022 - The Suspicious Death of George Reeves
George Keefer Brewer, later known by his stage name, George Reeves, was born on January 5th, 1914 in Woolstock, Iowa. He was the son of Donald Carl Brewer and Helen Lescher, born just five months after the two were married. The marriage was a tumultuous one, with both parents feeling unhappy in their situation and the inclusion of a newborn child did nothing to quell the spats and only contributed to the disdain on both sides. It has long been suggested that the marriage itself was forged due to Helen becoming pregnant rather than due to a mutual interest in pursuing a life together. Shortly after George was born, Donald and Helen separated, with Helen moving back to her hometown of Galesburg, Illinois and taking her infant son with her. Helen and George’s time in Galesburg was short lived, being a single mother with a young boy was a challenging lifestyle and seeking familial support, the two moved to California where they would live with Helen’s sister.
Sometime around 1925, Helen met and married Frank Joseph Bessolo while in California. George’s father, Donald Brewer also became married, to a woman named Helen Schultz around this same time. George would never see his real father again, but two years later, in 1927, Frank Bessolo would officially adopt thirteen year old George who would then become known as George Bessolo. The relationship between Helen and Frank seemed to be a much more suitable situation than her first attempt at marriage, and during this time, the three lived as family together. While attending high school at the Polytechnic school, George became fascinated by acting and it became a true passion in his life. He also pursued an interest in boxing. Shortly after he graduated, George attended Pasadena Junior College and began studying acting at the famous Pasadena Playhouse which boasts at being the starting point for film stars such as Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.
At the Pasadena Playhouse, George met and fell in love with Ellanora Needles, a beautiful dark haired actress. While both were working together to expand their careers, their affection for one another was undeniable. In 1939, George received his first big break, being cast as Stuart Tarleton in Gone with the Wind. He would be playing a male suitor to Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara. It was hardly a large role, but it was a foot in the door to Hollywood that George was desperate to enter. He appears in the opening scene, and his work on the film caught the attention of others as he was offered a contract with Warner Brother’s soon after completing his work on the film. It was on this contract where George’s name was changed to George Reeves.
Around this time, George’s mother Helen divorced Frank Bessolo. Strangely, she would tell her son that Frank committed suicide, much to his devestation. It wouldn’t be until years later that George discovered that Frank was, in fact, still alive, and this would severely strain relations with his mother.
On September 22nd, 1940, George and Ellanora were married in the Church of Our Savior, San Marino. The two initiated a honeymoon while George was working on a film, and so they honeymooned in Southern California so that George could work, and when he finished, they went up to San Francisco for the second half of their honeymoon. The two found a home in Pasadena, which is where they would live for the entirety of their marriage. After his work on Gone with the Wind, George appeared in four other films for Warner Brother’s, all of which released prior to Gone with the Wind due to the epic scope of the film. Despite the fact that Gone with the Wind was his first film role, it appears in his filmography as his fifth due to the delay between filming and release.
The next few years would have a lot of ups and downs for George’s career. He began appearing in short films and worked with bigger names in a few B-movies, namely James Cagney and future president Ronald Reagan. George was loaned out by Warner Brother’s to appear in a film called Lydia, but after it’s poor showing at the box office, George was released from his contact. He was quickly picked up by 20th Century Fox, but only appeared in a few pictures before they released him as well. At this point, George began working freelance and appeared in several other smaller roles before being picked up and cast as Lieutenant John Summers in the World War Two drama, So Proudly We Hail produced by Paramount.
Just when it appeared that George’s acting career may be getting a second wind, in early 1943, the twenty-nine year old was drafted into the Army. The director of So Proudly We Hail, Mark Sandrich promised George he would have roles lined up for him when he returned. He was assigned to the US Army Air Forces and performed in a show for them entitled Winged Victory which would later become a feature film. Reeves was transferred into the First Motion Pictures Unit, a film production unit of the Army Air Forces made up of professional actors, writers and directors who would make training and propaganda films to help the war effort. At the completion of the war, Reeves returned to a changed Hollywood in which many studios were tightening their budgets and work had become harder to find. Unfortunately for George, Mark Sandrich, the man who had promised him work when he was free, passed away in March of 1945, just months before George left the military.
He appeared in a few low budget productions, but his career seemed to be going in a different direction than he had planned. Whether it be due to issues stemming from the time apart during the war, George’s frustration with Hollywood or stresses as related to money, George and Ellanora separated and George moved to New York in 1949. Their divorce would become official one year later.
George began working on various radio programs and television shows while in New York, though he always thought of it as being beneath what he truly wanted to do. Many major Hollywood stars, at the time, didn’t view television work as serious acting and George tended to agree with their sentiment. However, he needed a paycheck and so he did what he could to make due. In 1951, George returned to Hollywood to attempt once again to get his big break in film, but ironically, it would be television where George would become a permanent fixture of pop culture and Hollywood.
Reeves was approached to play Superman in a film entitled Superman and the Mole Men. He took the job as it was work and he needed to make a living, but when they immediately offered him the starring role as Superman in a television series to follow up the film, he was hesitant. Reeves was unimpressed with the world of telelvision and didn’t like the tight schedules and rapid fire scene filming. Despite his resistance to the idea, Reeves agreed and after production of Superman and the Mole Men was finished, he and crew immediately moved on to thirteen weeks of filming the television series in the summer of 1951. Reeves wasn’t pleased with his contact which limited his ability to pursue other acting roles. Neither he nor any other actor on the series was allowed to take any role which could interfere with the shooting schedule and, even during a break, it would be difficult to get work since the contract required that the studio only give the actors four weeks notice when the new seasons shoot was to begin. This made it impossible to take on stage work or any roles which could have long runs.
Phyllis Coate’s who would play Lois Lane in the first season of Superman described her initial meeting with George as follows: “George invited me over and George made us a martini and he said ‘here’s to the bottom of the barrel’ and that was how I first met George.” When asked what she thought of George as a person, Coates stated that he was “a decent human being, a fun loving, kind, generous, decent human being.” Jack Larson, another of George’s co-stars described him as “the people’s friend.” Noel Neill, who took over the role of Lois Lane starting in the second season said of George “He was so kind, such a gentleman, as opposed to so many people in this business, he just couldn’t have been sweeter.”
By 1952 the show was purchased and aired on the ABC network, gaining much more exposure for the cast. Despite his distaste for the role he was playing, and the format and which it appeared, George took it seriously. While behind the scenes he joked about his job, and referred to his cape and tights as his money suit, in public he was extremely dedicated to the ideals and image of Superman. George was a smoker at the time, but began going out of his way to make sure he was never seen smoking in public, and eventually quit all together. He made many appearances as Superman for various charities and organizations and at the end of every season, he would cut the Superman S logo off all of his costumes and send them to children who were sick in hospitals.
George wasn’t all pure, though, despite an attempt to keep his private life discreet. He was a heavy drinker, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to be out late into the early morning hours drinking and partying hard. In addition to his partying lifestyle, George was involved in an affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of MGM general manager Eddie Mannix. For many, this was considered the worst kept secret in Hollywood as it has been alleged that Eddie not only knew of his wifes affair, but approved. According to several sources close to the situation, Eddie and Toni had long since lost their luster for one another, but were Catholic and for them, the idea of divorce was simply not an options, so the two are alleged to have looked the other way at each others trysts and maintained their marriage only as a front to the public.
Toni was an attractive, elegant woman who had begun her career in Hollywood as a member of the famed Ziegfeld Follies. She later met and became the mistress to Eddie Mannix before the two were married in 1951, not long after which Toni met and began the affair with George. Rumors abound about possible dark connections for Eddie, with many speculating that he had ties to the mafia and that he had his first wife, Bernice Fitzmaurice murdered. He was also considered a key player in the coverup of MGM’s Paul Bern’s suicide. The rumor was that Eddie was the man you went to when you had a problem that needing fixing, and legal wasn’t an option. Many people referred to him as the most dangerous man in Hollywood. It’s been said that outside of underworld connections, Eddie also employed crooked cops and private eyes. It has been alleged that Eddie was heavily involved in covering up an incident in which Clark Gable is purported to have accidentally killed actress Tosca Roulien, and having tracked down and destroy prints of a pornographic film which starred a young Joan Crawford. While Eddie clearly knew about the affair with Reeves, many believe that he was simply waiting for the right time to get revenge.
Toni was nine years George’s senior, was rich and would lavish him with gifts. One of these gifts would be a modest two story home located at 1579 Benedict Canyon Drive, located in the hills north of Sunset Boulevard. Most people who knew George were fond of Toni, feeling that she truly cared for him and that the two of them were a nice couple, despite the situation revolving around her marriage and whatever possible impact that could have on the clean cut public personality of the man who, for children around the world, was in fact Superman. Their affair was not just a physical thing, with many close to the couple having stated that they discussed marrying should Toni’s husband, Eddie Mannix, ever pass away.
Not all things were perfect, though. Toni was reportedly jealous and was always fearful that George was going to find someone younger to replace her with. Despite her obvious affection for her younger lover, Toni was possessive and controlling, often limited George’s outgoing nightlife personality. Regardless, the two tended to get along well with George jokingly referring to Toni as “ma” and Toni calling George “The boy.” Famed mobster Mickey Cohen once referred to Toni Mannix as the only person in Hollywood who had any balls.
Things seemed to be looking up for George, Superman was smash hit and garnered him international acclaim. Two seasons in, George looked to get out from under the role and to break out on his own. He was forty years old and looking to move on to bigger and better things, starting his own production company and working on the script for a new television series. Superman producers asked him to stay, but George was unhappy with his salary and excited by the possibilities of a new show over which he would have more control. Unfortunately, George failed to gained financial support for the series and Superman producers offered him a salary increase, and so he continued on as the man of steel.
While George began to feel worse about his time as Superman, he was getting older and wasn’t in as good of physical shape as he had once been, he was engaged in a constant back and forth battle. He both despised and was grateful for his fame as Superman. By 1958, his relationship with Toni was on the rocks and her long held fear came true. While out one evening, George met and began an affair with Leonore Lemmon, the daughter of Arthur Lemmon, a Broadway ticket broker. Rumors swirled about Lemmon, the young fireball from New York who many believed was a troublemaker with connections to the Mafia. Jack Larson, George’s superman co-star would later say “She was well known as a party girl and she was involved with Hoffa and all of that. Look what happened to Hoffa.” Many have described Lemmon as a perfectly sweet woman until she got a few drinks in her, at which point she became angry and had been known to throw her fists around when she felt slighted. Others were less kind, describing Lemmon as a gold digger with a reputation for attaching herself to powerful men, milking them for what they were worth and then moving on to the next target.
The news was devastating to Toni, as she was reportedly crushed not just emotionally, but felt publicly humiliated. Their affair was over, and now Reeves was very publicly showing his relationship with Lemmon and had moved her into his home, a home with Toni herself owned. Thinks started to go downhill financially for George at this time. During his relationship with Toni, he had been given large quantities of money, but now he was left without that extra income. Many of his close friends stopped spending time with him because of their distaste for Lemmon. Gene Labelle, a close friend of George’s would later say “She wasn’t the kind of person that you fall in love with. She was the kind of a person that wants to run your life.” In addition to this, weird things began happening and George began to suspect Toni as the responsible party for several strange incidents that occurred throughout early 1959. He began received midnight phone calls, but when he answered the person on the other end never spoke a word. Later, his beloved Schnauzer Sam was kidnapped.
In the months prior to his death, things took a more sinister turn. George was involved in three incidents while driving which could have killed him, and he began to feel suspicious and paranoid about those around him. In the first incident, two trucks almost crushed George’s vehicle while he was driving. During the second incident, a speeding car nearly collided with George’s head on, but Reeves was able to get out of the way at the last moment. The third time was the most concerning. George was driving his prized Jaguar down a narrow, curvy road in the Hollywood hills when his breaks failed. The vehicle crashed into a cement pillar and George sustained a nasty head injury for which he would be prescribed pain killers. Strangely, an inspection by a mechanic revealed startling information. All of the break fluid had been drained from his car, and the mechanic could find no issues with the vehicle that could have caused this to happen, suggesting that someone may have drained the fluid in an attempt to harm or even kill the actor.
Shaken and suspicious, George either wasn’t sure of who may have been responsible, or chose not to name who he believed it to be, but that would also change. The midnight phone calls stopped being silent, instead becoming long rants describing in grotesque detail the way in which the caller planned to murder Reeves. At their peak, there were as many as twenty phone calls per day. Frustrated and worried, Reeves went to the Los Angeles District Attorney and filed a report. When asked who he believed may be behind the incidents and phone calls, George suggested that they investigate Toni Mannix. The District Attorney’s office launched an investigation and discovered that not only was George receiving threatening phone calls, so was Toni Mannix. This discovery caused many to believe that this showed proof that Eddie Mannix, and or someone he was connected to in the mafia, was involved though others argued that Toni could have been lying about receiving calls in order to throw suspicion off herself.
George’s luck began to change, though. He became engaged to Leonore Lemmon and his financial woes appeared to be getting solved. Superman was sold into syndication in Australia, and he was offered $20,000 to make an appearance as the man of steel. He had an exhibition boxing match schedule against light heavyweight champion Archie Moore and he had been offered the director’s chair on a new science fiction film entitled “Return to Earth” for which he wanted his Superman co-star Phyllis Coates to play the lead. He also had plans to go back to Superman, for which he was being offered a considerable salary increase. According to friends, the forty-five year old was experience a resurgence in his career and was riding a high wave and was feeling better than he had in years. He was hopeful about the future and looking forward to several projects as well to his marriage to Lemmon with whom he planned to honeymoon in Spain.
Everything would change on the night of June 15th, 1959. There are several discrepancies in the events of the early evening, though I will present both sides of the story. According to multiple witnesses, George, Lemmon and Robert Condon were at Chasen’s restaurant, a very popular establishment for actors located in West Hollywood. The trio were sharing drinks, Condon was there interviewing Reeves for an article he was writing to be released in conjunction with an autobiography he was ghostwriting on Archie Moore. At some point, an argument ensued between George and Lemmon and they were seen outside of the restaurant shouting at one another. It has been alleged that the argument took place because Lemmon suspected George of talking to his ex, Toni Mannix. There have also been statements made that Condon did not in fact accompany George and Lemmon to the restaurant that night, and that the couple had much more than just a few drinks. There was some speculation at the time that George was interested in calling off their engagement, and that Lemmon was none too pleased with his alleged change of heart.
Later, when asked about this, Lemmon denied being at the restaurant that evening and claimed that, instead, the pair had attending some wrestling matches. George was good friends with Gene LaBell a well known wrestler and martial artist. According to Lemmon, they attended the matches by themselves, and Condon was not in their company at the time and no argument took place. When asked about this later, LaBell could not recollect having been involved in any wrestling matches on that day and did not see George that night.
Yet a third angle on this evening is that George and Lemmon neither attended the wrestling matches, nor met for drinks at Chasen’s. According to this report, George and Lemmon were home that evening hosting writer Robert Condon, and Lemmon had prepared dinner for the trio to discuss the news article and the book. Following dinner, the three are reported to have gone into the living room to watch some television and went to bed around midnight. Details continue to get sketchy from here.
According to Lemmon, sometime around 1am there was a knock at the door. George and Lemmon were known to frequently hold parties at the home, though George was open about the fact that he didn’t want people showing up at his home after midnight. Initially they planned to ignore the knocking, but Lemmon became frustrated and went downstairs to open the door. George is alleged to have put his robe on and come down the stairs, yelling at their guests, Carol Van Ronkel and William Bliss. Ronkel was a neighbor who lived a few streets down with her husband, screenwriter Rip Can Ronkel and is also alleged to have been having an affair with George’s house guest, Robert Condon. According to Lemmon, Reeves calmed down and had a few drinks with the guests but quickly excused himself upstairs to go back to bed, still annoyed by them showing up so late.
According to Condon, George apologized for his bad temper prior to going upstairs to go to bed. At this point, according to the official police report, Lemmon stated “He is going to shoot himself.” The group then heard the sound of a drawer opening and Lemmon continued “He is getting the gun out now and he is going to shoot himself.” At this point the guests heard a gunshot. When asked about her statements later, Lemmon told police that she was only kidding and didn’t think George would actually shoot himself.
William Bliss ran upstairs to check on George after the gunshot and found him naked, laying dead on his bed with his feet planted on the floor and body facing upward, leading investigators to suspect that he had been sitting on the end of his bed when he shot himself. A 30 caliber Luger pistol was laying on the floor between his feet. Interestingly, the police were not immediately called and didn’t arrive at the home for nearly an hour. When asked about this, none of the witnesses present had any excuse as to why there was a delay, nor did they show any remorse for not calling immediately. It should be noted that all the guests were heavily intoxicated when police arrived, leading some to theorize that the delay in the call was due to them getting rid of evidence of illegal drugs, while others have suggested that the delay points to a coverup. Police later included in their reports that it was very difficult to get a coherent story from the extremely inebriated guests.
Fred Crane, a friend of George’s who had worked on Gone with the Wind with him told a different story, though he was not present at the home that night. According to him, Bill Bliss had told several individuals that the official story was not the way things had happened. According to this rumor, Bliss claimed to have been making a drink when the shot went off. He is then alleged to have said, at this point, Lemmon came down the stairs, having been up in the bedroom when the shot went off, and exclaimed “Tell them I was down here, tell them I was down here.”
George Reeves died of a single gunshot wound to the head in his upstairs bedroom between 1:30 and 2am on the morning of June 16th, 1959. Strangely, the shell casing was found under his body and the bullet was lodged in the ceiling which is a strange trajectory for a man who is alleged to have put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger, though it’s not uncommon for bullets to do strange things when they enter the body. The luger, though, had its shell ejection port on the right side, meaning that if George held the gun in his right hand, the shell should have ejected forward from him, not back behind him. There is the possibility that he could have held the gun with the ejection port facing up, which could account for the shell landing beneath the body, though it would have had to have ejected up and then fallen down faster than his body hit the bed. A private investigator later recreated the crime scene and found that, in order for the bullet to have ended up in the ceiling, Reeves would have had to have had his head twisted at an uncomfortable angle when the trigger was pulled. However, this is not the end of the evidence contradicting the official story.
Police found no fingerprints on the gun, though it was clear that the gun had recently been oiled which could account for the lack of prints. There were no powder burns on the body, which are typically associated with suicide and a gunshot wound in which the gun is held to or within close proximity to the body. For powder burns to not be present, the weapon had to be held at least eighteen inches from his head when it was fired. However, there have been instances in which powder burns were not present and a weapon was fired in close proximity to the body. It has both been reported that gun powder residue was not found on George’s hands that night, though it has also been stated that it’s possible that investigators did not check for it. There were a total of five bullet holes found in the bedroom, three of which were in the floor. Lemmon would later explain away one of these bullet holes, claiming that she had accidentally discharged the weapon while fooling around with it one night though the others go without explanation. Police also failed to treat the crime scene properly, not dusting for prints nor searching the property and never taking any photographs of the scene or the body. They even allowed Lemmon to wash the bloody sheet without processing them.
Despite all of this evidence which seems to suggest that the official story wasn’t exactly accurate, Police essentially followed a theory of suicide from the onset of the investigation, much to the dismay of George’s friends, and especially his mother. The strange circumstances surrounding Reeve’s death don’t end there. Somehow, between the time of his death, and the first autopsy, Reeves was embalmed. How exactly this error occurred no one is sure, with some believing it a case of confusion, others suggesting police error and still others feeling that this was manipulated to conceal evidence. The initial autopsy revealed no startling details other than the fact that, at the time of his death, George’s Blood Alcohol Content was a surprising .27%. Just as a note, the current legal level of Blood alcohol content is .08% meaning that Reeves was over three times what would net you a DWI today. Some found this shocking, while others felt that George was a notoriously heavy drinker and they weren’t surprised that he was so drunk that evening. According to the autopsy report, Reeves had loaded his gun, placed it to his right temple and pulled the trigger, falling back onto the bed with his feet still planted on the floor. An interesting piece of information about that is that Reeves had injured his right hand in an accident just a few weeks prior to his death and had even filed a claim for disability due to his damaged hand.
Police considered a combination of factors in their ultimate finding of suicide. George’s blood alcohol content was a prime factor in their consideration. In their investigation of the home, they found no evidence of forced entry or of a second person being in the bedroom that night, though since Lemmon lived there it would be difficult to pinpoint any particular evidence to show that she had been in the room at that exact moment. Some have argued that there wouldn’t have been a sign of forced entry since George tended to keep a so-called open house where friends could come and go as they pleased, though the story of their friends banging on the door that night seems to suggest otherwise.
Some of George’s friends and house guests told a bizarre tale of George being a practical joker and that often times he would fire a blank round from his gun to scare guests in his home. Some have theorized that someone had slipped into the bedroom that night and replaced the blank shell in Reeve’s luger with a live round, though this wouldn’t explain why Reeves’ would have placed the gun to his head when pulling the trigger in order to scare guests who weren’t in the room. Others said that George had a tendency to play Russian roulette and that on this particular night, he lost. The latter was later ruled out by investigators as there wasn’t enough information to support the theory, and still didn’t explain the lack of powder burns.
George’s mother, Helen was strongly opposed to the finding of suicide so much so that she had his body shipped across the county to have a second autopsy performed and hired attorney Jerry Giesler to petition the police to re-open the investigation. The second autopsy supported the possibility of a homicide and also discovered a strange set of bruises on George’s body which may suggest that he had been hit or involved in a struggle prior to his death. In addition to this, Helen contacted the Nick Harris Agency and made contact with Milo Speriglio, an investigator at the firm. Speriglio later stated “Nearly everyone in Hollywood has always been led to believe that George Reeves’ death was a suicide. Not everyone believed it then, nor do they believe it now. I am one of those who does not.” The agency ultimately found the cause of death to be homicide, but the Beverly Hills Police Department disagreed and stuck with their initial ruling of suicide. They speculated that Reeves’ was depressed about the direction of his career, and his troubling money situation, and that his relationship with Lemmon was becoming tense and he chose to end his own life.
When faced with the suicide theory, Gene Labell was quoted as saying “I would bet my life on it that Leonore Lemmon came up there, got a gun and shot him.”
Shortly after George’s death, Lemmon returned to the home and cut down the police tape to gain entry to the house. She alleged took liquor from the home, food from the refrigerator and over $4000 worth of traveler’s check which George had signed in preparation for the honeymoon. Lemmon very quickly left down, heading back to New York and didn’t even attend George’s memorial service. Lemmon would distance herself in the passing years, and had little to say about George’s death. At the time, she allegedly told police that George had been depressed and that she couldn’t say she was surprised that he committed suicide. Her life continued a downward trend following George’s death, and she fell deep into alcoholism. Over the years, when she did rarely speak of that night, she gave several different accounts of what exactly happened. She died in 1989, alone in her apartment on New Years Eve. Her corpse was not found for several days.
Eddie Mannix died just a few years later, in August of 1964, taking most of his secrets with him to the grave. Toni, on the other hand, lived until 1983. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease towards the end of her life, and is reputed to have held twice-weekly prayer circles in honor of George. Edward Lozzi, a Los Angeles publicist who befriended Toni later in her life alleges that Toni, a devout catholic, in her final days, confessed to a Priest that she had hired someone to murder George. Jack Larson contradicts this statement, saying that he knew Toni well and had no doubt that she was not involved in George’s death. He points to Toni’s decaying state of mind as the reason behind any possible claim of her involvement, though Lozzi would go on to say that this happened more than once, and whenever Toni felt close to death she was call in a priest and give the same confession. Unfortunately, the information is unverifiable and can only be viewed as hearsay.
As is typical of a death of a celebrity, especially oe with so much chaos and confusion around it, many theories have sprung up in the fifty eight years since that fateful night. Some of these theories have been suggested by those who knew not only George, but the women and influences in his life. Others have been cobbled together by detectives and online theories, authors and fans.
The first theory is that which is listed as his official cause of death: that George Reeves’, despondant over his failed career as an actor, stressing heavily from a depleted bank account and struggling with a relationship in which he was no longer happy, made the choice to excuse himself from a gathering of friends, walked up stairs, enter his bedroom and in a severely drunken state produced a luger handgun and shot himself in the head at approximately 1:20am. The suicide theory does leave some room for the possibility of an accident, as many have heard the rumors that Reeves frequently played Russian roulette and decided, in a drunken stupor that night, to play and finally lost.
Another theory, one which has gained great popularity in the years since Reeves’ died, is that George did not commit suicide, and instead was shot by his fiancée Leonore Lemmon. Many point to the fact that George and Lemmon had a rocky relationship and that they had been arguing earlier in the evening. They then factor in the large quanities of alcohol and possible other substances in which the two indulged that night and see it as a recipe for disaster. According to this theory, Lemmon went upstairs with Reeves that night and argued with him. During the argument it is suggested that she fired several shots into the floor to get his attention and when George became dismissive, or possibly angry, Lemmon fired the killing shot. Others have theorized the possibility that Lemmon, drunk and angry, accidentally shot George while attempting to scare him during their argument.
Sticking on course with murder from an angry lover, the third theory is that Toni Mannix had George murdered. George suspected that Toni wasbehind the sabotaging of his car, and likely the one making mysterious phone calls to him at odd hours of the night, and likely the person behind the threats he would receive on later phone calls, though it was never specified whether it was her voice, or that of someone elses whom George assumed she had put up to it. Phyllis Coates, George’s co-star from Superman, later stated that in the early morning hours of June 16th, within an hour of George’s death, she received a frantic phone call from none other than Toni Mannix. Toni is alleged to have said “The Boy is dead” and went on to explain to Phyllis that George had been murdered, there were five bullet holes in the bedroom and his sheets were in the washing machine. What is fascinating about this phone call is that it happened within an hour of George’s death, and the police weren’t even called until 45 minutes after, so many have been led to wonder how exactly Toni became aware of his death that quickly, and why she was so adamant that it was in fact a murder. Theorists point to this story, as well as the fact that Toni was not only crushed by George’s decision to leave her for Lemmon, but she was a well known, powerful woman in Hollywood and she had been publicly embarrassed by the incident. She was known to be jealous and possessive, and many believe she took an approach that if she couldn’t have George, no one would. Of course, Toni wasn’t there that night, but many believe she likely had contacts with some of the darker men that her husband often employed for his alleged criminal activities. Which leads us to our final theory.
Eddie Mannix was reputed to be a vicious man with more than one foot in the dark underbelly of society. Rumors abound about the kind of men he employed and the kind of activities he was involved in. Though Eddie was known to be friendly with George, often helping him out when he needed money or pulling strings to try and get him jobs, this all took place during the period in which George was having an affair with Eddie’s wife. By all accounts, Eddie didn’t mind this, and in fact it was part of an agreement between Eddie and Toni, but many theorize that all of that changed when George left Toni. According to this theory, Eddie not only empathized with and felt bad for Toni, but he was angry at the news because of the attention it brought him, and the embarrassment. 1950’s Hollywood was a different world than today, but much like now, public image was everything and Eddie wasn’t happy with his ruthless, powerful reputation being smeared by George’s actions. Many believe that not only was Eddie responsible for George’s murder that night, suggesting that he hired one of his mafia friends to conduct a hit, but that he was in fact the one behind the threats and sabotage. For a man who was already considered the likely culprit in his first wifes death, it wasn’t a stretch for many to believe he could have easily manipulated the situation surrounding George’s death. When you’ve got corrupt police in your pocket, and killers at your disposal, it’s almost impossible to not consider this theory.
George Reeves was interred at Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, California. Some years after his death, his body was exhumed and he was cremated and moved into the mausoleum. George’s mother Helen died in 1964, never believing that her son had committed suicide. Her ashes were placed in the mausoleum beside her beloved George. The death of Superman spread around the world like wildfire, to the dismay of children and friends alike. It was a brutal shock to the system, and it had come at a time when the television series was set to come back in a major way. George Reeves was an American icon, reluctant though he may have been. To those who knew and loved him, he was honest George, a good man who had his demons, but who ultimately sought to be a stand up guy, a trustworthy friend and a devoted son. Though his case has been closed for over fifty years in the public record, for many, the details surrounding his final hours are suspect and the truth about what led to his untimely end is a mystery that remains to this day.
[Thoughts & Theories]
The death of George Reeves is one of those stories that I’ve heard about since I was a kid. I remember watching the original Superman television show replaying on Nick at Nite and my fathered happened to walk into the room. He talked about how he used to watch it when he was a kid, and he commented that there was always something strange about the way George Reeves died. I didn’t think much about it at the time, I was just a kid watching a show, but when I got a little older and found myself drawn to shows like Unsolved Mysteries, I began to think about it. Unsolved Mysteries even covered George’s case, as well as other shows like Mysteries and Scandals. It’s a pop culture touchstone, in a sense. I often find that people either know exactly who George Reeves is, and they’ve heard about some of the circumstances involving his death or they’ve never heard of him at all.
This case has a lot of twists and turns in it, a handful of possible suspects and a lot of mystery and intrigue. It harkens back to the old days, the golden era of Hollywood and for those of you who have dug into that history you know that beneath the glitz and glam of the Hollywood elite of the 1950’s there were a lot of dark secrets, too. Torrid affairs, murder, drugs, coverups and blackmail. Honestly, it probably wasn’t all that different from the seedy side of Hollywood we are seeing in the news so much right now, except back then, it was a lot easier to put a lid on something and make sure it never got out. In terms of the death of George Reeves, many people suspect that the whole story never got out, and that was either due to weak police work or someone behind the curtain pulling their strings.
Almost everyone who knew George, or was considered to maybe have been involved or known more information about his death has since passed away. Considering their deaths, and the absence of evidence, this is a case that will most likely never be solved. There have been a few books written about it, several television shows have tackled the topic and the Ben Affleck starred in 2006 movie titled “Hollywoodland” which took a look at the case, though not very accurately. Suffice it to say, the death of George Reeves is one of those mysteries that just won’t go away, and frankly, probably shouldn’t. There’s so much information involved that it’s hard to get a handle on what exactly happened, and when your prime witnesses were incredibly drunk when the incident took place, it’s hard to know which way is up.
A quick note about the status of this case. I focus on unsolved cases, so why am I doing one which has a final determination? I think there is enough information here to call that decision into question. As I’ve learned throughout these episodes, Police make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes lead to a case going unsolved. Well, they determined that George Reeve’s committed suicide but essentially since the day they made that announcement there have been those who questioned their decision. There is evidence which contradicts the story. I don’t aim to be conspiratorial about it, but in some instances, it’s important to examine everything and try to figure out what really happened.
At the end of the day, though, George Reeves wasn’t just a celebrity and I think we often times find it easy to dismiss something, or someone, because of their societal status. Just like every other case I have covered, George was someone’s son. He was a friend and a lover, he was a man who worked hard and, for children all around the world, he was the face of their hero. Should his case be ignored simply because its been over fifty years and he was another Hollywood tragedy? I don’t think so, and those who loved him agreed. I’ve wanted to cover this story for a long time, and I’m glad to have finally been able to do so. So what really happened to George Reeves on that warm summer night in 1959? As you would expect, that’s not such an easy question to answer.
The first theory is the official theory: that a drunk and depressed George Reeves committed suicide. Police determined that George had shot himself based on the statements of the witnesses in the home and the condition in which his body was found: naked, laying on the bed, with his feet on the ground and the gun laying between his feet. Based on this quick decision, a lot of investigative steps which should have been taken were not. The fact that police failed to photograph the crime and the body makes it extremely difficult go back and reexamine the case, you no longer have a crime scene to look at and any details which may have been there to suggest anything other than suicide have been lost.
The witnesses who were downstairs at the time of the gunshot all claimed that George was upstairs alone, though neighbor William Bliss would later contradict that statement and allegedly admit that Leonore Lemmon was in fact upstairs with George when he died. Police were frustrated, they had several drunken witnesses and a story which didn’t make a lot of sense but there were two factors involved in wrapping things up quickly: the scene looked as though it could have been a suicide and at this particular time in Hollywood, it wasn’t uncommon for police to go out of their way to product a celebrity though I’ve always felt that it is probably more damaging to your reputation to be known as a suicide instead of a homicide victim. What I don’t understand is why they would choose to ignore all of the evidence that points away from the suicide theory. The lack of powder burns on the body, the strange trajectory of the bullet, the presence of other bullet holes in the room. These alone are enough to make me wonder what happened there that night, and to feel as though the official story doesn’t tell the true story.
I believe the police thought they had an open and shut case and it wasn’t until later that they began to question things, but by that time it was too late. The body had already been embalmed, the crime scene was no longer under seal, Leonore Lemmon was gone and anyone who was present that night likely had questionable memories based on the alcohol consumption. I believe they looked at George’s autopsy results, saw his .27% blood alcohol level and decided that he got drunk and killed himself. Strangely, they put forth a theory that George was upset about the direction of his career, was struggling with money troubles and was severely depressed. Almost everyone who knew George as this time contradicts that statement. He had several projects under development, including one in which he would be directing. He had a trip to Australia planned out for which he was going to be paid $20,000 and he had already mapped out his honeymoon with Lemmon.
Maybe things weren’t so good in terms of his relationship with Lemmon, but many suspect he was still in contact with Toni and was considering going back to her. These do not sound like the circumstances of a man who is severely depressed and desperate to end it all. On the other hand, we have seen events in recent times of famous men who seem to have it all and end up committing suicide. It’s impossible to know what is in someone’s head, and when you mix in a large quantity of alcohol, anything could be on the table. I can’t say for sure whether or not George Reeves committed suicide that night. It is possible, but I do not believe there is so much evidence in favor of it that it is the only possibility.
The second theory is that George Reeves was murdered by his tempestuous fiancée, Leonore Lemmon. Their turbulent relationship was well known, with even close friends of Reeves stating that Lemmon was a big drinker, like George, but whereas George tended to be jovial when drunk, Lemmon had a tendency towards anger and violence. Their relationship was strained, possibly due to financial troubles or the suggestion that George may have been still keeping contact with his ex-girlfriend, Toni Mannix. Lemmon had a bad reputation, that of a gold digger who chose rich and powerful men, and then left when she had used them up or gotten what she had wanted. She had previously married Jacob Webb, the great-great grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. She left him just eight days after they were married.
George was, in a way, Lemmon’s entrance into the golden land of Hollywood. He was charming and intelligent, and most of all, he was famous. The two met at a nightclub and quickly became infactuated with one another. George is reported to have told several friends that he fell hard in love for her and would do anything for her, but many of these friends slowly felt that they were ostracized from his life. They talked of Lemmon being controlling and jealous, on top of being prone to violence. On the night George died, we have two severely contradictory stories about Lemmon. In the first, she is downstairs with her guests when George goes up. She narrates his actions, saying that he is removing a gun from a drawer and putting it to his head. Moments later, they hear the show and Bill Bliss runs up to find George’s body. Lemmon would later tell police she was only joking and didn’t think Reeves would really do it. I’ve always found this story extremely strange, and I can’t decide if that’s because it sounds like the exact story you wouldn’t want to tell police when they’re investigating a death, or if its because it represents Lemmon as such a cold and carless woman.
Bill Bliss, allegedly, later recanted his statement from that night and explained that Lemmon had gone upstairs with Reeves and that moments after the shot was fired, she came down the stairs telling all of the guests to tell police that she had been downstairs with them the entire time. It’s hard to know who is telling the truth here, but considering the gunshots in the floor and the odd trajectory of the bullet, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lenore Lemmon was the one who pulled the trigger. The only real question, to me, is whether she did it in cold blood or if it was a drunken accident. I do believe it is entirely possible that Lemmon killed George Reeves, and her behavior following the event shows a dramatic shift in behavior for his fiancée. She doesn’t attend his funeral, she breaks into the sealed crime scene for liquor, food and money and flees to New York. I use the term flee loosely, though that is how it is often described, but there really wasn’t much to flee from since the police had already determined it was a suicide. To me, Leonore Lemmon is just as viable a possibility as is the theory that George Reeves committed suicide.
The third theory is also that of a jealous lover, this time being Toni Mannix. Toni and George were together for nearly nine years, and for much of that they were a seemingly happy couple. Unlike his relationship with Lemmon, George’s friends described their situation as pleasant and good for both of them. Mannix had money, and would lavish George with gifts and even bought the home that he lived in, and ultimately died in. They had a good relationship, though they had to live their lives somewhat concealed due to Toni’s status as a married woman. Everyone involved claims this was a very open secret in Hollywood, but again it was a different time before the days of the papparazi where reports often showed an extra level of discretion when it came to celebrities. Everything went sideways, though, when George left Toni for Lemmon. Toni despised Leonore Lemmon, whether it be because of who she was as a person or because her lover left her to be with Lemmon, we may never know. Many people theorize that Toni was behind the sabotaging of George’s car, as well as the late night threatening phone calls. They take it a step further and present a case that Toni Mannix hired someone, likely one of her husband’s connections, to murder George that night.
The question becomes… how would the killer have gotten in and out of the home unnoticed? This is where Bill Bliss comes in. Bliss wasn’t a frequent attendee of George’s home, and many have considered the possibility that the entire purpose of him coming to the house that night was in order to create a distraction wherein a hitman could enter the home via the back door and sneak upstairs while the party was going on. After murdering Reeves, it’s assumed that the killer climbed out a window and disappeared into the night. It sounds a little too fanciful for me, and if that were the case, I feel like there would have been more evidence to indicate this. Then again, the investigation was so poorly handled, it’s hard to know that there wasn’t more evidence.
Toni certainly had the money and the ability to pull this off, but for me, there’s one thing that’s always bothered me about it. Toni loved George, and I know people do crazy things when they are scorned, but it feels to me like it would have been much more likely that Toni would have killed Lemmon instead. She is the person to whom most of Toni’s anger was directed, and there have even been rumors that George and Toni were talking again, which is alleged to have been a point of strife between Reeves and Lemmon. Now, perhaps Toni wanted to kill George and frame Lemmon for it, but if that was her plan, it didn’t work out well.
We know that Toni held prayer circles for George twice a week for the rest of her life, and that in her older state, and with her mind weakened due to Alzheimer’s disease, she is alleged to have admitted to several Catholic priests that she had George killed. I’ve got a few problems with this, which essentially go to corroboration. The man who came forward with this information didn’t tell the story at the time, he waited several years, until after Toni had passed away. In addition to that, is it really wise to take the words of a woman who is suffering from a horribly degenerative brain disorder? Not exactly the most reliable confession. Although I can absolutely see where people get the theory that Toni Mannix was involved, I honestly don’t believe she was, unless in a less active role. And that is where the next theory comes in: that George Reeves was in fact murdered by someone under the orders of Toni’s husband, Eddie Mannix.
Eddie Mannix, at the time, was an executive working for MGM studios, but known all around as a fixer, the guy big stars went to when they had a problem that they needed to go away. He was reputed to have his hands in a lot of different areas of Hollywood, including the darker parts. Mannix was rumored to have been connected to the Mafia, and didn’t rule out use thugs to strong arm, and in many cases, assault people who got in his way. There is a lot of controversy around the death of his first wife, Bernice Fitzmaurice. In 1933, Bernice filed for divorce, despite both she and Mannix being devout catholics. She accused him of infidelity and of physically abusing her. Before the divorce could go through, Bernice was killed in a car accident outside of Palm Springs, allegedly after leaving a club owned by one of Eddie’s associates. Many believe that Mannix arranged for Bernice to be killed in order to protect his reputation and as revenge for her divorce filing and accusations.
His marriage to Toni Mannix was different in that both carried out extra-marital affairs and were ok with doing so. Many have said that Eddie like George, and approved of the relationship he was carrying out with his wife. However, when George left Toni, she was absolutely devastated and it didn’t make her or Eddie look great. Many believe that Eddie arranged to have George murdered and that it was either done as revenge for leaving Toni and hurting the couples reputation, or that it was done as revenge for Reeves hurting Toni’s feelings. Either way, many theorize that Mannix went back to his typical habits and arranged for someone to execute the Superman actor. In the months leading up to his death, Reeves was threatened and has his vehicle sabotaged. Some believe that Eddie was behind all of this, and when the District Attorney investigated these incidents, he found that Toni herself was receiving threatening phone calls as well, leading some to believe that Eddie planned to have her murdered as well.
It isn’t hard to imagine a man like Eddie Mannix could easily have been involved in the death of George Reeves. He had plenty of motive, and obviously had people under his employ who were capable of committing murder and getting away with it. Mannix is one of the few people suspected in this murder who had the political clout and financial strength to not only pull this off, but to manipulate the situation and cover it up through the use of bribes, corrupt officials and public media. Whether or not Toni was involved, we may never know. To me, there are two possibilities when it comes down to who could have killed, or been involved in the murder of George Reeves: Leonore Lemmon or Eddie Mannix. Lemmon’s motives may have been purely emotional, or related to alcohol, while Mannix was cold and calculating, and certainly had a much greater history of being able to pull off crimes and get away with them. If indeed the bullet that killed George Reeves wasn’t fired by his own hand, then the next person on the list should definitely be Eddie Mannix.
George Reeves died over fifty eight years ago when he was just forty-five years old and about to embark on the second major boom of his career. Since that time, countless books, television shows and movies have discussed and speculated about his death. To this day, Superman is an American icon of truth, justice and the American way and yet the man who most famously donned the cape and tights may have died without either truth or justice. His mother went to her grave believing her son was murdered, and many of George’s friends strongly agreed. Hollywood was embroiled in a quiet debate, whispered in the dark corners and booths of clubs and restaurants, never feeling fully satisfied with the outcome. The police essentially washed their hands of the case, and have chosen to never look back at what many view as a terribly flawed investigation. The Death of George Reeves will forever be a mystery that draws interest from those young and old, and stands as a horrible reminder of the darkness that lurks beneath the spotlights and glamour of old, as well as current day, Hollywood.