George Reeves


Actor
George Reeves

About

Also Known As
George Bessolo, Sgt. George Reeves
Birth Place
Ashland, Kentucky, USA
Born
January 05, 1914
Died
June 16, 1959
Cause of Death
Suicide

Biography

Even after almost a half-century, the mystery surrounding the untimely death of actor George Reeves remained such a potent and fascinating piece of Hollywood legend - it had been the subject of countless articles, books, and one film, the neo-noir "Hollywoodland" (2006) - that one could easily forget that the man himself as well as his long time acting career prior to his demise. And tho...

Bibliography

"Hollywood Kryptonite: The Bulldog, the Lady and the Death of Superman"
Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, St. Martin's Press (1996)

Biography

Even after almost a half-century, the mystery surrounding the untimely death of actor George Reeves remained such a potent and fascinating piece of Hollywood legend - it had been the subject of countless articles, books, and one film, the neo-noir "Hollywoodland" (2006) - that one could easily forget that the man himself as well as his long time acting career prior to his demise. And though said career was dominated by his portrayal of the Man of Steel in the syndicated television series "Adventures of Superman" (1952-58), Reeves did enjoy a substantial career on stage and in film and television for almost 20 years.

Born George Keefer Brewster on Jan. 5, 1914 in Woolstock, IA, Reeves relocated to Pasadena, CA during his childhood, changing his surname to Bessolo after his stepfather adopted him. An amateur boxer and musician in his youth and early adulthood, Reeves also took to acting by studying at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse, where he would appear in numerous productions over the course of his career.

In true old school Tinseltown fashion, in 1938, Reeves was approached by a Hollywood agent who signed the handsome young man to a contract with Warner Bros. Pictures. Newly named George Reeves, he made his film debut the following year in a string of B-pictures. A major highlight among his early titles was in landing a brief supporting turn as Stuart Tarleton, one of Scarlett O'Hara's twin suitors in the opening scene of the monster hit classic, "Gone with the Wind" (1939). After this brief brush with greatness, however, it was back to the b-movies at Warner and Universal, where Reeves would often appear in uncredited roles - including one in the Ronald Reagan "Win one for the Gipper" classic, "Knute Rockne: All-American" (1940). For that reason, he alternated his film appearances with stage work at the Pasadena Playhouse. Eventually, more substantial parts came to Reeves; he appeared opposite James Cagney in "The Strawberry Blonde" (1941) and received the best notices of his career as Claudette Colbert's military suitor in the wartime melodrama "So Proudly We Hail" (1943). Reeves also married actress Ellanora Needles during this period, though the pair separated in 1950.

But service during WWII brought a halt to the momentum that Sgt. Reeves' career so desperately needed, and by the time he returned to civilian life in 1945, the roles were simply not available to him. Reeves found sporadic work in low-budget films and on the new medium of television, but it became apparent to him that his shot at stardom was slipping away as the years went by.

But his fortunes were about to change. In 1950, he replaced actor Kirk Alyn as Superman in an hour-long b-movie titled "Superman and the Mole Men" (1951). The film's producers were so impressed by Reeves' talent and bulked-out presence (he stood 6'1") that they signed him to a seven-year contract to play Superman in a television series in development. Episodes for the fledgling program were filmed throughout 1951 while Reeves shot the final substantial roles in his film career - turns in two Fritz Lang films, "Rancho Notorious" and "The Blue Gardenia," as well as a supporting (and uncredited) role as Sgt. Maylon Stark in Fred Zinneman's classic, "From Here to Eternity" (1953). Rumors abounded later that his small role in the latter Oscar-winning Best Picture was the result of the audiences' inability to see him as anyone but Superman at that time, but in reality, the role was simply a minor one (in some television prints, Reeves is missing entirely from the film).

Meanwhile, "Superman and the Mole Men" debuted to strong box office in theaters, and in September of 1952, Reeves found himself the focus of national attention when "Adventures of Superman" premiered on television, capturing the hearts and minds of young American viewers everywhere. A total of 104 episodes of the show were filmed, three of which were directed by Reeves. So ingrained was the role in the public's consciousness, that he also played the Man of Steel on a classic 1957 episode of "I Love Lucy" (CBS, 1951-57), and in "Stamp Day for Superman" (1954), a U.S. Department of Treasury film produced to promote government bonds. Reeves also made countless promotional appearances in his Superman costume, much to the delight of his adolescent fans.

And though Reeves did his utmost to respect his audience (to the extent that he would not be photographed while smoking or with any female companions), he spoke publicly about the detrimental effect that the role was having on his career. Reeves found it nearly impossible to find film or television roles due to the public's identification of him as Superman. Things got so bad, that for his final film performance in the 1956 B-western "Westward Ho the Wagons!," he was virtually disguised with a thick beard. His career problems began to spill over into other areas of his life - Reeves struggled with alcohol, and his salary for "Superman" - a paltry $2,500 per episode - forced him to seek money through low-rent promotional appearances and even wrestling matches (contrary to pop culture myth, Reeves was in good shape throughout the series' run, and frequently handled many of his own stunts).

But by 1959, Reeves' fortunes appeared to be on the upswing. He had stopped drinking and planned to marry again, this time to actress Lenore Lemmon. "Superman," which had run its course in 1958, was about to be revived for another two seasons starting in 1960. He had pulled out of a potentially devastating affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of high-powered Eddie Mannix, the general manager of MGM Studios (and reportedly, a former mobster), and had signed a five-picture deal with Paramount Pictures. Reportedly, Universal was also considering him for Alfred Hitchcock's upcoming film "Psycho" (1960), for which he would have played the role that eventually went to Martin Balsam.

But on the morning of June 16, 1959, Reeves retired to bed after a long evening with friends and shortly thereafter, reportedly shot himself in the head. The death was immediately considered a suicide due to his oft-stated career issues - though it was clear that Reeves was on the cusp of a comeback. Another theory was he killed himself to escape complications from a recent car accident. As time went on and schoolchildren recovered from the shocking idea that Superman would off himself, evidence to the refute the suicide explanation started coming to light - specifically, the fact that two additional bullets found in the room that had been fired from the same gun that killed Reeves. The new discovery gave rise to rumors that Reeves had been murdered at the behest of either disgruntled husband Eddie or the spurned Toni Mannix - who, incidentally, would be the recipient of Reeves' estate. But despite investigations by Reeves' mother, and vocal support for murder as the cause of Reeves' death by numerous authors and friends of Reeves (including his "Superman" co-stars Noel Neill and Jack Larson), no substantial evidence to support that theory came to light. It was a different time then - back when movie studios often held the upper hand with police departments who dared to run investigations into their money-making stars.

Even decades later, the suicide/murder of George Reeves remained one of Hollywood's most sensational unsolved mysteries. Enough that, in 2006, Reeves was reintroduced to a new generation of filmgoers with the release of "Hollywoodland" - a neo-noir film in which Ben Affleck portrayed Reeves and Adrien Brody starred as an L.A. reporter working overtime to cut through the controversies and conspiracies of the actor's mysterious, untimely demise.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Arson--Inc. (1949)
Dialogue Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Westward Ho the Wagons! (1956)
James Stephen
Forever Female (1954)
George Courtland IV
From Here to Eternity (1953)
Sgt. Maylon Stark
The Blue Gardenia (1953)
Capt. Sam Haynes
Bugles in the Afternoon (1952)
Lt. Smith
Rancho Notorious (1952)
Wilson
Superman and the Mole-Men (1951)
Clark Kent, also known as Superman
The Good Humor Man (1950)
Stuart Nagel
Samson and Delilah (1950)
Wounded messenger
The Great Lover (1949)
Williams
Special Agent (1949)
Paul Devereaux
The Mutineers (1949)
Thomas Nagle
Thunder in the Pines (1948)
Jeff Collins
Jungle Goddess (1948)
Mike Patton
Jungle Jim (1948)
Bruce Edwards
The Sainted Sisters (1948)
Sam Stoaks
Variety Girl (1947)
Himself
Winged Victory (1944)
Lt. Thompson
Buckskin Frontier (1943)
Jeff Collins
Leather Burners (1943)
Harrison Brooke
Colt Comrades (1943)
Lin Whitlock
Border Patrol (1943)
Don Enrique Perez
So Proudly We Hail! (1943)
Lieut. John Sumners
Bar 20 (1943)
Lin Bradley
Hoppy Serves a Writ (1943)
Steve Jordan
The Mad Martindales (1942)
Julio Rigo
Blue, White and Perfect (1942)
Juan Arturo O'Hara
Blood and Sand (1941)
Captain Pierre Lauren
The Strawberry Blonde (1941)
Harold
Dead Men Tell (1941)
Bill Lydig
Lydia (1941)
Bob [Willard]
Man at Large (1941)
Bob Grayson
Virginia City (1940)
Telegrapher
The Man Who Talked Too Much (1940)
Hotel clerk
Calling Philo Vance (1940)
Steamship clerk
Gambling on the High Seas (1940)
Reporter
'Til We Meet Again (1940)
Jimmy Coburn
Torrid Zone (1940)
Sancho
Ladies Must Live (1940)
George Halliday
Always a Bride (1940)
Michael Stevens
Calling All Husbands (1940)
Dan Williams
Argentine Nights (1940)
Eduardo [Estaban]
Tear Gas Squad (1940)
Joe McCabe
Knute Rockne--All American (1940)
Player
Father Is a Prince (1939)
Gary Lee
Four Wives (1939)
Laboratory man
Gone With the Wind (1939)
Brent Tarleton

Writer (Feature Film)

Crazy Times (1981)
Screenplay

Producer (Feature Film)

Crazy Times (1981)
Executive Producer

Producer (Special)

Big John (1983)
Executive Producer

Cast (Short)

PONY EXPRESS DAYS (1940)
Meet The Fleet (1940)
The Lady and the Lug (1940)
The Monroe Doctrine (1939)

Misc. Crew (Short)

Breakdowns of 1941 (1941)
Archival Footage

Life Events

Photo Collections

Knute Rockne, All American - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from Warner Bros' Knute Rockne, All American (1940), starring Pat O'Brien and Ronald Reagan.

Videos

Movie Clip

Blood And Sand (1941) - Death Of This Noble Bull In Seville, big coming-out for humble bullfighter Juan (Tyrone Power), the noted temptress Dona Sol (Rita Hayworth, escorted by George "Superman" Reeves) in the crowd, won over along with stubborn critic Curro (Laird Cregar), in Rouben Mamoulian's Blood And Sand, 1941.
From Here To Eternity (1953) - Pay Day And Girls Maggio (Frank Sinatra) talks fellow Hawaii-based soldier Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) through pay-day and the ensuing festivities, while Warden (Burt Lancaster) gets a warning (about Deborah Kerr) from George (later "Superman") Reeves, in the 1953 Best Picture Oscar-winner From Here to Eternity.
Kansan, The (1943) - He's No Tenderfoot Straight to business in this RKO programmer, Richard Dix rides into a Kansas town where the James Gang is making trouble (the one who gets away is George "Superman" Reeves), and we meet Albert Dekker, the banker and Jane Wyatt, the overdressed nurse, in The Kansan, 1943.
Rancho Notorious - What Are You Staring At? Vengeful Vern (Arthur Kennedy) brought by Frenchy (Mel Ferrer) to the hideout, meets elusive Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) and fellow fugitives (Frank Ferguson, Francis McDonald, George Reeves et al) in Fritz Lang's Rancho Notorious, 1952.
Lydia (1941) - The Past Always Improves Established as a Boston grande dame, Merle Oberon (title character) reunited with old suitors Michael, Bob and Frank (Joseph Cotten, George Reeves, Hans Jaray), for director Julien Duvivier's first flashback, featuring John Halliday and Edna May Oliver, early in Lydia, 1941.
Lydia (1941) - As One Enters A Dream Boston seniors Michael (Joseph Cotten), Bob (George Reeves) and Frank (Hans Jaray) with their mutual old flame Merle Oberon (title character and wife of the producer, Alexander Korda) set up a more ambitious flashback from director Julien Duvivier, in Lydia, 1941.

Trailer

Gambling on the High Seas - (Original Trailer) A reporter tries to nail a gambling-ship owner for murder in Gambling on the High Seas (1940) starring Jane Wyman.
Father is a Prince - (Original Trailer) An industrialist values money over his family's happiness in Father is a Prince (1939).
Always a Bride - (Original Trailer) George Reeves plays a not-so-super man who gets pushed into politics in Always A Bride (1940).
Gone With the Wind (1939) -- (1961 Re-Issue Trailer) Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) fights to save her beloved plantation and find love during the Civil War in Gone With the Wind (1939).
Torrid Zone - (Original Trailer) A Central American plantation manager and his boss battle over a traveling showgirl in Torrid Zone starring James Cagney.
Tear Gas Squad - (Original Trailer) A nightclub entertainer (Dennis Morgan) joins the police force. First assignment: Tear Gas Squad (1940).
So Proudly We Hail! - (Original Trailer) Nurses caught behind enemy lines during World War II fight to survive in So Proudly We Hail! (1943) starring Claudette Colbert and Paulette Goddard.
Strawberry Blonde, The - (Original Trailer) James Cagney is a turn-of-the-century dentist who wants to get even with the man who stole Rita Hayworth, The Strawberry Blonde (1941).
Rancho Notorious - (Original Trailer) A cowboy (Arthur Kennedy) infiltrates a bandit hideaway - the Chuck-a-Luck - in search of his girlfriend's killer in Rancho Notorious (1952), Fritz Lang's cult Western featuring Marlene Dietrich in one of her definitive screen portrayals.
Til We Meet Again - (Original Trailer) A dying woman shares a shipboard romance with a criminal on his way to the gallows in 'Til We Meet Again (1940) starring Merle Oberon and George Brent.
Calling All Husbands - (Original Trailer) A henpecked husband confronts the man his wife thinks she should have married in Calling All Husbands (1940).
Knute Rockne, All American - (Original Trailer) Pat O'Brien stars in Knute Rockne, All American (1940), a film biography of the famed Notre Dame coach.

Bibliography

"Hollywood Kryptonite: The Bulldog, the Lady and the Death of Superman"
Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, St. Martin's Press (1996)