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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.

back to part 1