When we left off in the last issue, Steve had just won the Mr. America Contest in Chicago. It was his lifelong dream, and Steve trained harder for it than any other contest held before or after it.
After winning the Mr. America, Steve was the guest of honor all evening long at various congratulatory celebrations. When he finally arrived back at his hotel, he was stopped in the lobby by the manager who told him that a letter was waiting for him. Steve placed his Mr. America trophy on the counter and opened the letter.
It read: "Dear Mr. Reeves, Congratulations on the win at the Mr. America contest tonight. I saw you on stage and believe that you have potential in show business as an entertainer. If you are interested in pursuing an acting career, please contact me at the address below in New York City, and we'll get things rolling for you. Sincerely, (signed) Wallis Downey, Wallis Downey Agency New York, New York."
Steve beamed as he picked up his trophy and headed to his room. He was on top of the world. He was the new Mr. America and now had this chance-of-a-lifetime offer!
The next day Steve made some personal appearances and did interviews with newspapers and some other print media. Two days later he flew back to San Francisco. After arriving in San Francisco, he headed home to Oakland, but first stopped by Yaricks gym to show Ed the trophy. After their visit, he returned home to share the events with his mother. She was very proud of his great accomplishment, although his stepfather didn't understand what all the hoopla was about.
For the next few weeks, Steve resumed his workout routine and recuperated from training for the contest. He kept thinking about the letter from the talent agent. Ultimately he decided to write to Mr. Downey and tell him that he would like to try his hand at acting.
After much back and forth correspondence, Steve signed with the Wallis Downey agency. The agency helped Steve change from the chiropractic school in San Francisco to an acting school in New York City.
Steve landed at La Guardia airport in New York on September 22,1947. The agency did not waste any time in promoting their newest potential star. Waiting for him at the airport was the press and a very lovely lady representing the Downey agency.
During the forties, movie theaters booked singing, dancing and other live entertainment to appear before the movies were shown. Steve teamed up with another budding actor Dick Birney and together the two performed a stand-up comedy act anywhere within 150 miles of Manhattan. Most the time, however they were booked in movie theatres in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They did a Martin and Lewis type act with Steve playing the Martin part and Dick in the Lewis role. Their act was based on Steve being a healthy and strong guy and Dick being the weak and vulnerable one. The audiences loved it and were always very enthusiastic with their applause.
Steve was enrolled in the Stella Adler drama school in New York because MarIon Brando had taken his acting classes there.
After about a week, Miss Adler had the students lisping, walking pigeon toed, stuttering and doing different types of exercises. One day, Steve's assignment was to walk pigeon toed. When Steve began walking pigeon toed Miss Adler told him, in a demeaning way, "That's not the way to do it, Mr. Reeves!"
Steve replied, "Miss. Adler, from the ages of six to eight, I taught myself how NOT to walk pigeon toed. Now you're telling me I don't know how to walk pigeon toed! Look, I don't want to learn how to stutter, walk pigeon toed or lisp. I want to be a romantic leading man! I look around this room, and most of the people want to be character actors. I want to be a romantic leading man!" Miss Adler answered in a soft voice, "I want to see you after class."
When the class finally ended and all the students had left, Steve asked Miss Adler why she wanted to see him. "Mr. Reeves," she began, "you are disrupting the class and I can't have that. I think I'll have to give you back your money." Steve replied, "Good idea."
Steve left and went directly to the agency to inform Mr. Downey about what had happened. Downey told Steve, "It would be better for you to go to the Theodore Erving School of Theater. They have plays every week. You can learn more about your trade by doing rather than by any of the things Stella had you doing."
While Steve was enrolled in the Erving School of Theater, he made sure to fit in time for his bodybuilding. He trained Sid Kline's gym in New York City after acting class for 90 minutes, three days a week.
He also made sure to fit in a social life, making friends with the other actors in his class. Not surprisingly, he wasn't short of female companionship. Two of his favorite lady friends were fellow actors Ginger Gray and Pam Rogers. Steve also took in all the sights of the city, including Coney Island, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.
When time permitted, Steve and Ginger would take the train out to her place in Jamaica, New York, about an hour from the city. Later Ginger appeared in several movies that Steve enjoyed. The last time he saw her was in Rome, about fifteen years after they were in New York. Steve bumped into her in an American Express office. She had changed her name to Anita Talbert, although her real name was Anita Sokol.
Steve continued performing weekends when a Cecil B. DeMille talent agent caught one of Steve and Dick's performances at a New York movie theater. He liked what he saw in Steve and contacted the Downey agency requesting Steve do a screen test. He told Steve's agent to bring Steve to the Paramount Studios in New York for the test. Steve did the screen test and he was good enough to impress the talent scout, who sent it to DeMille himself.
After viewing Steve's screen test, DeMille said, "Yes, this guy looks pretty good. Let bring him in." On January 21, 1948, Steve flew to Los Angeles for a meeting in Hollywood with DeMille. Steve was now back in Hollywood and about to become an actor under contract for Paramount. Just four years earlier people were always asking him, "Are you an actor?" Now, if someone asked, he could truly say, yes I am!
Steve arrived early at DeMille s office for their first meeting. He stopped for a second before entering the office to compose himself. He opened the door and greeted the receptionist, who asked if he had an appointment. Steve replied, "Yes, I'm Steve Reeves and I'm here to see Mr. DeMille." The receptionist informed DeMille that Mr. Reeves had arrived. She then told Steve to please go right in, Mr. DeMille was expecting him.
As Steve opened the door, DeMille was standing, waiting for him. He walked toward Steve and gave him a hardy handshake. Steve noticed there were four large photographs on the wall behind DeMille desk. There were pictures of Dorothy Lamour Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Steve Reeves!
DeMille pointed to Steve's picture (which Steve calls Perfection in the Clouds) and said, "You see that man over there? There's my man for 'Samson and Delilah.' But as you may know, the camera puts on about fifteen pounds to a person frame. Therefore, you must lose fifteen pounds so you will appear on the screen as you do in that picture.'
Steve replied, "I will lose the weight for the role, Mr. DeMille." DeMille then brought out a contract, that was effective for seven years, and Steve signed it.
As a contract actor on the Paramount lot, DeMiIle gave Steve a room and an acting coach who worked with Steve for two hours per day. Steve was constantly being chased by beautiful secretaries and aspiring starlets. Nearly every day, DeMille would enjoy going to the commissary with Steve for lunch. After awhile the word was out that every day Reeves was having lunch with DeMiIIe. The ladies began asking Steve to lunch, hoping that DeMiIIe would join them, too.
Steve shed ten pounds but was caught between the bodybuilding crowd at Muscle Beach and DeMiIIe. He would make a trip to Muscle Beach and everyone would tell him that he was losing too much muscle. He would then gain some back, lose some, gain it back again, lose some. DeMille wonted a total loss of fifteen pounds from Steve. But Steve finally made up his mind not to lose anymore size, and didn't get the extra five pounds off.
DeMille was informed that Steve could not or would not take off the last five pounds. DeMille called Steve into the office and said, 'Steve, I like you personally. I must begin filming 'Sampson and Delilah' in three months, and you still have not lost all of the weight I requested. I cannot afford to take a chance on you. I'm going to use Victor Mature, a tested professional who has already starred in seventeen films. He is not who I want, he is not my ideal. You (as he pointed to Steve's picture on the wall) are who I want. But 'Samson and Delilah' is going to be the first multimillion dollar film production since 'Gone With the Wind,' and I simply cannot take a chance with you under the circumstances."
Steve soon returned to New York and continued with acting school while still under contract with Paramount.
The contract with Paramount lasted only a few more months, then Steve was suddenly released from his seven-year contract. Steve began taking singing lessons from vocal coach, George London. Steve was quite good and had nice singing voice.
Shortly after he received the news about his movie contract, Vic Tanney approached Steve.
"How about competing in the Mr. USA?" asked Tanney. Steve told him that he hadn't worked out that much over the past few months and that he was ten pounds too light. "Oh hell," replied Tanney, "Steve, you could beat anyone looking just the way you do now, Just work out for the next two weeks and you will look great."
Steve's first mistake was to believe Vic. The next mistake was to think he could get that perfect tan in just a few days. He had been so busy with the acting and working at the studio that he had lost his tan. Steve took some pipe, wire and four sun light bulbs and made himself a tanning booth in his apartment. That was the "mother of all mistakes."
He burned himself so badly that soon his skin was blistering and the pain was excruciating, almost too much to handle. Every time he would flex a muscle, it would bring tears to his eyes. On the day of the contest, he put makeup over the blisters so he would be all one color. That night at the contest Clancy Ross won. Steve was just not able to get into contest shape in only two weeks. That plus trying to cope with the severe burns and all that makeup equated a loss.
Steve heard of a new contest to be held in England in 1948. The contest was going to be called the Mr. Universe Contest. He learned that John Grimek, whose picture he first saw on the cover of a physique magazine, would be competing in the contest.
Steve arrived in London a few days before the contest, which was held on Friday the 13th of August, 1948 at the famous Scala Theater in London. It was the very first Mr.Universe contest and it was billed as the "Battle of Muscle." To this day it is still considered one of the most exciting events ever to take place in the world of bodybuilding. It was the talk of the town, and reports from the time suggest this event created more excitement than the Olympic Games.
Steve wasn't prepared for the mob of fans that his Mr. America title had created over in England. He had to check out of the first hotel he'd reserved a room at due to fans pounding on the door day and night. Fortunately, he found another hotel and checked in under an assumed name.
The night of the contest, every seat in the theater was sold out, including all standing room! The contest was sanctioned by the NABBA and judged on a 100 point system as follows:
40 points for symmetrical proportions, 40 points for muscular development, 5 points for posture, 5 points for physical efficiency, 5 points for personality, vitality, etc., 5 points for skin, hair teeth, etc.
The judges at this event included George Walsh from Britain, George Hackenschmidt from Germany, Gregor Arax from France, George Bankoff from Russia, Tromp van Digglen from South Africa, Bob Hoffman from the York Barbell Club in the USA, and George Greenwood from Britain.
That day, two of the greatest physiques met on stage-John Grimek in his thirties and Steve Reeves in his early twenties. After the primaries were over three finalists were named. First was Andre Drapp then Steve Reeves and finally John Grimek.
All three men wanted the title very much. The scoring was very close between them. Finally the judges announced that they could not pick a winner between Steve and John, and "declared the contest a draw. The judges evoked that little line about "physical powers," a line that was open to interpretation as the sponsors and judges saw fit.
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