Actor George Reeves was best known as Superman on the popular 1950s television show The Adventures of Superman. The series made him a household name, but brought an end to his film career.
George Reeves was born on January 5, 1914, in Woolstock, Iowa. In 1935, he joined the Pasadena Community Playhouse. His first film role was a minor part in Gone with the Wind. Reeves acted in movies and army training films. In 1951, he took the title role on the popular television series The Adventures of Superman. His mysterious 1959 death was considered a suicide, but some speculate murder.
George Reeves was born George Keefer Brewer on January 5, 1914, in the tiny farming community of Woolstock, Iowa. George was the only son of Don and Helen Brewer, who divorced within a few months of his birth. Shortly after, Helen and her newborn son moved to Pasadena, California, where she met and married Frank Bessolo.
After graduating from high school, George enrolled at Pasadena Junior College, where he turned his attention toward music and acting, joining the acappella choir, playing guitar, and performing in school plays. In 1935, at the age of 21, he joined one of the America's most prestigious theaters: the Pasadena Community Playhouse. Over the next four years, he appeared in dozens of playhouse productions.
George received his big break when scouting agents for Hollywood producer David O. Selznick cast him as Stuart Tarleton in the legendary film Gone with the Wind (1939), starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. His part in the film led to a contract with Warner Bros. Studios, who convinced George to adopt the stage name Reeves.
Although Reeves earned acclaim for his performance in Gone with the Wind, he went on to appear in a succession of less than memorable projects, including Tear Gas Squad, Calling All Husbands (both 1940), and Man at Large (1941). However, in 1943, Reeves landed his first starring role in the box office hit So Proudly We Hail!, in which he played a wounded World War II soldier who falls in love with costar Claudette Colbert.
Shortly after the film's release, Reeves put his career on hold to enlist in the army. Joining the Special Theatrical Unit of the U.S. Army Air Corps, he appeared in several training films, including a movie on the dangers of venereal disease. While stationed in New York, a theater director cast Reeves in a small role in the play Winged Victory. After the show's run on Broadway, he toured the country with the production company.
'The Adventures of Superman'
In 1946, at the end of the war, Reeves returned to California. Over the next few years, his only film roles were in low-budget embarrassments like Jungle Goddess and Thunder in the Pines (both released in 1948). Frustrated with dwindling opportunities in film, Reeves directed his efforts toward television work. In 1951, he reluctantly accepted the title role in the TV series The Adventures of Superman. In the fall of 1952, Superman premiered to high ratings and equally impressive critical acclaim. Playing both the crime-fighting hero (and his mild-mannered alter ego Clark Kent), Reeves quickly became a household name with younger viewers. However, as the popularity of the series swelled to a phenomenal level, Reeves became more and more dissatisfied with the direction in which his career was headed.
In 1953, Reeves was given a chance to rejuvenate his flagging film career with a substantial role in From Here to Eternity. However his hopes were crushed when a preview audience laughed and yelled "There's Superman" when Reeves first came on-screen. In the film's final release, the actor appeared only momentarily and without screen credit. Typecasting brought Reeves's career to a grinding halt and From Here to Eternity marked his last major motion picture.
After five successful seasons, Superman was canceled in 1957. In addition to his professional problems, Reeves was burdened by his relationship with longtime lover Toni Mannix, the common-law wife of Eddie Mannix, vice president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In 1958, Reeves began a relationship with a young New York socialite, Leonore Lemmon. When he broke off his romance with Mannix, she was enraged, and began to harass the new couple, causing Reeves to file for a restraining order against his former lover.
On June 16, 1959, Reeves was found dead in his bedroom from a gunshot wound to the head. He was 45 years old. The police ruled his death a suicide, but rumors quickly surfaced that Reeves was murdered. Although Lemmon and Mannix were both suspected of killing Reeves, no arrests or convictions were made. His death remains shrouded in mystery.