The Death of George Reeves (Superman)
Reeves (not to be confused with that other fine actor
Reeve)  was the very
embodiment of Superman
to a legion of 1950s Superman
enthusiasts. It therefore came as a shock when sometime between 1:30
and 2:00 a.m. June 16, 1959, in the upstairs bedroom of his Benedict
Canyon home, 45 year old Reeves, “Man of Steel,” died of a gunshot
to the head.
The police ruled it was suicide, others believe it was murder.
Reeves, born George Keefer Brewer January 5, 1914, was the
of a failed marriage between his mother Helen Lescher and his father
Don Brewer. Following its dissolution his mother moved to California
and re-married, George taking the last name of his new father Bessolo
who adopted him as his own.
Fifteen years later, following the failure of this second marriage,
Helen told George that Bessolo had committed suicide. It wasn't untill
adulthood that Reeves was to find out that the man he had called dad
was his stepfather not his biological father and was still alive.
George assumed the professional
name “Reeves” while under contract to Warner Brothers as is
reflected in the Gone
with the Wind screen credits (he had a minor
part as one of the Tarleton twins).
There followed further
roles for Warners mostly in “B” pictures and eventually the termination
of his contract. After being picked up by Twentieth Century Fox, then
dropped again, he freelanced in a number of low budget films before
winning critical acclaim for his role in So Proudly We Hail!
(1943) Paramount Pictures blockbuster.
Early that same year
Reeves was drafted and assigned to the U.S. Army Air Forces, performing
in the moral boosting Broadway show Winged Victory.
Later he was
transferred to the Army Air Forces' First Motion Picture Unit
along with the likes of Ronald Regan, Clark Gable and De Forest Kelly
he made training/recruiting films.
After the war it was “B”
movies, radio and live television. Then in 1951 Reeves was offered the
role that would both define him and make him a national celebrity
“Superman,” first in a movie Superman and the Mole Men
then in a new television program, the Adventures of Superman.
question often asked is, did Reeves feel demeaned/ type-cast by his
role as television’s Superman, the belief that it was beneath him
perhaps a cause for depression and eventual suicide? The
answer seems to be contradictory depending on the source:
In a 1988
interview Phyllis Coates (the first Lois Lane) recalled being invited
into Reeves’ dressing room prior to the begining of production. After
them a martini, he proposed a toast and said, “Well Phyllis welcome to
the bottom of the barrel.” The perception being, at least as
far as Reeves was concerned, that he’d hit rock bottom. Not
he movie “A” list material, he wasn’t even “B” list material. He’d been
relegated to television.
Jack Larson, Jimmy Olson in the series,
stated that upon first meeting Reeves he told him how much he enjoyed
his performance in “So Proudly We Hail!” Reeves reply, that if Mark
Sandrich (the producer and director of the movie) hadn’t died, he
wouldn’t be there in this “monkey suit” was according to Larson the
only time he ever heard Reeves say anything disparaging about being
A story circulating at the time, that he was upset
about his scenes in From
Here to Eternity being cut after preview
audiences laughed and yelled “There’s Superman!” are apparently false.
purportedly took his status as a role model seriously (he avoided
smoking in public and eventually quit) and his affection for his
millions of young fans was apparently genuine.
Jack Larson and
Noel Neil (the second Lois Lane) had nothing but praise for Reeves,
citing his sense of humor and his gentlemanly behavior to fellow actors
(a sign on his dressing room door apparently read Honest George, the
There was a darker side to Reeves, however, and
his private life included a torrid and open relationship with
Toni Mannix an ex-showgirl, eight years his senior, married to
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s general manager Eddie Mannix (allegedly George
and Toni indulged in some hard drinking, each afternoon when the show
wrapped and around town often in the company of some shady characters,
 while Eddie was said to have ties to the mob).
Reeves broke up with Toni (following which there were
of harassment even death threats) and announced his engagement to
Leonore Lemmon a well liked, if wild, society playgirl.
last night, depending on whose version of events one accepts, is one of
argument and anger. According to the witnesses Lemmon and
at dinner with writer Robert Condon got into an argument, the three
returning from the restaurant to Reeve’s home the actor in a bad
mood retiring to his bedroom. Around midnight with the
arrival of two new guests (William Bliss and Carol Van Ronkel) and a
corresponding increase in noise, a tired and still irate Reeves came
back down. After blowing off some steam he had a drink then returned to
A short time later the guests heard a single shot.
Bliss after entering the bedroom found Reeves dead, lying across the
bed, naked and on his back, his feet on the floor a Luger between them.
Some time was
to pass before the police were called, a fact attributed to the
lateness of the hour, the shock of the event, and the intoxication of
the guests (the police stated that the guests were both inebriated and
Lemmon later stated Reeve's apparent suicide was a
result of depression and a failed career. Reeve’s will, dated 1956,
left everything to Toni Mannix, a fact which both surprised and
devastated Lemmon (they were to be married June 16).
proponents argue that Reeves would have had no desire to end his life
with so many prospects in the works (the Adventures of Superman
to resume filming, the revamped show to air in 1960 with Reeves
promised creative input and a chance to direct, a second Superman stage
show was scheduled [the first had been a resounding success] a stage
tour of Australia and a movie to be shot in Spain possibilities).
Advocates for murder pointed out an
absence of finger prints on the gun. The police, however,
pointed out that the physical
condition of the weapon (it was coated in oil) made finding prints
The fatal bullet was found in the ceiling, but two
bullet holes were also found in the floor the bullets recovered from
living room below. Only one round was missing from the gun’s chamber.
mother never accepted that it was suicide even going so far as to hire
a detective agency and delay the cremation of her son's body, but no
new evidence was ever brought to light.
Jack Larson believed it was suicide.
Noel Neil stated she knew of no one who wanted Reeves dead and that he
always appeared happy to her.
starring Ben Affleck offers three versions of the
actor's death, semi-accidental by Lemmon, murdered by Eddie Mannix, or
Edward Lozzi, a Los Angles publicist, claimed that Toni
Mannix had confessed to a Catholic priest that she was responsible
(this refuted by Larson who had close ties to Mannix).
The official LAPD police report ruled the death a suicide.
popular urban legend of the time (considered ridiculous by those that
knew him) states that Reeves died because he believed that he had
acquired Superman's powers and killed himself trying to fly.
George Reeves is interred at Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum,
Christopher Reeve was injured on May 27, 1995, while horseback riding,
suffering a cervical spinal injury which paralyzed him from the neck
down. On October 10, 2004, while being treated for a systematic
infection called sepsis he fell into a coma before dying of heart
failure. His doctor believes cause of death was an adverse reaction to
the antibiotics being used. Mr. Reeve was 52 years old.
way of contrast, however, the couple were also heavily involved with
Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America (MGFA) volunteering their time
to bring awareness of the ravages of this terrible neuromuscular
disease (Reeves even served as MGFA's national chairman in 1955).
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