The Adventures Continue

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Vital Statistics: Researching George Reeves' 1949 Business Card

By Serena Enger

Introduction by Lou Koza

In 1976, Gary Grossman published Superman: Serial to Cereal. The main focus of this book was to tell the history of Superman as depicted on screen. Historically featured up to this time were the two serials with Kirk Alyn's 1948 Superman, the 1950 Atom Man Versus Superman, 1951's Superman and the Mole Men starring George Reeves and the six seasons of the Adventures of Superman television series. The book was an instant sensation and would soon be followed by a never-ending pursuit for wonder and discovery. The book featured a background of those wonderful actors involved in these film works. Readers being first and foremost intrigued by the information relative to George Reeves. Already many felt a mystery existed with George's tragic death. We also at this time knew very little of his life. While mild now in comparison to all we know about George, it was Gary's book which kick-started many others to do further research to discover all they could. In 1988 TAC was created in a fanzine book form and it appeared from the start its mission was to sort fact from fiction. Sorting the facts and events of George Reeves' life including his work on Superman has been nothing short of very difficult and complicated. TAC found a mild but healthy audience and as a result Jan Alan Henderson of California felt the time was right to put his own research to the forefront. After several versions, Jan would ultimately publish Speeding Bullet: The Life and Bizarre Death of George Reeves. Throughout this time, much has been discovered, weaving together many facts and truths, myths and fabrications. In doing so the complication whether it was told as truth or otherwise is a result of various first and second hand interviews, PR in industry magazine publications, assumptions with no regard to it being logistical, newspaper sensationalizism and folklore, all open for interpretation. Jan assembled the most comprehensive body of work on George Reeves with his Speeding Bullet. In recent times he teamed with Steve Randisi with their book titled Behind the Crimson Cape, the Cinema of George Reeves published by Bifulco Books. As we learned from the issues of TAC and Speeding Bullet discrepancies contained in George's life can be traced as far back as Helen Lescher altering baby George's birth certificate from the true date January 5, 1914 to April 6, 1914 for her own personal reasons.

But the final word didn't end in the pages of TAC or Speeding Bullet or any other publication or television segment or movie film. And as a result, influences have come in many ways and from many directions, some described above. Serena Enger has been influenced enough to give issues a second glance and thus she provides just a little bit more of who the real George Reeves is. Serena also provides updated information on Ellanora Needles. I'll let Serena take it from here. But first, thank you Serena for your contributions, TAC is greatly appreciated by your work. Lou

In researching the article for the March 2007 edition of The Adventures Continue, "Recovering George Reeves," I had used Reeves's 1949 business card, reproduced as the TAC Photo of the Month in 2002, as a starting point. Reeves' stage work cited on the card appeared to be unknown territory, and led to the article concerning Reeves' theatrical performances and management of the Newport Playhouse or Repertory Productions, Inc., during the summer of 1948.

In the meantime, I've added radio and television credits to the Internet Movie Database website based on my initial interest in this card. Readers will find a brief citation under "Other Works" on the George Reeves entry. It appears he did one program for Lux Radio Theatre, broadcast September 22, 1941, in which he reprised his role as Bob Willard with the original cast of the film, Lydia, as indicated on the business card. Standard bibliographies of Lux Radio Theatre programs indicate that other actors filled in for radio productions of other Reeves vehicles. Les Tremayne served as John Summers in Lux's So Proudly We Hail! Reeves would have been serving in the military and working on Winged Victory.

At this time, despite checking radio bibliographies, many of which have cursory listings of actors featured, I haven't determined what radio program Reeves refers to as "The Clock" on Broadway. One contender would be the popular Judy Garland-Robert Walker vehicle based on the story by Paul Gallico. They also performed a Lux Radio version, but Reeves is not listed in the credits. However, it could be the popular suspense radio program.

Reeves also cited that he helped to run KWKW on the coast. I would suspect his good friend from Pasadena Playhouse days in the 1930s and future pallbearer, Dwight Hauser, may have gotten him a temporary job. Hauser was a prominent radio producer, director, and writer. I invite readers to help me with tracking down the year he worked at KWKW. The late Harry Bartell, who when writing for The Nostalgia Pages, in an article about himself and Dwight Hauser, mentioned that Hauser got him a temporary job at KWKW, which was a new radio station in Pasadena, sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. Bartell attended The Pasadena Playhouse in the 1930s with Reeves and Hauser. On the other hand, KWKW (Los Angeles) has become the oldest Spanish-speaking radio station in continuous operation in America. It's also possible that Reeves with his fluent Spanish worked there in the mid to late 1940s.

My contributions to IMDB largely consist of restoring production credits to existing television appearances, as well as several radio programs. Using television bibliographies and New York Times archive television and radio listings, I added writers, producers, and fellow actors to the credits. I was pleased to add Felicia Monteleagre, the future Mrs. Leonard Bernstein to the entry, Leda's Portrait, for the series, Lights Out. I recovered the title for the 1949 episode, Payment on Time, for The Clock and did find an additional episode to add, as well as Reeves's first appearance on television, "Episode dated 28 September 1949" for The Clock. Sadly, it is very difficult to find plot summaries for many programs with original, made for television scripts. While Reeves' credit was not unknown, the title was missing from the Fireside Theatre episode, Hurry, Hurry. While some items are still pending, I tried to add the full production crew and cast and character's names for The Wind is Ninety and Kelly, both of which are archived at the Library of Congress, with online catalog records. I would suggest to readers interested, that if they examine the television series of any of the programs Reeves appeared in, they will see that Reeves was again in good company with distinguished stage and screen actors. These were high quality dramatic programs during the Golden Age of television drama.

The one glaring admission from Reeves' IMDB entry was his appearance on The Tony Bennett Show. Thanks to Michael Hayde's research and article for TAC, I used the information to create an entry for episode one. I also added the guests for this August 11, 1956 episode. Debra Paget, soon to star in Fritz Lang's The Tiger of Eschnapur (1958), also appeared on the program. Now all we need is the moving image found and soundtrack (at Library of Congress) restored and put on a DVD with Man at Large and Champagne for Two, along with any other live appearances hidden in archives, warehouses, and personal collections.

To Toni Lanier's IMDB entry, under Other Works, I've added two Broadway shows she performed in, Congai and Show Girl. So far, I have not been able to find her credited for specific Ziegfeld Follies productions or any creative work between 1930 and 1935, although I can confirm she was clearly part of the Ziegfeld circle. It would be lovely to find photos from her Follies days.

Reeves' social security number has a history all its own. The 1959 investigation of Reeves' death and the subsequent autopsy are well known for their contending accounts, lack of thoroughness and proper legal procedures. The inaccurate reporting of his Social Security number upon Reeves' death can now join these accounts.

On the September, 1949 business card, Reeves lists his Social Security Number as 545-24-8600. Reeves's legal name was "George Lescher Bessolo." All legal records would be (or should be) listed with this name. "George Bessolo" is his given name for his military enlistment record on March 24, 1943. This number is different from the one in the California Death Index, 1940-1997. The number given in the CDI is 542-28-8600. The CDI also lists his birthdate as January 6, 1914 and his place of birth as Kentucky, all of which are inaccurate. Reeves' birth date is January 5, 1914 in Woolstock, Iowa.

Reeves's (Bessolo's) CDI number actually matches that of Lois A. Funke, 1908-2000, who died in Oregon. They share the same number in the CDI. When I tried different combination of names, such as Lescher Bessolo, Bessolo, Reeves, Brewer, Brewer Bessolo) and got no SSN matches, I discovered that the CDI number is the only match for Social Security information for Mr. Reeves. He does not have an online Social Security Death Index entry.

It does appear that the Social Security Administration may have made a numerical mistake at the time of Mr. Reeves's death and Mr. Reeves' mother possibly gave them the wrong birthdate and birthplace, in keeping with her wish to obscure her first marriage. The SSN Allocation number for the first three digits refers to the place where the card was first issued. The CDI number listed for Mr. Reeves matches that of Oregon (540-544 range). Mr. Reeves' business card SSN matches California as the date of issue (545-573). Reeves would have gotten his card in Pasadena in the 1930s.

Given the nature of the investigation following Mr. Reeves' death, it seems odd that the SSN number wasn't accurately reported. It's an even comical, if not strange coincidence that the numbers involved in the mismatch are 2845, the number of jellybeans in the jar in the Superman episode, The Unlucky Number, and the SSN holder's name is Lois.

I contacted the San Francisco Regional Office of the Social Security Administration to verify information. They reported that Mr. Reeves' Social Security number listed on his business card is accurate. However, at this time, his number does not appear on the online SSN Death Index. The California Death Index is administrated separately from the Social Security Administration.

Remember Jackson Beck's claim that he was asked to be an impromptu best man for George Reeves' alleged July 1951 wedding? The New York City's Office of the City Clerk could not find any record of this event. I provided them with multiple versions of his name and his Social Security Number, along with Beck's name. This story is indeed a mystery.

In updating Ellanora Needles's entry on IMDB, I added a few of her distinguished, critically praised dramatic roles in regional theatres. I hope to add a few more roles. TAC readers should note that Cecil Elliot, who appeared in season one of The Adventures of Superman in The Evil Three, and was Jan Alan Henderson's godparent, performed with Needles in Kitty Doone, a hit play in Los Angeles in 1949. Needles performed in bit roles with many actors who appeared on The Adventures of Superman: Jack Larson, Dabbs Greer, Richard Benedict, Sid Tomack, Damian O'Flynn, Ann Doran, and Ric Roman.

In the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz comedy, The Long, Long Trailer (1954), Needles can first be seen as Ball's girlfriend, wearing the plum, plaid dress, and assisting her in packing the newly purchased trailer for the honeymoon trip. While the character does not have a name in the credits, I believe Ball refers to her as "Sarah" in one of the scenes. TAOS fans should also enjoy Herb Vigran's turn as the slick salesman who sells the trailer to the couple.

I hope you've enjoyed this feature and thank you for visiting this very special place on the Internet we call The Adventures Continue.

Thanks for Watching.

Lou (April 1, 2007)     

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