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REEVES, GEORGE
(George Bessolo 1914–1959). American actor.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Acted in: Dead Men Tell (Harry Lachman 1941); Jungle Goddess (Lewis D. Collins 1948); Jungle Jim (William A. Berke 1948); Samson and Delilah (Cecil B. DeMille 1949); The Adventures of Sir Galahad (serial) (Spencer Gordon Bennet 1949); The Good Humor Man (Lloyd Bacon 1950); Superman and the Mole Men (Lee Sholem 1951); The Adventures of Superman (tv series 1951-57); Stamp Day for Superman (promotional film) (Thomas Carr 1954); "Lois and Superman" (1957), episode of I Love Lucy.

Acted in films compiled from episodes of The Adventures of Superman: Superman's Peril (George Blair and Carr 1954); Superman in Scotland Yard (Blair and Carr 1954); Superman in Exile (Blair and Carr 1954); Superman Flies Again (Blair and Carr 1954); Superman and the Jungle Devil (Blair and Carr 1954); Superman (Blair, Harry W. Gerstad, and Lew LANDERS 1973).

Directed: "The Brainy Burro," "The Perils of Superman," "All That Glitters" (1957), episodes of The Adventures of Superman.

 
Today, it is with a considerable amount of concern that one observes Dean CAIN while he tenuously clings to the spotlight as the host of the syndicated series Ripley's Believe It or Not. One wishes him the very best, since the actors who put on the Superman suit are always extraordinarily likable young men. But the track records of other ex-Supermen are not encouraging. The youngsters who portrayed Superboy—Jeff East, John Haymes Newton, Gerald Christopher—have vanished without a trace. After two serials, Kirk ALYN's post-Superman career was a hazy patchwork of Z-movies and bit parts. Christopher REEVE struggled for a decade to maintain his film career, despite bomb after bomb, until a tragic accident landed him the starring role no one would desire as America's bravest and most beloved paraplegic. And if the official coroner's report is to be believed, the most famous Superman of them all, George Reeves, put a bullet in his brain at the age of forty-five.

Earlier, Reeves had probably been feeling pretty despondent at the age of thirty-five, contemplating the apparent disintegration of his once-promising film career. His brief appearance as one of the Tarleton Twins at the beginning of Gone with the Wind (1939) has forever preserved what he looked like as a male ingenue, and his handsome face and decent acting abilities led to a series of screen performances, even a starring role in a major Hollywood film, So Proudly We Hail (1943). But after serving in the United States Army, Reeves could not attain such heights again, instead alternating bit parts in productions like Samson and Delilah with leading roles in less distinguished fare, like playing a villain opposite Johnny Weissmuller's Jungle Jim or the heroic Sir Galahad in a cheesy serial. Even as Reeves was ironically playing a small part in a forgotten comedy, The Good Humor Man, which featured a group of young Captain Marvel fans, producers who had tired of the demanding Alyn were looking for a new actor to portray Captain Marvel's more enduring rival, Superman, in a projected film and television series. They chose George Reeves, and they couldn't have made a better choice.

The mistake other Superman actors make is that they focus all their energies on being Superman, while making his alter-ego Clark Kent little more than as a collection of nervous mannerisms. Since Kent is often on stage just as much as, if not more than, Superman, audiences are then forced to endure long stretches of intentionally bad acting, best illustrated by the Reeve films. Brilliantly, Reeves focused all his energies on being Clark Kent. As a result, his Kent is a joy to behold—competent, intelligent, decisive, and commanding, a total antithesis to Reeve's nebbish. True, scripts occasionally demanded that Reeves do the traditional coward routine to get Kent away from the scene so he could become Superman, but Reeves was visibly uncomfortable suddenly pretending to be weak and faint-hearted—he was breaking character—and these crude plot gimmicks became rare as the series progressed. I recall one remarkable scene that encapsulates Reeves's singular take on Clark Kent: at the end of one episode, Lois Lane suspiciously comments on Kent's curious absence during Superman's last appearance, suggesting that Kent and Superman might be the same person. The characteristic Kent reaction would be to become visibly tense and stammer nervously, "Uh, surely, you must be mistaken, Lois," or something. But Reeves brazens it out: he looks Lois straight in the eye and says, "You're absolutely right, Lois. I'm Superman." Of course, this bold confession neatly serves to diffuse Lois's suspicions.

If there is a downside to Reeves's performance, it is that his Superman at times is curiously unpersuasive: while he jumps into the air and flies with aplomb, and lets bullets bounce off his body with the appropriate arrogance, Reeves can otherwise seem irritated or bored when he is playing Superman. He does heroic feats more dutifully than enthusiastically, and when he has finished, and after he has stopped to ensure that "Miss Lane" is now all right, Superman rushes away to resume the role he obviously prefers—Clark Kent. Oddly, one of Reeves's most memorable moments in blue underwear came at the end of an episode of I Love Lucy, when he looks at Lucy and asks Desi Arnaz, "Do you mean you've been married to her for fifteen years?"

"That's right," he answers.

"And they call me Superman!"—which I still regard as one of that series's all-time funniest lines. For once, Reeves's Superman displayed the wit and confidence of his Clark Kent.

Largely due to the producers's prescient decision to film most episodes in color—even before color television had been developed—the 104 half-hour episodes of The Adventures of Superman enjoyed a remarkably long afterlife in syndication, and several generations of television viewers have come to appreciate these cheap but energetic dramas, buoyed by Reeves's charismatic presence. Only the last thirteen episodes betray a certain sense of exhaustion: Reeves is balding and graying, the scripts were usually uninspired, and the efforts to cut costs were increasingly intrusive; in one episode, Superman is even seen searching for something by driving around as a passenger in a car instead of flying over the city. But Reeves was finally given the chance to direct a few episodes, and when the series ended, he hoped to launch a second career as a director.

What happened instead during the last eighteen months of Reeves's life before his sudden death may forever be shrouded in confusion and controversy. By some accounts, there were many reasons why he surely wanted to go on living—perhaps including an impending marriage, new opportunities to direct, and plans for another season of The Adventures of Superman—leading to well-documented suspicions that he was actually murdered. A recent head injury may also have been clouding his judgment at the crucial moment he picked up the gun. But Occam's Razor would indicate that it was only a typical case of suicide, induced by severe depression. For as other actors have discovered, after people have called you Superman, it is hard to answer to another name.

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