George Reeves

Active - 1939 - 2010  |   Born - Jan 5, 1914 in Woolstock, Iowa, United States  |   Died - Jun 16, 1959   |   Genres - Action, Drama, Western, Comedy, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

In his youth, George Reeves aspired to become a boxer, but gave up this pursuit because his mother was worried that he'd be seriously injured. Attracted to acting, Reeves attended the Pasadena Playhouse, where he starred in several productions. In 1939, Reeves was selected to play one of the Tarleton twins in the Selznick superproduction Gone With the Wind (1939). He made an excellent impression in the role, and spent the next few years playing roles of varying sizes at Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and Paramount. He was praised by fans and reviewers alike for his performances in Lydia (1941) and So Proudly We Hail (1943); upon returning from WWII service, however, Reeves found it more difficult to get good roles. He starred in a few "B"'s and in the title role of the Columbia serial The Adventures of Sir Galahad (1949), but for the most part was shunted away in ordinary villain roles. In 1951, he starred in the Lippert programmer Superman vs. the Mole Men, playing both the Man of Steel and his bespectacled alter ego, Clark Kent. This led to the immensely popular Superman TV series, in which Reeves starred from 1953 through 1957. While Superman saved Reeves' career, it also permanently typecast him. He made an appearance as wagon train leader James Stephen in Disney's Westward Ho, the Wagons! (1956), though the producer felt it expeditious to hide Reeves behind a heavy beard. While it is now commonly believed that Reeves was unable to get work after the cancellation of Superman in 1957, he was in fact poised to embark on several lucrative projects, including directing assignments on two medium-budget adventure pictures and a worldwide personal appearance tour. On June 16, 1959, Reeves died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. The official ruling was suicide -- and, since he left no note, it was assumed that Reeves was despondent over his flagging career. Since that time, however, there has been a mounting suspicion (engendered by the actor's friends and family) that George Reeves was murdered.

Movie Highlights

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  • First garnered attention as one of Scarlett O'Hara's suitors in Gone With the Wind; first major role was as the Claudette Colbert character's love interest in the 1943 wartime flag-waver So Proudly We Hail!
  • Served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II—on Broadway (in a USAAF production titled Winged Victory).
  • Had small roles in such notable 1940s and '50s films as The Fighting 69th, Knute Rockne: All American, Samson and Delilah, From Here to Eternity and Westward Ho the Wagons!
  • Was offered the role of Superman on TV after the actor who played the Man of Steel in an earlier movie serial (Kirk Alyn) declined because he was afraid of being typecast.
  • Sang on The Tony Bennett Show (a summer replacement for The Perry Como Show) on NBC in 1956.
  • The 2006 thriller Hollywoodland is a fictionalized account of his mysterious 1959 shooting death.