Saturday, March 16, 2013
The Day Superman Wasn't Faster Than A Speeding Bullet- George Reeves Death
On June 16th, 1959 sometime after 1 a.m., actor George Reeves was killed by a single gunshot wound to his right temple. The rumors and conspiracies that followed the tragic events of that night became a whirlwind of confusion that remains unsolved even to this day.
George Reeves was born, George Keefer Brewer on January 5th, 1914. His mother Helen Lescher had become pregnant out of wedlock and by the time she was five months pregnant she then married her beau Don Brewer, but later the marriage fell apart.
She then married Frank Bessolo in 1925, who later adopted George as his own son. It was not until George was 15 that he learned from his mother that Frank had committed suicide. It devastated him. Later he learned that his mother had lied to him and that not only was Frank Bessolo alive and well but that he was not his biological father. Needless to say George had issues with his mother after that.
His Early Career-
George studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse where he met his wife Ellenora Needles. They married in 1940 and divorced in 1950 without having had any children. During that time between 1939- 1950 Reeves had worked in 19 films including “Gone with the Wind”, playing the role of one of the Tarleton twins. Although he was active in the Hollywood scene, he never could seem to get the “big role” he had dreamed of his entire life.
In 1951 George met Toni Mannix, wife of MGM Studios Manager Eddie Mannix. Upon her pursuit for his affections he later learned that her marriage was open, being that Eddie Mannix was openly in a relationship with an Asian woman whom he took care of. Toni and George were seen dining alongside Eddie and his Asian mistress at some of the finest dining establishments in Los Angeles at that time. During that time is when Reeves landed the role of Superman on a television program. His career soon took off, and he became a household name and a hero that thousands of children looked up to. In his mind though, he was a failure. After becoming Superman he could not get any parts in decent film roles due to being type casted, it seemed he was in a bigger rut then ever before.
The relationship between Reeves and Toni lasted some 8 years until George called it off around the same time he had met Lenore Lemmon in New York while he was away on business.
Lenore was a money hungry party girl, who was the first woman in history to be thrown out of Stork Club in New York for fist fighting. She married for money twice, to Socialite Jacob Webb and then later to Musician Hamish Menzies. She was later divorced before having met Reeves.
The story that still floats around after all these years was that they were engaged and going to be married. No where can you find that Reeves ever confirmed this. Lenore wanted to be engaged to him. There was no wedding planned in Mexico, in fact her friend (a girl friend) was tagging along to the trip in Mexico because the trip was strictly a publicity trip for Superman. Reeves schedule had him booked in Mexico, Spain and Australia due to being signed on for another year playing Superman and Lenore was just coming along for the trip- not getting married. It was all wishful thinking on her part.
The fateful night-
So the night is June 15th, 1959 and George had already retired for the evening in the master bedroom which is located facing the back of the house (not above the garage as many assume). Sometime around 12:30 a.m. Lenore’s friends stopped by for a visit. George was awakened by the noise and came down to see what the commotion was. He was not happy about the late night visit as his open door policy of allowing guest in to the home ended normally at 12 midnight, and this was well after that. Nevertheless he welcomed his friends in and visited with them briefly before bidding them goodnight and retiring back to the room.
Now it has been said by the guests and Lenore herself, that she jokingly mentioned “Oh he is probably going to go shoot himself now” as he went up to bed. Whether that was some kind of joke or not, the shooting part is exactly what happened.
So here is the part where we speak about the theories and the facts-
Some say that Toni Mannix, who was so grief stricken from George having had broken their relationship off to be with Lenore could have pushed her over the edge to hire a hit man to kill George.
I don’t buy that. Toni was a smart cookie, but definitely not a killer. She taught George everything he knew about business and loved him dearly. She was also much older than he was and knew how to maintain herself in that element of scandals in Hollywood at that time.
Now I won’t rule out that Eddie Mannix could have had something to do with it. He loved his wife, although their relationship was far from a normal one. He didn’t want to see her in pain and George did inflict pain on his wife by breaking up with her. Eddie was known as the “Bulldog” of MGM Studios and he had connections to high profile “fixers” with MGM that were rumored to have possibly played a part in the death of Paul Bern and other various scandals in Hollywood. It would not be a far fetched idea that Eddie was somehow involved.
But what about Lenore? Ms. Lenore Lemmon was after his money and there wasn’t a person out there that could say otherwise. Perhaps she found out about George’s will and realized that even as his wife she would still have had no rights to his estate. His will mentioned Toni Mannix as the sole beneficiary.
George never agreed to marry Lenore in the first place. Lenore went around telling everyone that she was going to be George Reeves’ wife but there had never been an actual engagement nor had there been any true plans for a wedding at all. Saying you are engaged doesn’t mean that you are, and George was quoted on several times actually replying “I never agreed to any of that” after she had stated “we are engaged” to friends out in public places.
One of the persons who was there the night of Reeves death later admitted that Lenore had been upstairs when the shot rang out and that she rushed downstairs distraught. She kept telling them over and over “You have to say I was downstairs”. After pressuring her friends to cover for her they then called the police to report the death, a whole 30 minutes after the fact.
Then there is the mention of suicide-
George was found on the bed, lying on his back. The gun was on the floor and the shell casing was lying underneath him. There were no fingerprints on the gun, and the police never checked for GSR on Reeves hands. His head did not have GSR which shows that the gun was not touching his temple at the time that the gun fired.
Now comes to the gun-
George’s gun was a .30 caliber Luger Pistol. According to Bob Shell, a gun expert and ammo maker “a .30 caliber Luger throws the casings to the right & rear at various angles”. The gun would have had to have been held upside down facing up in order for the casing to have shot out and landed behind him before his body fell back onto the bed.
From the trajectory of the gunshot wound, going from his right temple it shows that the gun had to have been placed near his right temple at an angle upwards.
Mind you, Reeves had a virtually worthless right hand after having been severely injured in an auto accident earlier. He was even on strong prescription pills for the pain of his injury so it would have been nearly impossible for him to have held the gun to his head, let alone pulled the trigger.
I did my own little investigation and it is puzzling- if he had really killed himself he would have had to have held the gun upside down in order for the shell casing to have landed behind him, but at the same time it is possible to think that someone else shot him as well. The results remain inconclusive. In the police reports it is obvious that their investigation had holes in it in the sense that they checked for GSR on his head but not on his hands, and did not seem to find any fingerprints on the gun, not even Reeves’.
So then if he didn’t shoot himself and the gun was held upside down who did it, and why? Obviously someone wanted to make it elaborately look like a suicide?
Perhaps then it was just a tragic an accident?
Maybe Lenore, being the big mouth she was, made a joke to him about shooting himself and he chose to play a round of Russian roulette as he often did. Perhaps he had her pretend to shoot him with it, and she did. Maybe it wasn't a joke or Russian roulette at all. Maybe Lenore followed George upstairs to belittle and criticize him as usual, perhaps she had the gun and shot the gun to scare him. In the movie "Hollywood Land" the first scenario of his death is quite possible. It would explain how the two other bullet holes were made in the floor and how if George was struggling to get the gun from Lenore's hand it could have been facing upside down in the struggle and accidentally fired. Upon realizing that she actually shot and killed him she rushed down the stairs and conjured up a story for her friends to follow along with until the police arrived.
The facts of the matter are that George Reeves died. Could he have killed himself? Sure, anything is possible. Could he have withstood the pain and disability in his right hand to pull the trigger? I am sure it is possible. But why did he kill himself a few days before his international trip to market the new season of Superman?
Could Lenore have killed him either intentionally or even by accident? I could say that is entirely plausible and the most likely of all suspects. She was not a happy person, she fought with George often and enjoyed belittling him any chance she got. She was riding his coat tails as best as she could and it is possible she got sick of him after he did not agree to marry her.
What about Toni Mannix? I don’t believe she killed him or had anything to do with his death. I do believe however that it is also a possibility that Eddie Mannix her husband could have been involved without Toni having any knowledge of it. Eddie Mannix was suspected of having his first wife killed in a "make believe" car chase that ended in a fatal accident, not unlike the car accident that Reeves' had been in that injured his hand. There were rumors that the brakes had been cut or the brake fluid had been drained in the Jaguar that Reeves was driving that crashed into a brick wall. The police concluded that his car had slid on a patch of oil in the road and crashed, however that theory had never been proven to be true. The mystery of Eddie Mannix's first wife's death and the car accident that injured Reeves' hand are still unsolved as well.
Sadly, there is no way I can solve this mystery of how George Reeves died and why. Reeves certainly isn’t talking. Unfortunately this will remain an unsolved mystery that will be remembered in history. The time that Superman wasn’t faster than a speeding bullet.
© J'aime Rubio- 2011 All Rights Reserved
originally published via Dreaming Casually 9/8/11
Various Newspaper Archives
Gun Expert Bob Shell