Everybody Loves George Reeves!
Is there an actor more beloved than George Reeves? The internet’s full of tribute sites, and his legacy thrives thanks to the release of the Adventures Of Superman series on DVD. TV co-stars Jack Larson and Noel Neill are in constant demand for fan gatherings, though that fraternity is aging fast. I remember in the late 70’s when the Warner Bros. Film Gallery salesman, representing the company’s non-theatrical 16mm arm, came to my college to pitch the new year’s rental package. Part of the proposed deal for the 1975-76 term was a live appearance by Noel Neill, accompanied by a grouping of three Superman episodes. We passed on the booking, but a lot of schools went for it, and no doubt did well, since the student bodies of that period would have all grown up during the peak of Superman’s syndication heyday. Though we’d missed the first-run of these shows, we were now able to see them each weekday afternoon, and the only thing that has ever tempered our pleasure (at least mine) was the knowledge that Superman himself had committed suicide back in 1959. Suicide? That might have been where I was first made to understand the meaning of that dreadful word, and it seemed so unthinkable that such a confidant, likeable, dependable --- well, we could go on. Suffice it to say that Reeve’s death was a reality few of his admirers were willing to accept. As we ventured into adulthood, the spectre of George’s death hung like a baleful shadow over so many of our optimistic assumptions about life and people. This was a dreadful, aberrant thing that upset an otherwise well-ordered equation. Could the acquired wisdom of our middle-age ever really explain George’s passing? The answer finally was to question it. Dig deep into the record and find out what really happened, just like Helen Bessalo when she launched her own investigation of the incident right after it all happened. Mrs. Bessalo got nowhere, but we would! Our army of boomer sleuths was determined to uncover and reveal the truth, and that truth would exonerate George. Finally, the emotional burden we’d carried from childhood would be lifted, with the essential fact at last revealed --- George Reeves did not commit suicide at all. At the very least, it was an accident. In fact, there’s a very good chance it was murder. After all, just look at that bungled investigation, and why did George’s fiancee, Lenore Lemmon, leave town that very morning, never to return? And what about those people downstairs when the shot rang out? What did they really hear? It was over an hour before anyone called the cops. What was that all about? Anyway, you get the picture. There were enough shifty maneuvers and sudden disappearances (of property as well as people) to call the whole thing into question. We’ll never know the truth of what happened, of course. Everybody in the house that night is either dead or untraceable. For pity’s sake, it was over 45 years ago! Might just as well get along with our lives and do the best we can with whatever assumptions we choose for our own peace of mind.
These stills remind us that George once had a promising career in features. A lot of small parts, even bits, but by the early forties, George looked like he was going places. He was Hoppy’s sidekick in a brace of westerns, and had leads in some other B’s. Calling All Husbands was a nice part in a Warners programmer, and George sure looks like star material. A really big break was So Proudly We Hail, as shown here with Claudette Colbert. That was a major hit, and director Mark Sandrich promised he’d give George a larger push right after the war. Well, Mark died, and by the time George got back from his own service hitch, the momentum was lost. From there, it was a quick slide. More bits, serials, and finally Superman. We could talk forever about George. What a fascinating life, and what a wonderful actor! There’s a new book just out on George’s movie career, by the way. We just heard about it this morning while reading the new issue of Cult Movies magazine at breakfast. Here’s the Amazon LINK.