The Death of Superman: Who Killed George Reeves?
He was the face of Superman. He was the first to fall to the "typecasting curse" of Hollywood. He was tortured, and he was murdered, yet we will never know who killed George Reeves.
Underneath the beautiful veneer of pristine people was a world where sordid affairs, business intrigue, and mafia connections were alive and well. Ah, old world Hollywood—what a place!
It was a place where men were cowboys, women were strikingly pretty, and where magic came alive on screen. The role models were real, and reputations always seemed squeaky clean. Tinseltown was the place to be if you wanted to be loved and admired by all.
Even today, Hollywood still is known for being emotionally devastating for those who work in the industry. So many things can ruin your life when you're an actor. You could become the head of a scandal. You could become isolated because of your own success. You could become irrelevant.
Or worse, you could become typecasted.
As Daniel Radcliffe, Robert Downey Junior, and others who played heroic roles can tell you, being a superhero or a major character in a series can easily spell doom for your career. You could almost say it's "death by success."
George Reeves was one of the very first actors to find himself typecasted as a superhero, and while he loved the effect being Superman had on kids, he hated what it did to his career. It's safe to say that Reeves was a very complex man, and that his inner turmoil may have caused his demise.
Few peoples' lives illustrated the strange dichotomy of Hollywood's clean and filthy sides like the life of George Reeves. Children everywhere looked up to him as an idol, a hero that was larger than life. Behind the scenes, he led a pretty sordid life and rubbed elbows with some rather sketchy characters.
When he was discovered dead with a gunshot to the head, Reeves' death was ruled a suicide. But, it's pretty clearly a homicide. So, who killed George Reeves?
A Hollywood Dream Come True
Born and raised in Iowa, George Reeves traveled to Tinseltown and changed his names in order to find success. It was a gamble that paid off quickly. By the late 1930s, Reeves had found success playing bit parts thanks to his charm and good looks.
His breakout role as Stuart Tarleton in Gone with the Wind got him the foot in the door he needed to become a Hollywood legend. By the 1940s, he quickly took on a sign-up with Warner Brothers and became a star on multiple B-side movies.
During this time, he married and divorced a fellow struggling actress by the name of Ellanora Needles. Though divorce was still taboo, he was known as a wholesome, quiet, and honest man.
After his two-year draft in World War II, Reeves returned to acting. He played roles alongside people like James Cagney, as well as future president Ronald Reagan. Then, one role changed his life forever.
Reeves was the type of actor who really wanted to see himself as a dramatist—but that was not in the stars for him. By 1951, he was scouted to play Superman in a B-picture. Not too long after, he became the titular character in the perennially popular The Adventures of Superman.
It was a smash hit role for him. He became a hero to millions of children, and word has it that he liked that feeling. When in the presence of children, Reeves made an effort to avoid smoking. Eventually, he quit, citing that he needed to be a better role model for the kids who loved him.
The Typecasted Actor
By the mid-50s, George Reeves was inextricably linked with the role of Superman. He starred in US Treasury films as Superman, did commercials as Superman, and even was booked for major public appearances as him.
It began to be very difficult to get other gigs. Reeves himself was not pleased about being typecast in this manner. Like many actors who become typecast, Reeves was pretty bitter about it—and was known for calling the leotard he wore a "monkey suit."
Jack Larson, a co-star of Reeves, was quick to note that Reeves straight up detested his role as the Man of Steel. In fact, he had this to say about Reeves' attitude towards Superman:
"Anyone who thinks another season of Superman wouldn't depress George didn't know George."
Most who lived in Hollywood could tell that the typecasting treatment caused Reeves great distress. Reeves would often pair up with legendary studio manager Eddie Mannix to try to get new roles with little success. Here is where the problems began to show...
The Affair That Stunned Hollywood
Though he was known for keeping his personal life as private as possible, there were some things about Reeves' life that still managed to eke out to the rumor mill.
It was an open secret in Hollywood that George had spent most of the 1950s having a deeply romantic affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of Eddie Mannix. The affair lasted for years.
This alone would be enough to cause concern for one's career today, but in the old world of Tinseltown, it would be enough to cause one to fear for their life. Eddie Mannix wasn't just a studio manager, you see. He was what they called a "fixer."
Fixers were the people that Hollywood bigwigs would go to in order to brush serious scandals under the carpet, get abortions, or just get people "dealt with." And, Eddie wasn't just a fixer—he was someone who was heavily associated with the mafia and was known to hire crooked cops to cover up serious crimes.
From what was said, Eddie both knew and approved of their relationship and even went on double dates with him, his own mistresses in tow. So, maybe the Man of Steel was able to dodge at least one or two (literal) bullets back in his day.
The relationship that George and Toni had was notoriously passionate and loving. It also was a relationship that had unusual "sugar mama" tendencies due to Toni's hobby of pampering George with presents. At one point, Toni even bought George a house as a gift!
The Affair's Breakup and Lenore Lemmon
As the years passed, Reeves' mental state began to decline. He was suffering from a mid-life crisis that was noticeable and his girlfriend Toni was beginning to show her age. Life was not the way Reeves wanted it to be.
Part of his depression dealt with his single status. George Reeves was getting close to his 40s and missed the married life he had in his 20s. He wanted a wife, and Toni was not about to leave Eddie for him.
Eventually, Reeves grew tired of dating Toni and realized that things had to come to a close. So, he broke up with her. He needed something more.
Not too long after, Reeves got engaged to a Fort Lee-based socialite by the name of Lenore Lemmon. Lemmon was around 20 years younger than Toni and moved into the house Toni bought for George, which made it all the more devastating to his ex.
The marriage date was set for June 19, 1959.
Toni Mannix Loses It
Saying that Toni was devastated by the breakup may be an understatement.
For Toni, this was a nightmare come true. Her greatest fear in life was that George Reeves would eventually leave her because of the fact that she was married and nine years older than him. And here it was, happening before her very eyes.
Upon hearing that George was leaving her, Toni lost her ability to function like a normal human being. She cried incessantly, remained listless through the house, and drank her pain away.
At one point, Reeves would get up to 20 phone calls per day—all allegedly from a hysterically sobbing Toni. As one can imagine, Eddie didn't take too kindly to seeing his wife suffer.
Things Get Scary
Though Eddie and Toni cheated on each other, they really did care about one another. Needless to say, Eddie was absolutely furious about the breakup and about the effect it had on his wife. Rumors began to swirl that he used his mafia ties to get revenge.
The first incident involved the disappearance of George's beloved dog, Sam. It was later revealed that Toni had taken the dog. Whether she killed Sam, though, remains unknown.
George soon found himself getting threatening phone calls, and ended up in three highly suspicious car accidents. Each accident showed signs of someone tampering with his car or choreographed collisions, and each time, it got a little more dangerous.
Many believe it was a hitman who killed George Reeves, and that the Mannixes were the ones who hired him to do it. Considering the evidence, it wouldn't be shocking.
But What About Lenore?
But, there may be more to the picture than meets the eye. The Mannixes weren't the only mob-linked people in George's love life. Lemmon herself was known for being associated with the mafia, being a fireball of a person, and also being very nasty after a couple of drinks.
There's good reason to believe that Lenore may have had a deadly streak as well. Jack Larson, Reeve's Superman co-star, had the following to say about Lenore Lemmon's reputation:
"She was well-known to be a partygirl, and she was involved with Hoffa and all of that. Look what happened to Hoffa."
A Tornado of a Relationship
Unlike the relationship he had with Toni Mannix, the relationship between George Reeves and Lenore was tumultuous at best. Many believed that Lenore was only with him for the money and wild parties that he attended.
The two were known for having drunken arguments over the smallest of things. At parties, they often would end up being "that couple" that would have massive arguments while being completely trashed. They definitely did not follow the rules for a happy relationship.
Many of Reeves' friends no longer wanted to speak to him once he began to date Lenore, and not just because of the humiliation that he put Toni through, either.
Lemon was known for being a golddigger and being a particularly violent drunk that regularly got kicked out of bars and nightclubs. One friend explained it this way:
"Lenore isn't the kind of person you fall in love with. She's the kind of person who wants to run your life."
At one point, tabloids claimed that their relationship was over. However, they eventually got back together and the wedding date remained ready to go.
Three days prior to the wedding date, George and Lenore decided to throw a party at their home. Inside the home were writer Robert Condon, his neighbor, Carol Van Ronkel, and a neighbor, William Bliss.
Later on, Lenore mentioned that two other people were also invited: Gwen Dailey and Polly Adler. The two other guests came shortly after, and everyone started to mingle.
Drinks were had, and an argument ensued. Reeves, sick of the party, went upstairs to sleep. A pop was then heard, followed by another and yet another. He was found dead of a bullet hole to the head, with the gun between his legs.
The official police story goes that all the guests were downstairs when Reeves took his own life, but things don't quite add up. Lenore herself admitted the story was "bullshit."
William Bliss noted that the official story that police took wasn't correct. Lenore was allegedly upstairs when the gunfire happened, and then rushed downstairs. Bliss then claimed Lenore said the following:
"Tell them I was down here! Tell them I was down here!"Some time around the middle of the night of June 16th, a mutual friend got a frantic and hysterical call from Toni, claiming that Reeves had been killed. How did Toni know, when she wasn't present in the house?
The Grisly Aftermath
Despite the fact that her husband shot himself, Lenore didn't immediately call the police. Rather, she found that Carol (who was married) was naked and passed out next to Robert Condon. She told Gwen to get Carol out of the house so that her marriage could remain intact.
Not too soon after, police were called to the George Reeves' house.
Police arrived around 2 AM and started taking notes. Crime tape surrounded the home shortly after. Gwen and Lenore cut through the tape to grab $5,000 in travelers' checks as well as Lenore's pet cat. Why she needed the money was never understood.
The police did question guests, but that was about it. Their behavior was very lackadaisical, to the point that people began to question their work. No photos were taken of the body, nor were any prints found, nor was the room even remotely searched.
At one point, police even allowed Lemmon to wash the bloody sheets without even trying to get data from them. Reeves was embalmed before the autopsy even was finished. These errors were among the worst investigation mistakes in murder cases ever made.
Even with the bad police work, nothing quite made sense. Three bullet holes were found, but no burn marks were found on the hands or face. The death was ruled a suicide, and Lenore attempted to lay a claim on his assets but was blocked.
Was it Eddie, Toni, or Lenore?
It is highly unlikely that George Reeves was able to shoot himself three times, so it's clear someone may have played a role in his death. Reeves himself had suspected that Toni may have been behind the "warnings" and the phone calls that threatened him.
When police investigated Toni for the phone calls, it was revealed that she, too, was getting strange calls at home. Could this have been Lenore's way of telling Toni to back off? Or, could it have been a rival of Eddie Mannix trying to strike fear into the mobster's heart?
Why did it take Lenore so long to call cops? Why was Eddie so silent during this time? Many people believe that it was one of his lovers—or Eddie Mannix himself—who killed George Reeves.
Rumor has it that Toni Mannix confessed to her priest that she and Eddie pulled strings to have Reeves killed, but no evidence has come forth for that to be certain. Mannix was suffering from Alzheimer's at the time of her confession, so what she said could have been pure fantasy.
We may never know who did it, or what Reeves saw right before he was killed, leaving this case as one of the most mysterious unsolved Hollywood murders to date.