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From the Archives: George Reeves, Superman of TV, Kills Himself in His Home

From the Archives: George Reeves, Superman of TV, Kills Himself in His Home
George Reeve (File photo)

Actor George Reeves, 45, known to children the world over as television's Superman, killed himself with a bullet through the head early yesterday in his Benedict Canyon home, police reported.

Although the motive was not completely clear, police said Reeves was discouraged over the slump in his acting career since he finished filming the Superman series, which is still running in many cities.

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Element of Mystery

An element of mystery was injected by his fiancee, Miss Lenore Lemmon, 35, an actress from New York, who said they were to be married Friday in Tijuana. Seconds before the fatal shot was heard, Miss Lemmon inexplicably predicted to visitors that Reeves was going to kill himself.

The husky actor, a wrestling, judo and boxing enthusiast, was scheduled for an exhibition bout with Archie Moore, the light heavyweight champion, in San Diego today, police said.

Miss Lemmon and Robert Condon, 45, a New York writer, were guests of Reeves at his home, 1579 Benedict Canyon Dr. Condon was writing a story about Moore, officers said, and was planning to do one on Reeves.

Two Visitors Arrive

The actor and Condon had retired to their rooms and Miss Lemmon was downstairs when, about 1 a.m., two visitors came calling. They were William Bliss, 45, of 638 Robertson Ave., Beverly Hills, and Mrs. Carol Van Ronkel, 33, of 2300 Benedict Canyon Dr.

Reeves came downstairs, irate at being disturbed by the late callers and declaring that he was "in no mood for a party," the others told police. He threatened to "throw Bliss out," but eventually both apologized and Reeves returned to his room.

"He's going upstairs to shoot himself," Miss Lemmon was quoted as saying.

A noise was heard in Reeves' room and Miss Lemmon added, "See, he's opening the drawer to get the gun." Then a shot rang out and Miss Lemmon exclaimed, "See there, I told you; he's shot himself."

Body Sprawled on Bed

Bliss rushed to the room and found Reeves' nude body sprawled on the bed, a bullet hole through his head. A 9-mm German Luger was on the floor between his feet. Bliss called police.

Detectives said Reeves purchased the gun several days ago and kept it in a drawer in his bedroom.

Miss Lemmon told police she was "only kidding" when she made the remarks about Reeves' plans to kill himself.

Two months ago, the actor suffered a concussion and a deep 5-in. gash in his forehead when his sports car skidded into an embankment near his home. He was in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital several days.

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Met Six Months Ago

In New York, Miss Lemmon's mother, Mrs. Arthur K. Lemmon, said her daughter met Reeves there about six months ago. She said the actor was "in beautiful spirits" when she saw him here about two weeks ago.

Miss Lemmon, well know in New York cafe society circles, has not worked as an actress for a numbers of years, her mother said. She was formerly married to Vanderbilt heir J. Vanderbilt Webb and Hamish Menzies of Scotland.

Reeves, whose real name was George Keefer Brewer, was born in Woolstock, Ia., and grew up in Pasadena. He trained for an acting career at the Pasadena Community Playhouse.

Fred Crane, left, Vivien Leigh and George Reeves in "Gone With the Wind"
Fred Crane, left, Vivien Leigh and George Reeves in "Gone With the Wind" (MGM)

Marriage Fails

There he met Eleanora Needles, a stage player, and a romance blossomed. They were wed in 1940, but the marriage ended in divorce.

Reeves' motion picture credits included many Hopalong Cassidy films, "Gone With the Wind," "Winged Victory," "So Proudly We Hail," " 'Til We Meet Again" and "From Here to Eternity."

Nine years ago he was picked from scores of actors for the television Superman role. His 6-ft. 2-in. muscular frame, straightforward good looks and prowess in judo and wrestling (he was Pacific Coast light-heavyweight champion while at Pasadena City College) helped.

It was estimated that the series drew an audience of 35 million each year, 48% of them adults. It became one of the top programs in Japan and Reeves received a letter from the Emperor telling how much he enjoyed the series.

The actor's mother, Mrs. Helen Bessolo, was notified yesterday in Galesburg, Ill., and was reported en route here to take charge of arrangements.

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