At the beginning of his life, George Reeves was a Midwesterner by birth but, as he grew older, he made his way out to California with his mother. He was born in Woolstock, Iowa but eventually moved to Galesburg, Illinois after his parents separated.
When his mother moved to California to be with her sister, it was said Reeves never saw his father again. That position was taken over by Frank Bessolo, who his mother married in 1925 while Reeves’ father married Helen Schultz that same year. Bessolo adopted Reeves but the marriage did not last with the divorce finalized 15 years later.
Reeves was away visiting relatives when the couple separated and he was told Bessolo committed suicide. Up to this point in his life, Reeves had many mysteries surrounding his early years such as never seeing his father again and not knowing his stepfather, who was a father figure in his life. It’s interesting to see how much mystery surrounded Reeves’ early life and the turns his life would later take. Reeves started his acting and singing in high school. At the Pasadena Playhouse, where he began studying acting, he met Ellanora Needles, his future wife, who he married on September 22, 1940, and eventually divorced 10 years later with no children.
Reeves considered television work unimportant and was not a huge fan when he was offered the Superman role in June 1951. He had a restrictive contract, preventing him from taking other work at the time. He was able to earn more money from his personal appearances. Reeves began a relationship with Toni Mannix, the wife of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer General Manager Eddie Mannix.
As two seasons of Adventures of Superman came and went, he was dissatisfied with the role and how much he was being paid. 40 years of age, he wanted to quit it and go elsewhere with his career. Not many years later on June 16, 1959, Reeves was found dead because of a gunshot wound in a bedroom upstairs in his Benedict Canyon home. A baby cry signaler was not found in the bedroom. He was said to have died between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m.
Within the hour, the Los Angeles Police Department arrived, where Leonore Lemmon, Reeves’ fiancée, Robert Condon, the writer, Carol Van Ronkel, who lives nearby with her screenwriter husband, Rip Van Ronkel, and William Bliss, the guests, were.
Reeves and Lemmon allegedly were drinking and dining while Condon ghostwrote an autobiography of Archie Moore, the prizefighter. The couple argued and they went home. Lemmon tested this account by stating they had gone out with friends to wrestling matches. While it was found Gene LeBell, a friend of Reeves, was wrestling that night, LeBell did not recall seeing Reeves after working out together that day.
Reeves went to bed but a party started with Bliss and Carol Von Ronkel coming to his home. Reeves complained about the noise, visited with guests, had a drink, and, in a foul mood, returned to bed. It was later that guests heard a gunshot upstairs.
Bliss would run-up to his room to find Reeves dead, lying across his bed. The belief was that with his naked body facing upward, Reeves’ sitting position made sense when he shot himself, his body fell back on the bed, and the .30 caliber Luger pistol fell each foot.
The press and police essentially agreed on what happened to Reeves. Neither of the guests, including Lemmon, made any apology for the delay in their reporting of his suicide. They attributed the intoxication, time of night, and shock of his death as reasons for not contacting the authorities sooner.
Police said everyone at the party was inebriated and coherent stories were tough to get. In the days after, Lemmon would tell the press Reeves died because of his inability to find work and overall failed career. The police stated the same.
The story starts to become a bit strange at this point. While Lemmon was said to be in the living room with guests, a friend of Reeves from Gone With the Wind, Fred Crane, said Lemmon was either inside Reeves’ bedroom or right near it at the time of the shooting. Bliss told Millicent Trent that after the shot occurred, Lemmon told him and the other guests to state she was down here during the shooting.
That’s not the only misgiving in this case. Fingerprints were never recovered and no gunpowder residue was ever discovered on the hands of Reeves despite some saying the latter may have not been looked for.
The spent shell casing was found under his body while two other bullets were found in the bedroom floor embedded. While it was stated all three bullets came from the gun found near Reeves, the guests said they only heard one gunshot. There was never any sign of other physical evidence or forced evidence that someone else was in the room.
These mysteries remained even when the death was ruled a suicide due to the autopsy report, witness statements, and physical evidence from the scene. Reeves’ mother comes back into play here. She believed the ruling was premature and hired Jerry Giesler, an attorney, to get the case reopened as a potential homicide. Giesler conducted a second autopsy, which found bruises on his body and head. They were determined to be of unknown origin but he was not able to uncover any more evidence, which led Giesler to come to the same conclusion. There’s more, though.
Gig Young and Alan Ladd, both actors, believed the official determination was flawed. Rory Calhoun, a friend of Reeves, attested nobody in Hollywood ever believed the suicide story. Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger, authors of Hollywood Kryptonite, believe Toni and Eddie Mannix had him killed because of the affair between Reeves and Toni Mannix.
Others think it’s due to Eddie Mannix’s rumored ties to the mob. There might have been some truth to exactly what was rumored here. In 1999, Edward Lozzi, a Los Angeles, California publicist, alleged Toni Mannix confessed to a Catholic priest in his presence she was responsible for Reeves’ demise before her death from Alzheimer’s disease in 1983. The case had come back to life because of shows such as Mysteries and Scandals and Unsolved Mysteries.
Jack Larson would dispute this. He stated facts he knew about the Reeves-Mannix romantic relationship made Lozzi’s story untrue. Lozzi had more to say. He said he had a close relationship with the elderly Mannix, living with her and visiting her later on from 1979 to 1982.
On about a half-dozen occasions, he said he called a priest for her. While she suffered from Alzheimer’s and dementia, Lozzi said she was lucid when she made the statement she had Reeves killed. This came before she was moved to the hospital, where she lived for the last many years of her life. She gave many pieces of her estate to the hospital for receiving continued care.
Lozzi said she had Tuesday night prayer sessions with himself and others at an altar shrine she built to Reeves in her house. She would ask God and Reeves for forgiveness during these times while she did not directly confess.
Even Milo Speriglio, a famous Hollywood private detective, looked into the Reeves’ case. Suffice it to say, there’s a great deal of skepticism about this case, given the many unanswered questions that remain. Whether the truth will ever be revealed is left up to the annals of history. We are left simply with what we know until more is uncovered at a later time.
About author: Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, consumer electronics, and the entertainment industry.
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