In 1957, when Steve was working for the American Health Studios, he received a telegram from Pietro Francisci of Rome, Italy.
Francisci wrote the Hercules screenplay and was hired to direct the new motion picture which would also be entitled, Hercules. He spent nearly five years searching for the right person to star in the leading role-as the half mortal, half god-Hercules. How he became aware of Steve Reeves and ended his search is very interesting.
One day, Francisci's thirteen- year old daughter went with some friends to the movie theater to see an American film, Athena. As she watched the film she was awe struck by a gorgeous hunk of a man (Steve Reeves) who played the role of a bodybuilder in the film. She was mesmerized with every move Steve made, and at one point leaned over to one of her friends and said in a very low and excited voice, "Imagine seeing him as Hercules in father's film!" The friend replied "Wow!"
After the movie was over, she excitedly returned home and told her father, "Papa, papa, I have found your Hercules!" With a little convincing Francisci and his daughter returned to the theater the next day. After seeing the film for himself, he was convinced that his daughter was right. There was his Hercules!
Francisci made arrangements the following day for the prospective producer, Federico Tati, to see the film. He told Tati, "Trust me, this is the guy we need!" After viewing the film, the producer strongly agreed with Francisci and authorized him to make a deal with the young actor.
Early the following day, Francisci sent a telegram to Steve Reeves in care of the MGM studios. After receiving it, MGM forwarded the telegram to Bert Goodrich's gym in Hollywood where Steve had been working. Steve had just recently changed jobs and now worked for American Health Studios in the Los Angeles area.
Ray Wilson, owner of American Health Studios, hired Steve to represent the company at grand openings for the health club chain. Steve would join the mayor of the city and other officials performing the ribbon-cutting ceremonies. He had just finished opening a club in Riverside, California when he received the telegram forwarded from Bert.
The telegram's message was short and to the point. Francisci explained who he was and asked Steve if he would be interested in starring as the lead in the film, Hercules, and to please contact him as soon as possible if he was. At first Steve was a little skeptical about the part but deep inside him his desire to be a movie star was starting to rekindle. However, when Steve got the job at American Health Studios he told Ray Wilson that he would forget about acting and redirect his energies towards the club business. With that in mind, Steve put the telegram aside and mentally passed on the offer.
Two weeks later Steve received a letter from Francisci, along with a contract, a healthy retainer (a $5,000.00 check), and an airplane ticket to Rome dated the first part of June, 1957. Steve thought to himself, "These people are serious! I'm either going to have to send the money and ticket back or take a ch
He decided he had to take the chance. Steve then sought out an agent to look over the contract. He contacted Mitchell Gertz who reviewed the contract then set Steve up with an agent in Rome by the name of Philippo Fortuni.
Almost immediately after he made his decision to take the movie offer, Steve began growing a goatee and a moustache in anticipation of the role. When Ray Wilson asked him about the new look, Steve just replied that it would make him look more sophisticated for the job, and that people would take him more seriously. Ray agreed the new growth did look good on him.
After judging the 1957 Mr. & Miss USA contest at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, time grew short for Steve to leave his job and head to Rome. It wasn't easy to finally tell Ray, but he understood and knew Steve had to take a chance on the offer.
Steve boarded a flight out of Los Angeles and made a connecting flight in New York that arrived in Rome the following day. Steve was greeted by Francisci and the Roman press who took photos of him stepping off the plane in Rome. Francisci then drove Steve to the hotel where he would be staying during the entire filming. The hotel was none other than the American Palace Hotel of Rome.
It was where most of the actors stayed and was more like a condo than a hotel room or suite, and it had a very nice restaurant on the bottom floor. Steve stayed there through the entire shooting of Hercules because all of the locations were less than 90 miles away, and he could easily get to and from the set within 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
The following day the studio furnished Steve with an interpreter/driver who drove him to the studio for his first meeting. Steve met Francisci and the producers in the studio commissary for a lunch meeting.
As Steve and his interpreter walked into the commissary heads started turning as he passed by with whispers of, "That's Hercules, wow!" Not only were the producers impressed but also the entire studio had a buzz of excitement. Steve was introduced to everyone and pleasantries were exchanged through his interpreter. The lunch meeting lasted for more than an hour, and at the end they discussed the upcoming activities and the schedule for the following week.
The schedule called for a three-month shooting plan, which would be followed strictly. At the end of the meeting Steve returned to the car and his driver drove him back to the hotel. Steve ventured outside the hotel that night and took in a little of the surroundings, just outside the immediate hotel area, and had dinner in a very nice spot. The following day Steve went to the costume designer for his fittings and to see the drawings of the costumes. Steve made sure the look of his wardrobe would be correct for his physique.
A couple of days later he was given the script and returned to his hotel room to start reading it and learning not only his parts, but the parts of his co-stars. That was extremely important because of the many different languages spoken by his co-stars during the filming.
He had to know what they were saying, if not word for word, at least thought for thought, so he could know how and when to respond to dialogue, no matter what language it was being spoken in. Upon completion, the film would be dubbed in several different languages for worldwide distribution or given subtitles so, the languages spoken by the actors was not very important.
During the first weeks Steve not only studied very hard but was also required to appear in many promotional photo shoots with the Yugoslavian beauty, Sylva Koscina, who played lole, Princess of Jolco in the film. She spoke both her native language and Italian. He also was in photo shoots with the lovely Gianna Maria Canale who played, Queen Antea the beautiful Amazon Queen.
They started filming about two weeks after Steve arrived. Steve would normally be introduced to the cast on that day it called for that person in the script. That is, he might not meet an actor until that particular day they would be in a scene together.
Because of the language barrier, Steve knew it was up to him to make it work and took full responsibility of being the driving force, and took this responsibility very seriously. He put himself under enormous pressure to do the very best job possible. The driver would pick Steve up at 6am each morning and filming would end 12 hours later. In between takes Steve would go back to his trailer and rest until his next scene.
One day, about a month into the production, Gelloa Rosemino, an Italian script person who spoke English said to Steve, "Why don't you play a trick on Francisci and learn one of your lines in Italian today for kicks, just to see his reaction?" Steve agreed.
After practicing a few times through Steve had perfected the line, "Dobe ondante? Key via davato de la sharto narvi?" which translates to, "Where are you going? Who told you, you could leave the ship?" As the scene unfolded Steve came into the scene speaking his lines in Italian. Francisci was closely watching the scene and did not notice the change in languages. All of a sudden he realized what had taken place and did a double take!
Everyone busted up with laughter including Francisci. What was really amazing was that at any one time five or six languages could be spoken in one scene and Francisci was directing only in Italian. Something not easily done by even today's standards, and to do it 40 years ago was a tremendous feat. Steve always made sure that when doing a scene he was totally into it, paying close attention to the other actors dialog and by being alert for a key work or gesture from the other actor.
Steve performed nearly all of the stunts for the film and did all of his character's horse riding. No one in Rome could ride a horse as well as Steve, or just about anywhere else for that matter. Even if the studio could have found a horseman that was equal to Steve, he would not have the size to pull off the scene.
Some of the duelling scenes had a stunt double for the long shots but the short shots were mostly all of Steve. The scene with a lion in was a little spooky for Steve. The lion was given a substance to slow him down somewhat but Steve found that the lion was breathing heavily on his neck, not a place where you want to feel lion's breath! All of the scenes that involved hazards were filmed the last few days of shooting, just in case the actor would get injured or eaten!
The meals for the film cast and crew were always brought to the set. Steve made sure that his lunch included a nice beef steak or chicken, some pasta and quart of tomato juice or milk, and some fruit. This was necessary to keep his physique in top shape while enduring the gruelling filming pace.
During a weekend off from shooting, Steve took a short jaunt to the Isle of Capri on the Italian Rivera. While there, he spotted a particularly beautiful young woman walking down the stairs in a tee shirt and short white shorts. Steve said to himself, "Boy is she beautiful, she is really beautiful." He spent the rest of the weekend taking in the scenic sights of famed Capri, but kept catching himself thinking of nothing except the beautiful young woman he saw going down those stairs.
After Steve returned to Rome to continue shooting the movie, Francisci said to Steve, "Steve, would you do me a favor and do a screen test with this girl I know from Capri?" Steve agreed.
Francisci then introduced Steve to the same girl that he thought was so beautiful in Capri. She was an 18-year- old German girl who spoke English. She was on vacation in Italy with her grandmother. Francisci had met her and her grandmother in Capri while he was staying at his villa there.
After completing the screen test and some stills, Steve asked for her telephone number and address and then invited her to a party in Rome. She accepted his invitation and was Steve's date at the get-together. But after that delightful day with Steve, she and her grandmother had to return to Germany. Before leaving she asked Steve to visit her in Germany. Steve said he would, if he had the chance.
The most famous scenes at the end of the movie were the ones where Hercules grabbed the chains and started swinging them, knocking people out of the way. The chains were made from wood and painted to look like rusty steel. In one of the scenes Hercules had just pulled the chains out of the wall and then proceeded to break out of jail.
As Steve rushed down the hallway swinging the chains at everyone in sight, he didn't want to swing the chains too hard and really hurt someone. Francisci yelled out to Steve! "Hit them harder! Hit them harder!" Steve spoke back and told expained that he didn't want to hurt the other actors. Francisci replied through the interrupter, "If they don't get hurt, they don't get paid!"
Many years later Steve attended an award ceremony at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York. After the event was over, Steve and a group of honorees went to the best Italian restaurant in Manhattan. All of a sudden the head waiter ran up to Steve and said, "Hay-a Stev-a Reevesss, I got to thanka, Stev-a of Reevesss. If it was not-a for Stev-a Reevesss, I would not a be here! He punched me! He hit me with the chains! Threw me overboard! Every time he did that, I get more money! If it was-a not for Stev-a Reevesss, I would not a be in America!" Steve enjoyed this encounter and still talks about it today.
The Hercules film crew was back in Rome for several weeks of filming. Towards the end of the shooting, Steve was invited to a dinner party at the "Madison House." It was a huge event for movie industry people and Rome society and featured plenty fine food and great music.
Upon Steve's arrival at the party, he was introduced to many people in the movie industry and one very special lady: his future wife, the lovely and quite elegant Aline Czartjarwicz, who was attending the event with her cousin George. Steve sat down at one of the tables and it just happened to be where Aline and George were seated. Steve was talking with the other guests at the table when Aline first noticed Steve sitting there. She couldn't keep her eyes off of him and his piercing blue eyes.
As the evening progressed and shortly after finishing the splendid meal, Aline looked across the table and directly into the eyes of Hercules and asked, "Where does one reach you, if one wants to invite you for a kilo steak?" (That's about two pounds of beef!) Steve smiled and said, "I'm at the American Palace Hotel."
It has been said by many people who knew her that, Aline's blue eyes were as captivating as Steve's. When George was driving Aline back home, he remarked to Aline, "Boy! Did you see the shoulders on that guy?" Aline replied, "Yeah, really padded. But did you see those blue eyes! George said, "That suit wasn't padded! That's the guy who is playing Hercules!"
About a week later Steve received a telephone call from Aline who asked him, "How about coming up for that kilo steak we talked about?" The two shared company that evening and found each other delightful to be with, and they had lunch together a couple of more times before Steve had to return to America - but Aline was the girl on his mind this time!.
After the film was in the can, as they say when the filming is completed, Steve remained a week after, per his contract, to do any retakes as necessary. Steve grew impatient with his beard, so after about three days with no word from the studio, he decided it was safe to shave it off. Wouldn't you know it? they needed to reshoot a scene.
Part of Steve's contract agreement was that he was to be paid for any extension on the film including the retakes. Steve said, "Yes, I'll do it, but I want the money before we start shooting." Francisci said, "If you were my friend, you wouldn't asked to be paid!" Steve replied, "If you were my friend, you wouldn't ask me to do it for nothing." Francisci agreed that Steve would be paid.
The next day the car was sent for Steve and drove him to the set, which was about an hour from Rome. After arriving he had his costume and makeup on and was ready to do the scene. They had to glue a beard on him hair by hair for the scene. When he was transformed into Hercules. Steve walked over and sat in his personal chair. A short time later Francisci showed up to the set and walked over to Steve.
After exchanging greetings Steve said, "Did you bring the money I requested for shooting the scene today? Francisci replied, "They have not arrived with it as yet." Steve looked up at the sky, which just happened to be really cloudy, and kind of eerie looking. He looked back down at Francisci and replied, "Until you pay me, the clouds will not go away!" Steve sat with his eyes closed and head slightly bent forward with his hand resting in a position on his lap resembling a person in a deep concentration. Francisci, being somewhat superstitious replied, "They will come at noon and pay you half." Steve said, "Ok, (then with a slight pause) until you pay me, the clouds will not go away."
Finally at noon the messengers arrived with half of the money. They went over to Steve and gave him the money. Steve replied, "Ok, half the money for a half day's filming." A short time later, believe it or not, the clouds started to part, and within a half an hour the sun had returned.
After the months of shooting they all started believing that Steve was truly the son of Zeus. Because of the delay caused by Steve that day, the scene had to be completed on the following day. This time they brought the money right away.
After finishing the film at the end of summer of 1957, Steve flew to Germany and visited with the girl he met in Capri, who lived in Mannheim.
After saying good-bye to his beautiful friend, he flew to the Greek island of Myorka. He spent a week relaxing in the sun before returning home. He stayed in a great hotel room that was right on the beach. He paid the sum of five dollars a day for room and food on Myorka! On his second day there, he rented a Vesta motor scooter and took himself on a tour of the whole island. Steve was riding on a beautiful green lined road overlooking the sea in the warn sun and singing to the top of his lungs. He felt great! Just like a Greek god!
In our next issue we will pick up our story as Steve returns to the shores of America. He thought that this was going to be the last time he would be filming in Europe. We will find out how his agent took advantage of him in the film deal for Hercules Unchained.
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