George Reeves

George Reeves was born on January 5th, 1914 in Woolstock Iowa.  He grew up in Pasadena, California and began acting and singing while in high school.  He attended Pasadena Junior College and appeared onstage at the famous Pasadena Playhouse before starting his career in film and television.

George’s big break came in 1939 when he was cast as  Stuart Tarleton in "Gone With The Wind.”  The future looked bright for the young actor, indeed.  With his starring role in "So Proudly We Hail!" he was poised to break into stardom.  However, World War II put his career on hold.  When George returned from the war, he was unable to land the kind of starring roles in "A" movies he'd expected to obtain.   So, mostly for the sake of a paycheck, in 1951 George decided to accept the starring role in a show that was targeted at the new medium known as television.

That show was, of course, the Adventures of Superman.

Much to their surprise, Reeves and the rest of the cast suddenly experienced tremendous popularity in response to the TV show.  Reeves was a star.  But for George, this form of stardom was not very satisfying.  George had set his sights on becoming a movie star and this was not at all the same thing.  Television was still in its infancy and viewed with disdain by many of those in Hollywood.  Many held the prejudice that the only actors who would lower themselves to appear on television were washed up losers.  But in spite of the fact that this was far from being the acting role of his dreams, George took his job seriously as an actor and turned in an amazing performance in the dual roles of Superman and Clark Kent.  It is generally acknowledged that one of the main reasons why  the Adventures of Superman was and continues to be so popular is due to the fact that George did an outstanding job of acting.


Special thanks to Mary Spooner for permission to use photographs of George Reeves from her George Reeves Fansite.

Special thanks to Steven Kirk for permission to use parts of the biography for George Reeves at the "Remembering George Reeves" site on MySpace.

Since all the individuals who were in George's house that fateful night have long since passed away, it seems highly unlikely that this controversy will ever be resolved.

The Adventures of Superman has never been off the air since first being broadcast in 1952.  Thanks to reruns, for the past 55 years there has always been some television station somewhere that has shown the program.  (The only other television classic that can make such a claim is “I Love Lucy.”)

And in 2006-2007, Warner Bros. finally released the entire six seasons on DVD.

George as Stuart Tarleton in Gone with the Wind.

George in So Proudly We Hail!

George and the cast began by filming a theatrical release which also served as a pilot for the series, Superman and the Mole Men.  (The movie was later split into two separate episodes for the first season of the TV series, The Unknown People, Parts 1 and 2.)  As soon as the film was completed, they began working on the first season's episodes, which were shot over a 13 week period during the summer of 1951.

None of the members of the cast in that first season -- George, Phyllis Coates (Lois Lane), Jack Larson (Jimmy Olsen), John Hamilton (Perry White), and Robert Shayne (Inspector Henderson) -- ever expected that the show would make it to the airwaves.

George Reeves died on June 16th, 1959 from a gunshot wound to the head.  His death was officially ruled a suicide, but speculation continues to this day as to whether the fatal gunshot was indeed self-inflicted, the outcome of a horrible accident, or the result of foul play.

George's mother, Helen Bessolo, hired a private detective to investigate George's tragic death, but his research did not turn up enough evidence to overturn the official report of suicide.  Many of George's friends and associates, including Fred Crane, who played  Brent Tarleton in "Gone with the Wind," and Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in seasons 2-6, seriously doubt that George would have taken his own life.

And yet there are just as many others, including Jack Larson, who believe that George probably did, in fact, commit suicide.

poster for Thunder in the Pines

George starred or had a major role in  a host of "B" movies, such as "Thunder in the Pines," "Jungle Goddess," "The Blue Gardenia," and "Special Agent," to name only a few.  However, as time went by, George found himself so associated with the character of Superman that it became difficult for him to find other roles.  Despite being typecast, he still managed to obtain small roles in some "A" movies, including the epic, "From Here to Eternity." 

Offscreen, George was a very likable person with many friends.  He was always willing to help a friend or fellow actor in need and generous to a fault.  His nickname was “Honest George: The People’s Friend.”

George used his fame for charitable causes by becoming the chairman for the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation and was instrumental in the creation of the City of Hope, a leading biomedical research and treatment center and hospital for cancer and other life-threatening diseases.  He also lent his fame to support United Cerebral Palsy.

On June 14, 1989 a George Reeves Memorial Tribute, paid for by the readers of "The Adventures Continue" fanzine, edited by Don Rhoden and Jim Nolt, appeared in Variety newspaper.  The tribute, which occupied all of page 46, appears above.  I am proud to say that I was one of the contributors.

January 5, 1914 - June 16, 1959

A lesser actor would never have been able to make the role believable in the way George did.  And George had a warmth and charisma that very few possess which he was able to convey in his portrayal of Superman/Clark Kent.

While so many of the movie stars of George's era, whom he admired and whose ranks he wanted to join, have faded from memory, George is still remembered, still loved, and most certainly will never be forgotten.

Although the show had stopped filming in 1957, plans were underway in 1959 to shoot a seventh season.  George had signed on to portray the Man of Steel once again and was planning to direct several episodes as well.  But sadly, it was not to be.

poster for The Blue Gardenia

out on the ledge with Lucy: I Love Lucy

Stamp Day for Superman

George Reeves before Superman

For all of them, this was just a job to tide them over until the next important acting opportunity presented itself.  But one year later in 1952, Kellogg’s Cereals decided to sponsor the Adventures of Superman, and the series was broadcast for the first time on September 19th that same year.

Last but not least, he appeared memorably on "I Love Lucy" (Episode #165, "Lucy Meets Superman") in 1956.  The Adventures of Superman ran for six seasons for a total of 104 episodes, including a special additional episode filmed for the U.S. Treasury, "Stamp Day for Superman."

George with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity

poster for Special Agent

George at a Broadway Department Store in Los Angeles (1955).

George at Hess’s Department Store in Philadelphia (1955).

George with his fans.

Gary Grossman, Superman: Serial to Cereal

Jan Alan Henderson, Speeding Bullet: The Life and Bizarre  Death of George Reeves

Wikipedia article on George Reeves

IMDb listing of George’s screen credits

For Further Information

by Richard Potter