There are many unsolved mysteries out in the world – and Hollywood has a few of its own.
As a kid born in 1958 I grew up watching reruns of Superman. I knew nothing of the controversy that surrounded the death of its star. Something I am glad of. Knowing Superman was downed by a speeding bullet would have shattered every illusion I had.
George Reeves died from a gunshot wound in June 1959, before I reached my first birthday. Both the show and the man still hold a fascination for me.
George Reeves was born in Iowa in 1914 – and was dead at the age of 45.
He grew up mostly in Pasadena and like many stars to be, he trod the boards at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Warners eventually signed him, and it was Warners who gave him the name ‘Reeves’.
His movie career hit bump after bump. Inadequate roles such as one of the Tarlton twins in Gone With The Wind, the war, the death of Mark Sandrich (a director), who was planning many things for George but died before fulfilling that promise found him reduced to walk-in parts by the 1950’s.
Sounds like the dream of stardom is over for this Iowa boy.
Ahh – but this is Hollywood remember.
And what would any good star story be without a scandalous romance?
Georgie boy was pretty in that jut-jawed, barrel-chested, strapping 1950’s style.
It did not go unnoticed.
Enter one Toni Mannix. George was about to enter toy-boy heaven where all the toys came free.
Eight years older than George, Toni was also married. And she was married to Eddie Mannix; Eddie Mannix’s childhood was spent with a tough crowd. Bugsy Siegel grew up with Eddie. As an adult Eddie also had ties with mobsters and police.
But in Hollywood anything is possible – Toni Mannix and George Reeves went on double dates with Eddie and his mistress at the time.
George was Toni’s toy-boy. They carried on as a couple; with the house at 1579 Benedict Canyon Drive their place to gather friends. Eddie Mannix was also a guest at the occasional shindig they threw.
It was in 1951 that Superman came George’s way. It took two years for the pilot and another 13 episodes to actually air on TV. Once it aired George was famous. But Superman fame did not do George a lot of good in other areas.
Unable to work on other projects for more than four weeks at a time, because of his Superman contract, this severely limited his options career wise.
With a salary of $2,500 a week it looked great. Trouble was George only earned that salary for 13 weeks out of the year.
Appearances, even great performances, were greeted with cheers for ‘Superman’. When the series ended in 1957, George was typecast. His career was in a slump.
In 1959 George left Toni Mannix and started a romance with Leonore Lemmon. Toni was said to have been devastated.
It was also in 1959 that Superman producers decided to bring back the series for another season. Filming was to begin in 1960. George and Leonore were alleged to be getting married and he was scheduled to begin filming a movie in Spain.
During filming of Superman George had directed some of the episodes. It is said he took this quite seriously and a possible future as a director was considered to be achievable. George was also earning more from the residuals that came from Superman reruns.
It looked as if finally things were going well for George again.
Yet on the 16th of June, 1959, George was found slumped naked in his bedroom, with a bullet wound to his head.
The night before, George and Leonore had been to dinner then resumed drinking at his house with friends. George went to bed, but reportedly came down again before going back to his room when a shot was heard.
The case was considered a suicide – which seems to stretch the boundaries of plausibility somewhat.
The police were only called after some time, and arrived to find some very drunk people downstairs, with George dead upstairs.
During the investigation:
1. the police seal was broken at the scene
2. the autopsy was performed after they had washed George’s body
3. no checks were made for gunpowder residue
4. bruises found on his face and body were never explained
5. no suicide note was found
6. the spent bullet shell was found under his body
7. the gun was found between his feet
8. no finger prints were found on the gun
All these are enough to make me wonder at least.
There are a few theories that have been suggested in place of the official verdict of suicide.
Leonore was considered to be a bit of a hell-cat, to use Hollywood terms. Perhaps she and George got into a fight and the gun accidentally went off as they were both said to be drunk at the time.
Eddie Mannix was known to be quite protective of Toni. Did he react when George dumped her by using some of his dubious contacts to take out a hit on George?
Toni Mannix was so distressed at the breakup that friends were worried over her health. Did she finally snap? Did she kill George in a jealous rage or hire someone (possibly one of her husbands contacts) to kill him?
While there are inconsistencies in the case for suicide, is it possible that any of the above could have occurred with so many witnesses in the house, albeit drunken ones?
The mystery that surrounds the death of George Reeves is pure Hollywood drama.
Unfortunately it is also one that will remain a mystery.
I for one will never forget you !