On June 16, 1959, a popular actor beloved by children and adults died under suspicious circumstances. Some say that George Reeves, who is best known for his portrayal of Superman in the popular television series, The adventures of Superman, was discouraged by a declining career. Others believe it was the women he loved who ended up being his Kryptonite. Regardless, his untimely death remains a mystery and is the subject of much speculation.
Reeves’ path to super fame
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Reeves was born January 5, 1914 in Woolstock, Iowa as George Keefer Brewer. Her parents, Don and Helen Lescher Brewer, divorced months later and Helen moved with her son to Pasadena, California. There she married Frank Bessolo, who eventually adopted the boy. This marriage would also end in divorce.
Young Brewer, now Bessolo, having taken his stepfather’s last name, attended school in Pasadena and enjoyed playing, singing and playing the guitar. In 1935, he started playing at the Pasadena Community Playhouse. There he met actor Ellanora Needles, whom he married in 1940, and he was discovered by Hollywood casting director Maxwell Arnow. Reeves signed a contract with Warner Bros. Studios, which gave it its stage name. In 1939, the newly renamed Reeves made his first film appearance as Stuart Tarleton in Blown away by the wind.
Over the next 10 years, Reeves appeared in a number of lackluster films until his lead role opposite Principal Lady Claudette Colbert in So proudly we salute. The 1943 film was a success, but the patriotic Reeves felt compelled to serve his country and put his career on hold to enlist in the military. He joined the entertainment division of the Army Air Corps, made a number of training films and even appeared on Broadway in production, Winged Victory stationed in New York.
After leaving the military in 1946, Reeves found roles in this Biography terms, “budget embarrassment like Goddess of the jungle and Thunder in the pines (Both released in 1948.) ”Surely unhappy with the movie roles offered to him, Reeves moved to New York in 1949. In 1951 he accepted the lead role in the television series, The adventures of Superman, which would define it for posterity.
Reeves’ personal life seemed to mirror that of his mother. Her short-lived marriage to Needles ended in divorce in 1941. Her second marriage is said to have taken place just three days after her death and may well have been a factor. The 2006 film, Hollywoodland with Ben Affleck as Reeves, explores his life and relationships in more detail.
The ex-girlfriend who couldn’t let go
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Beginning in 1948, Reeves had a 10-year affair with a married woman, Toni Lanier Mannix. IMDb describes Mannix as a former Ziegfeld Follies showgirl with a legendary sexual appetite. Rich and beautiful, she showered Reeves with expensive gifts and even bought him the house at 1579 Benedict Canyon Drive in the Hollywood Hills where he was later found dead. Her husband, Eddie Mannix, was a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executive who is said to have connections to the mob. He knew about it and even consented to the case. According to The Guardian, “He and his own mistresses often went on double dates with George and Toni, and when they traveled it was Mannix in top-class sex toys in trainer.
In 1958, Reeves cast Mannix for a young socialite from New York. Leonore Lemmon was a renowned party girl and gold digger with an unstable temper. Reeves and Lemmon were soon engaged, and he moved her to the house her ex had bought for him. Reeves, 45, told friends she made him feel young again, but obviously the couple had a tumultuous relationship and quarreled frequently.
Mannix, who was eight years older than Reeves, was devastated and her actions after the breakup led Reeves to seek a restraining order. As reported by The Unredcated“Reeves himself was convinced it was Mannix behind a series of weird incidents that had happened to him following their breakup. He was inundated with silent and threatening phone calls at all hours of the morning and someone even abducted his beloved dog, Sam. Two months before his death, Reeves was injured in a car accident after which, his mechanic reported that the brake lines had been cut.
How did Reeves die?
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Reports vary on what exactly led to the speeding bullet that claimed his life in the early morning hours of June 16, but it’s no secret that Reeves and Lemmon loved to drink and often to excess. . Right before his death, the severely intoxicated couple had an argument with house guest Robert Conden and two other people.
The LA Times reported: “The actor and Condon had retired to their rooms and Miss Lemmon was downstairs when at around 1 am two visitors came calling. It was William Bliss, 45… and Mrs. Carol Van Ronkel, 33… Dr. Reeves came downstairs, furious at being disturbed by the last callers, stating that he was “not in the mood for a party” , the others told the police. Reeves threatened to throw them out, but the guests apologized and Reeves returned to his room. “’He’s going upstairs to shoot himself,” Lemmon reportedly said. When a noise was heard in Reeves’ room, Lemmon reportedly added, “See, he’s opening the drawer to retrieve the weapon.” When a gunshot rang out, Lemmon apparently said, “See, I told you; he shot himself.
Lemmon later claimed she was joking when she made the remarks and that the other witnesses would have been too drunk to make consistent statements to police. Neither Reeves nor Lemmon previously knew Bliss.
Reeves was found dead on his bed, face up with a gunshot wound to his head, a shell casing under his body and a gun between his feet, which according to BuzzFeed, had no fingerprints on it. Interestingly, two more bullet holes were later discovered in the ground next to the bed. The body, which was not tested for bullet residue and showed no powder burns, had already been washed and embalmed before arriving at the coroner’s office.
Police ruled the death a suicide, but admitted the motive was unclear. Phyllis Coates, who had played Lois Lane on The adventures of Superman, received a phone call from Mannix at 4:30 a.m. that morning claiming Reeves had been murdered. Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olson on the show, argued that Reeves was depressed by the show’s cancellation and his inability to find work. He also refuted reports that Mannix, who died in 1983 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, confessed on her deathbed to Reeves’ murder. Lemmon returned to New York after the incident and neither she nor Mannix attended the funeral.
Did Lemmon kill her lover in a fit of rage, did Mannix use her husband’s connections to have him killed by the stranger who had come to the party, or a shooting star in a state of drunkenness decided to end everything? Those who knew the truth took it to their graves.
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