We all thought the Man of Steel was impervious to bullets, but in 1959, we were proved wrong. George Reeves, the first man to play Superman on TV in the 1952 series Adventures of Superman, was shot dead in his bedroom. Officially ruled a suicide, Superman’s death remains shrouded in mystery…
George Reeves donned Superman’s red cape and Clark Kent’s specs and began saving the world long before Christopher Reeve and Henry Cavill in the movies, Dean Cain in 90s TV show The New Adventures of Superman and Tom Welling in Smallville. Adventures of Superman ran for six seasons between 1952 and 1958 and was cancelled after the sixth season. There were plans to revive it, but George Reeves’s untimely death in June 1959 stopped these plans in their tracks. Mystery and controversy have surrounded his death ever since.
According to witnesses, George Reeves and his fiancé Leonore Lemmon were out for dinner and drinks on the night of his death with their friend Richard Condon. Reeves and Lemmon had an argument in front of Condon and, shortly afterwards, the three of them returned to Reeves’s home in Benedict Canyon in Los Angeles.
Reeves went to bed, but sometime around midnight, friends William Bliss and Carol Van Ronkel turned up at Reeves’s house for an impromptu party. Reeves was in no mood to join in; rather, he came down and had a go at them all for the noise. He ended up having a reluctant drink with them, before retreating upstairs again in a bad mood.
A short while later, a gunshot rang out. Lemmon and the guests found Reeves lying naked across his bed, body facing upwards and feet on the floor. This suggested that he’d sat on the bed and shot himself. The pistol he’d used had fallen between his feet.
Examination of the crime scene and general agreement among the witnesses led to an official finding of suicide. It’s officially believed that Reeves was depressed because his acting career was failing and he was struggling to find more work.
However, questions started to arise…
Where was Leonore Lemmon?
According to Lemmon, she was downstairs with the party guests at the time of the shooting. But Fred Crane, Reeves’ friend and co-star in Gone with the Wind, said that William Bliss told Millicent Trent—Crane and Bliss’s mutual friend—that Lemmon was upstairs when the shot rang out. Lemmon then returned downstairs, saying, “Tell them I was down here! Tell them I was down here!”
As a former lawyer, I’m inclined to treat this story as dubious. It’s third-hand hearsay. Lemmon said it to William Bliss, who told Millicent Trent, who told Crane. That’s quite a long chain of people. Chinese whispers, anyone?
Could be true, of course. And if Lemmon was upstairs and lied about being with the party guests, could she have pulled the trigger? They had had an argument, yes, but it seems unlikely Lemmon would return downstairs shouting, “Tell them I was down here!”, if she’d actually shot him. Surely she’d be subtle, inconspicuous and feigning shock, pretending she was in another room or something, if she’d pulled the trigger. If Crane’s story is true, it seems more likely to me that Lemmon was there when Reeves shot himself but told the others to say she was downstairs to avoid being implicated.
Still, the questions don’t end there…
The gun, the Mannixs and a confession
A lot of people refused to believe that Reeves would kill himself. These people have cited, in particular, the fact that the gun Reeves used to kill himself did not have his fingerprints on it.
How can this be? Well, police have actually said that the gun was too thickly coated in oil to hold fingerprints. Convenient.
Here’s another curiosity: the gun was registered to Eddie Mannix. Mannix was a film producer and vice-president of MGM with alleged connections to the Mafia. He was married to Toni Mannix, who had an affair with George Reeves, reportedly with her husband’s approval (Mannix himself was having an affair, so it was said to be an ‘open’ marriage).
However, Reeves ended his relationship with Toni after nearly a decade, which devastated her. It’s said that either Eddie or Toni Mannix had Reeves killed as payback for ending the affair. Toni because she was hurt that he’d ended it. Eddie because Reeves had upset his wife.
Phyllis Coates, the actress who played Lois Lane in Adventures of Superman, became good friends with Toni Mannix. Coates said that in the early hours of the morning that Reeves was shot dead, she received a hysterical phone call from Toni. Toni told her that Reeves had been murdered and Coates was bemused as to how she knew so early and with such certainly. Guilt kicking in?
What’s more is that in 1999, LA publicist Edward Lozzi revealed to the press that Toni Mannix had made a startling confession to a Catholic priest. Lozzi had been visiting Toni in the early 80s. She had Alzheimer’s disease and died in 1983. Lozzi said that on several occasions, Toni feared she was going to die and asked Lozzi to call a priest so she could confess her sins. Lozzi claims that on one occasion, he was witness to Toni confessing—during a period of lucidity—that she was responsible for having Reeves killed.
Why did Lozzi wait until 1999 to reveal this to the world? Could it all be a steaming pile of BS for the headlines? Possibly, and it’s not supported by any independent evidence.
However, when you look at Lozzi’s claim next to the fact that the gun was registered to Eddie Mannix, the fact that it conveniently had no fingerprints on it, and in particular the phone call that Toni made to Coates, all fingers start pointing at the Mannixs.
And if this is the case, is it possible that Lemmon and the party guests saw something criminal happen but were told to keep schtum about it? Since most of the people involved are now dead, we may never know for certain…
Next week: due to the fact that I’m taking a well-earned holiday on the sunny Devonshire coast, the blog is having a two-week break. I will be back in June for more mysteries, conspiracies and advice for budding writers!