Steve Reeves: The Shape

Stephen Lester Reeves was an American professional bodybuilder, actor, and philanthropist.

Steve is a descendent of a combination of Welsh, Irish, German and English heritage.

World famous Muscle Magazine photographer Russ Warner is quoted in the book Steve Reeves ‘One Of A Kind’ as saying “I don’t think there is one chance in 50 trillion, that the particular mix of hereditary genes that formed the product we see in Steve Reeves will ever occur in combination again. Steve was a very unusual bodybuilder. He had the overall beauty that no other bodybuilder has ever been able to achieve.”

Father and Mother

Steve was born January 21st 1926 in Glasgow Montana U.S.A. of parents Lester Dell and Golden Reeves, Steve’s father was killed when he was just 1 and a half years old.Steve’s grandfather Manasseh Tomas Reeves was a veteran of the Civil War. He fought under General Sherman’s Command.

Steve started bodybuilding due to arm wrestling. It was in junior high school and there was a fellow named Joe Gambino. Although he was small he had a very nice build. He didn’t weigh very much and when he beat him he wondered how he did it. So Steve went up to his house one day and his sister said “He’s out there, working out, and she offered him some of his muscle magazines to read, which he did. Steve saw all these guys with big arms and big chests, and it was interesting because he was just a kid and not that big. His sister then asked why he didn’t train with her brother because he could look like that too, if he wanted. So he did, and Joe used to charge him a buck a week to use his weights. He became Mr. America and he became a Barber.


World War II put a temporary halt to Steve’s bodybuilding, for as soon as he graduated from high school he joined the Army(1944 – 46). On September 12, 1944 Steve reported to the Presidio of Monterey, California for induction into the Army. 

He spent 19 months in the Far East (Philippines and Page 17 Japan) and he was still able to obtain some training: like rope climbing, general free exercises, such as pushups or dips, and tension exercises. Later he designed his own weights and basic pulley apparatus.
After much fighting Steve contracted malaria, complicated by a serious jungle fever. Steve was transported to a Manilla hospital where he spent months recuperating.Furthermore he was nicknamed “The Shape” by fellow soldiers in the US Army.

After Japan was taken Steve was assigned to Japan after the allied occupation. He was stationed to the town of Otaruon on Nokkaido Island.  On September 18, 1946, Steve finally stood on good old American terra firma. It was now time for him to get on with the rest of his life.


In 1946 Steve left the Infantry in the Philippines and he started training and making progress again. He trained at Yaricks Gym. His first contest was “Mr. Pacific Coast” in 1946 and Steve was able to win!

1947 he won the Mr. America contest. After one year he competed again in the Mr. America in 1948. Steve placed second. He was beaten by Clancy Ross.

Steve Reeves vs. Grimek

The Mr. Universe contest was being staged in London in 1948 (for the first time). It was the battle of giants: John Grimek (40 years old!) vs. Steve Reeves.

Bodybuilding Icon ‘Reg Park’ was sitting in the audience. 

Reg Park: “When Steve Reeves competed at Mr. Universe, to my mind he was superb. The man had everything. Looks, physique, skin, hair, and teeth…all perfect. There was the physique of the century…a wonderful, god given combination of grace, power, size, definition…Superb Manhood!”

John Grimek won the Mr. Universe title that year, Steve Reeves took second and Andre Drapp, a well built Frenchman taking third.

Mr. Universe: Steve Reeves vs. Reg Park

One of the most interesting things about Steve Reeves was his ability to whip himself into top condition in a matter of weeks. He proved that he could do this any time he wished.

John Grimek: “We saw Steve Reeves change from a skinny bodybuilder to a Mr. Universe winner in just seven weeks. It was in 1950 when we invited him to come and train with us. When he stripped for his first workout it seemed that he had lost everything but his legs.

The accepted opinion of the fellows in the gym was that he didn’t even have a chance of placing in the Mr. Universe contest, let alone with it. His arms, shoulders, chest and back lacked any semblance of previous muscularity, however we had underestimated Steve’s ambition and drive. Each workout he took, he put everything into it, and continued to do a little more each week, so that after a few weeks he showed amazing improvement. He seldom sat around talking and killing time, but worked continuosly while on the gym floor. 

He would repeat each exercise until he couldn’t do another rep, and on several occasions while he was doing his incline curls I saw him kick up the dumbbell with his knees and then strongly resist as he lowered the weight. By the end of his sixth week he had recovered his large sinewy arms, a fuller rounder chest. His back looked wider and more massive. Even his shoulders looked thicker and his adomen showed more detail and muscularity. There was no more whispering in the gym about whether he could win the title. Soon the time was up. Steve took one final workout and then asked us to appraise his posing. As we watched him shift from one pose to another it was evident that here was the winner of the Universe contest, and indeed he was!”

Steve Reeves won the Mr. Universe title, and the unique Sandow statuette, later copied for the Mr. Olympia. Reg Park came second, and third place went to the Juan Ferrero.

The 1950 Mr. Universe was Reeves’ last competition. He won at age 24. After winning he retired from bodybuilding competition.

Life After Bodybuilding

Steve started making movies like the film, “Hercules” (his first epic). And since making movies he was not at any kind of competition shape. Reports indicated that he tried keeping very fit. His main exercise seemed to come from his regular horse riding, a love which he has had since early childhood. He is in fact an expert horseman in his own right and has an extensive knowledge about horsebreeding. 

The picture above is Steve Reeves riding at age 73. In early 1957, while working for American Health Studios, Steve purchased his ranch in Valley Center, California. It was his home for the next decades

He was happily married to a charming woman, Countes Lina Czartarwics. During the early part of their marriage they lived in Switzerland, but Steve prefered his Oregon ranch.

On May 1, 2000, Reeves died from a blood clot after having had surgery two days earlier. He died at Palomar Hospital in Escondido, California, where his second wife had also died.

1 thought on “Steve Reeves: The Shape”

  1. To clarify this article, Reeves did not compete in the 1948 Mr. America contest because he won the 1947 Mr. America contest and was not eligible to compete again. Also, Grimek was 38, not 40, when he defeated Reeves at the 1948 Mr. Universe contest.


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