briefcase and study a picture. Reeves on a beach, in costume for Hercules, full beard, toga, thighs flexed, massive arms outstretched, as if in greeting, as if to embrace the world. I can't superimpose the image of an older Reeves over this photo, can't add a layer of age to depict what he looks like now.
Reeves has granted the interview only after months of requests. When I first called him in February of 1993 to approach him with the proposal for a book about his life and movie career he had responded with a flat, "I don't find my career all that interesting, thank you anyways." During the conversation, I broached the subject of an interview at least three times, but he put me off, finally deflecting my idea by suggesting that I get back to him in three weeks. Exactly three weeks later I called and once more Reeves was reluctant to agree to an interview. This time, however, the call lasted longer. Again, I was struck by the deep timbre of his voice, remembering rumors I'd heard about his movies being dubbed because his voice was high pitched. We talked about Sergio Leone and Edward D. Wood along with other preeminent directors he had worked with. As we continued to talk, he suddenly expressed resentment that people thought about him only as the role of Hercules. "That's the problem," Steve said. "Out of the seventeen films I starred in, only two were Hercules movies. People think I did ten." We went on to talk about his days as a champion bodybuilder and his life now. He informed me of the recent passing of his wife, Aline, a marriage of 26 years and the toll it had been taking on his life. And lastly, his ranch in the hills outside Escondido, along with his prized Morgan horses. Before we hang up, he conceded to an interview. "Okay," he said reluctantly. "I suppose I can give you one hour. One hour." For this I am flying across the country. To relieve a bout of nerves, I flip through my notes. As I review the questions I intend to ask, I turn pass another 8X10 photo, the same image that initially motivated me to write his life story. In the summer of 1991, while thumbing through a newsstand issue of IronMan Magazine, a photo of George Eiferman caught my attention. Taken in 1956, the shot was of Eiferman, a former Mr. America, posing on a California beach with another bodybuilder. Comparing the two bodybuilders, I asked myself which physique I would choose and be inspired by for my own training. Eiferman had the mass and weight of a big competitor, but it was the other athlete who had in addition to muscle and brawn, outstanding proportion and an arresting grace. The caption read: "George Eiferman with one-time training partner and roommate Steve Reeves, 'MR. EVERYTHING.'" Although the name was somewhat unfamiliar to me, I could not dismiss the fact that I had seen Reeves before.
I began searching through used book stores in Boston, buying up old muscle magazines wherever I could find them, looking for stories and photos of Reeves. I soon learned that he was an internationally known bodybuilding champion and in the late 1940's had won the Mr. America (1947) contest - the youngest ever to do so - an accomplishment he soon topped by winning the Mr. World (1948) and Mr. Universe (1950) titles as well. One day, a college professor of mine saw a photo of Reeves in a file on my desk and said, "I remember him. When I was a kid in the 1950's, I used to go to all the movies houses to see him. He was Hercules!" I understood then why that first photo in IronMan had seemed so familiar. As a ten-year old, I would sit transfixed in front of the television on Saturday mornings watching old movies. Morgan The Pirate. Hercules. The Thief of Baghdad. The genre was known as 'Sword & Sandal' classics, and identifying with the heroes of these mythological tales, I could not get enough of them. So, Steve Reeves the world champion bodybuilder, was the same Reeves whose cinematic exploits I had marveled at as a kid. Rather than satisfying my curiosity, this information only heightened it. I went in search of a book about Reeves life and career that would tell me more about him but had no luck. At this time in 1991, there was not even a fan club established and dedicated to Steve Reeves, although two were to be created in the mid-1990s, one in Naro, Italy and the other in California. The more difficult it was to find information, the more driven I became to learn more. I searched for back issues of Muscular Development, Your Physique, and even Strength & Health going as far back as the forties. The items I uncovered only added to his mystique: Reeves, known as the man with the perfect physique was reclusive and very private. While acting in films produced by famed Joseph E. Levine he met and married a princess and became a count. He had lived in Switzerland for ten years, had spent time as a rodeo rider. He had appeared on Broadway and in night club acts. Later, I was to learn that many of these 'facts' were not true and I faced the difficulty of separating truth from here say. One Health & Strength article said that he was 6'4" while others wrote that he was 5'7" and directors had to get shorter actors to play opposite him. Another article wrote that his films were dubbed because his voice was high pitched. I read that he had a Brooklyn accent and that he had no voice at all due to heavy steroid use. I read he had joined the Mae West traveling road show and that he had performed his own stunts in many of his films. And most of all that Steve portrayed Superman in the 1950s television series.
Which of these rumors were fact? Who was this man? What drove him to develop such an ideal physique? What made him tick? What was it like to be an idol for millions? Why, after rising to the heights in two fields had he dropped from the public arena so suddenly? What had become of him? Where was he now? I spent the next year and half (1991-1993) looking for answers. At first, I envisioned a book that would celebrate Reeves as both a bodybuilder and actor, but soon I saw a larger purpose. His story was a remarkably inspiring one offering a reader many lessons from a life well led.
At the motel Reeves has recommended as inexpensive and safe I try to nap but am unable to lie down for more than ten minutes. At this time in my life, I was twenty-three years old just completing a tour of duty as a US Navy DIVER and currently enrolled full-time in college. So, meeting Steve Reeves and writing his life story was my next big goal to achieve. As arranged, I call Reeves that afternoon to let him know I was now in town and to reconfirm our appointment the following morning. Again, he makes a point of saying he can only give me one hour of his time. The next day, it takes me no more than fifteen minutes to reach Reeves' horse ranch. As I drive up the winding dirt road, I check my watch repeatedly, taken by the sense that it is important that I am on time. It is exactly 9 a.m. when I spot the fence post to which is attached a mailbox, ordinary except for the name - REEVES. As I drive into the circular driveway bordered by orange groves, I see two figures in a field maneuvering a long irrigation pipe - a makeshift watering system I am soon to learn. One is a woman, the other a man. Reeves’ hair is windblown. He is dressed in sweat pants and a long shirt. The distance of yards and of years makes no difference. I know it is Reeves. I yell out a greeting. He waves and calls back that he'll be there in a minute. As he approaches, I sense his trusting smile. We greet one another and shake hands with his Rottweiler at his side. Steve’s hair is gray, his face older, but his eyes are still young, Hollywood blue. Reeves leads me into the main house and shows me to the den, while he goes to change from his work clothes. My attention immediately goes to the top shelf of a bookcase where Reeves first-place, bronze 1950 Mr. Universe trophy of Eugene Sandow, the legendary father of bodybuilding sits. I recall seeing a photo of Reeves holding the trophy in his arms of victory at the conclusion of the contest in London, the year Steve was only twenty- four.
Soon Reeves returns. Zorro the Rottweiler joins us easing some of the tension in the air, and I have to smile this is exactly the dog central casting would have chosen for Steve Reeves. I notice Reeves forearms and biceps still reveal a once Mr. Universe with well-defined muscles and definition still apparent. He carries himself like a star. We sit down in the living room at opposite facing arm chairs ready to discuss my proposed biography about his life. The room is comfortable and airy. The windows look’s out onto a garden courtyard where huge poplar trees sway from the Anza desert winds. After a minute or two of small talk aware that my promised one hour is slipping by, I hand over the proposal I have in mind. As Reeves scans the sample chapters and proposed photos I have put together, I wonder what is going through his mind. At last he takes off his reading glasses. There is a hint of hesitation. "It's good work Chris," he says, "but it's only a skeleton of my life."
That day we begin. We delve back the skeleton of Reeves' remarkable life and career and working together begin to relive his inspiring life and career, setting the record straight. Over the next seven years, including two summer-breaks from college when I lived and worked for Reeves at his California Morgan horse ranch, I assisted with both property maintenance, as well as and the care of his prized Morgan horses, alongside his girlfriend Deborah and her two children. At this point onward, I undertake a unique journey of discovery that leads me throughout the state of California, Montana, New York and Montreal, and eventually to an appreciation and understanding of the character of Steve Reeves.
I hope you enjoy it.
Chatham, Massachusetts, December 2017
Unfortunately, since Steve’s passing a few supporters of Reeves’ are under the impression that Steve did not fully approve and authorize my final manuscript, which is totally false, and inaccurate. There were only two details in the book that Reeves and I initially disputed over regarding my findings through research and interviews.
The first being that Steve was under the impression that his parents never separated and divorced when he was an infant prior to his father’s fatal farming accident. Even though his Uncle Clair (Steve’s mothers brother) who I personally met and interviewed recalled in full detail his remembrance of his sisters failed marriage, as well as his fathers handed down family lore. The second misunderstanding was that Steve thought he competed and won the 1947 Mr. Western America, instead of the 1947 Mr. Pacific Coast Contest. I pointed out to Steve that he had two first-place trophies for the 1946 and 1947 Mr. Pacific Coast contests in his trophy case with his name engraved on them. I had also provided Steve with several supporting articles from each contest detailing the event and his wins. Reeves for whatever reason believed that he had never won any contest twice in a row, as he had with the Mr. Pacific Coast contests. After much discussion and debate, Steve finally agreed with me over both topics and gave the go ahead for printing. These were the only two issues Steve had with my entire manuscript. Reeves had praised me overall for my achievement and said once again, “Chris, A lot of people over the years have promised to write a book about me, and you are the only one that made this happen. So, congratulations, you did a good job.”
So, for the record, Steve Reeves did fully authorize Worlds To Conquer prior to final printing and release, regardless of what others choose to say or believe.