I must emphasize that “Hollywoodland” is a fine and entertaining movie and certainly better than any screen effort in which I had a substantial part. In my first year as a film actor I appeared in the opening scene of “Gone with the Wind” but didn’t have much to do. I should’ve been on screen with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. I was much younger and knew I’d shine. Didn’t anyone realize my potential? I continued getting mostly minor roles, often uncredited, and the few times I did star – as with Claudette Colbert in “So Proudly We Hail!” in 1943 – I acted professionally enough but moviegoers considered me bland, if they noticed me at all. Later, many adults said I was a vanilla Superman in the television series that ran six years in the 1950’s and is still in syndication. Their children disagreed. Millions of kids adored me and thousands came to see and touch me in public appearances around the country. Long ago they grew up and many are still my fans, and this is gratifying since I used to joke, rather seriously, that I wished there was even one adult who admired my acting.
Catapulted by the recent popularity of “Hollywoodland” and memories posted in cyber-heaven, my name and image are discussed and appreciated in mature circles far more than ever. In the 50’s I often felt like an object of infantile curiosity and adult derision. And some of the latter, I assure you, came from envy. Personally, I was not a jealous man and am not angry about the structure of the film mentioned above. But I think it’s damned ironic, don’t you? I’m George Reeves, the guy the story’s about. So how do they build the movie? They invent a forlorn detective who otherwise couldn’t have attracted the attention of either children or adults, and they tell you about this gaunt fellow’s divorce and ongoing difficulties with his ex-wife and son, and how his girlfriend is screwing a fellow acting student, and show him getting beat up and thrown around and ignored as he tries to find out what actually happened to me. In short, the guy who plays me, the essential character in an intriguing mystery, is relegated to a supporting role.
I understand Ben Affleck graciously agreed to take a huge pay cut, all the way down to about three million bucks, in order to be me. Poor fellow. Even adjusted for inflation, that’s a lot more than I made in my career. At my Superman peak, I received $2,500 an episode. And for most of the 104 they shot, I’d gotten much less. My Daily Planet newspaper colleagues, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, and editor Perry White, who frequently barked at this mild-mannered reporter, were also poorly compensated and contractually prevented from taking good roles that required more than a month of work.
Despite this, I was doing fairly well. I had a nice but not large house in Benedict Canyon and always drove fine cars. This didn’t weaken my finances since my girlfriend, Toni Mannix, helped with those things. In fact, Toni bought them. That’s why they were in her name. I didn’t mind. I wasn’t a kept man. I was Superman. Toni Mannix adored me, not her husband Eddie Mannix, the thug who’d become a crude and wealthy executive at MGM. Eddie Mannix knew his wife loved me. He didn’t care. Why would he? He had his own mistress.
Toni and I had a lot of fun. I’d always enjoyed myself. I could out-drink most men and not appear drunk and, if I had work, still show up on time in the morning and deliver dialogue I’d memorized in a single reading. Some old friends felt I’d fallen in with a bad crowd in the 1940’s in New York as well as before and after that in Los Angeles. What is bad? According to many, it’s anyone who drinks and goes to bed late. I got to bed early enough, and usually before making anyone mad. I liked people and they felt the same about me. If they’re still around, they’ll tell you: George Reeves was a helluva guy. And I’m just being honest when I tell you women wanted to spend time with me. I accommodated as many as I could. That angered the lady I’d met when we were part of the Pasadena Playhouse repertory and married in 1940, and divorced a few years later, and it often hurt Toni. I hadn’t wanted that. I was simply getting what I needed. Toni was eight years older, and when the final Superman episode ran in 1958, she was 52.
During a business trip to New York I met a beauty named Lenore Lemmon. She was nine years younger and we fell fast in love. Some friends said be careful, she’s a heavy drinker and already had two husbands and wrung out lots of other guys. That won’t happen to me, I promised. Lenore is special. I told Toni right away. She had to understand; instead she became hysterical. I tried to comfort her but couldn’t, and she began calling my house – all right, my residence and her house – a dozen times or more every day, screaming or pleading or hanging up, often all three. She was going to have to accept the marriage date had been set: June 19, 1959, four days hence.
I’d been in a wreck a week or two earlier and banged my head. The doctor said I had a concussion and gave me strong medication. In “Hollywoodland” they say someone emptied the brake fluid from my car. Some articles claim I hit an oil slick. I don’t know about brakes or oil but can tell you there was a bruise on my forehead and another on my brain because I was driving drunk again. The kids of America didn’t know Superman smoked and drank. I’d given up cigarettes but didn’t want to live without booze. My head hurt like hell. The pills really knocked me down but didn’t do anything about the pain. I needed plenty of alcohol for that on the evening of June 15. Lenore was already drunk and as usual getting aggressive. She’d once demanded I stop a workout with my judo instructor so I could talk to her and threatened to break her expensive antique lamp from me unless I complied. I didn’t, and she flung the lamp on the floor. Tonight, she sniped I was getting old and heavy and my hair was thinning. The movie says Toni told me that. She didn’t. That was Lenore. Shut up, I said. Maybe we shouldn’t get married after all.
I didn’t need her. I was in demand. They were soon going to film some more Superman episodes and broadcast them in 1960. I dreaded putting on the cape and muscle-padded costume again but knew I’d have to. When I looked at glistening photos of myself from the 1940’s or my early Superman days, I cringed. Now everyone would laugh even more at a sagging hero, and soon I’d be altogether unemployable. I downed another drink then more tranquilizers. Lenore and I had one invited guest, and two others came without notice after midnight on June 16. I scolded them for rudeness then drank another strong one before telling loud Lenore to quit griping then said I was going to bed. My face felt big as a ham and my head was exploding.
In my bedroom I reached for the drawer as Lenore rushed in. She later said she’d been downstairs with the guests, who evidently agreed, but had earlier in the day accidentally fired bullet holes in the floor while playing around. That seems strange, and so does an out-of-place rug thrown over the holes. Get out, I told her, and opened the drawer. I don’t remember anything else. When your blood alcohol content is .27 – about like guys on skid row – and you’re twice that low because of pills, you don’t care some people will soon and forever insist there were no powder burns on my hand and the shot was fired more than a foot from my head. I’m not sure I believe that, but the immediate investigation should have been more thorough. That’s why all you get are allegations about Lenore, and Toni and Eddie Mannix, and others. My mother hired private detectives. They couldn’t prove anything in three years before I was cremated, and even today people don’t understand. I felt bad enough to do it.