Richard Reeves

Active - 1947 - 1967  |   Born - Aug 10, 1912   |   Died - Mar 17, 1967   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Western, Action, Crime

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Character actor Richard Reeves was one of the most familiar heavies in big- and small-screen crime dramas and westerns of the early/middle 1950s. In just a thin sliver of his total output, he threatened (and even tortured) friends and allies of the Man of Steel in episodes of the Adventures of Superman, murdered district attorney Robert Shayne (and got Lou Costello into terrible trouble) in the Abbott & Costello film Dance With Me, Henry, and helped scare Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz half-to-death as an assassin from Franistan in an episode of I Love Lucy. Richard Jourdan Reeves was born in New York City in 1912, and his acting career seems to have begun in tandem with his World War II military service, in the movie This Is The Army (1943). Solidly built and heavy set with dark, wavy hair, Reeves went into acting in character and bit parts after the war, almost all of them uncredited until the advent of television -- when he did receive billing, it was sometimes as Dick Richards, Richard J. Reeves, and Dick Reeves. He played an array of police officers, soldiers, prison guards, laborers, and drivers in an array of films (including Abraham Polonsky's Force Of Evil and Richard Thorpe's Carbine Williams). But mostly as the 1950s wore on he gravitated toward thugs and henchmen -- though never the "brains" of the outfit -- whether in crime dramas or westerns. He made his first appearance on the Adventures of Superman in the 1951 episode "No Holds Barred" as a tough, somewhat lunk-headed wrestler working for a crooked promoter, and over the next few seasons portrayed various strong-arm men and leg-breakers working in the service of crime, on that show and others. But Reeves' seeming lack of intellect in his portrayals, and a slightly good nature that came through, often made his criminal characters in that series seem just a little sympathetic, at least compared to the men for whom they worked, and that gave his portrayals an edge that young viewers, especially, often remembered fondly. The closest he got to a role with real dignity on television in those days was in the episode of "The Boy Who Hated Superman", one of Reeves' finest acting jobs, culminating in a beautiful scene in which his rough-hewn hood, trying to hijack $5000 intended for his employer, opens a young man's eyes about the real nature of the criminal uncle he has idolized.

By the mid-1950s, Reeves was ensconsed in these sorts of character roles, whether criminals, tough military men, or police officers. He also managed to impress directors and producers sufficiently to get asked back a lot on many shows -- after appearing in as an assassin from Franistan in the I Love Lucy episode "The Publicity Agent", Reeves did seven more appearances on the series across the run of the show. And his presence on western series such as The Roy Rogers Show, 26 Men, Cheyenne, and other western series was downright ubiquitous. The television work was broken up by the occasional bit part in feature films such as Androcles And The Lion (1952) and Destry (1954). His role in Dance With Me, Henry (1956) was one of his two biggest movie parts, but not his most challenging. The latter distinction was reserved for Reeves' rare chance to play a character on the side of the angels -- in Sherman A. Rose's sci-fi thriller Target Earth (1954), Reeves was cast opposite Virginia Grey as part of a quartet of survivors of an alien invasion of an American city, hiding out and trying to survive. It was his shining moment on-screen, allowing him to show a heroic, intelligent, and sensitive side (even as he strangles a man -- deservedly so -- with his bare hands in one scene).

The actor was busy in the 1960s, appearing in lots of western series, and also had a bit part in Billy Wilder's Kiss Me, Stupid (1964). Reeves even managed to make an appearance in the first episode of Batman. He was still doing a mixture of television and film work at the time of his death, at age 54, in 1967.

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