Monday, June 22, 2009

TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE AMERICAN WAY !

June 16, 2009 was the 50th anniversary of George Reeves' death. For the uninitiated, Reeves was a movie and television actor...who whether he liked it or not, was typecast...or in his eyes, forever branded, as perhaps the greatest icon in TV history...SUPERMAN.

Unfortunately, at the height of his popularity, Reeves shot himself in the head with a Luger. The police were satisfied with their findings and closed the case as a suicide. Nevertheless there was enough circumstantial evidence to place a lingering doubt that it might have been murder. Despite several such theories...the suicide verdict has never been seriously challenged.

The 2006 movie, "HOLLYWOODLAND," starring Ben Affleck dealt with the "Superman" show's production and Reeves' death. A catchphrase from it was; living in Hollywood can make you famous...dying in Hollywood can make you a legend. The film examines the murder controversy and identifies two separate scenarios, and two different suspects, (his wife's ex-husband or his new girlfriend). In the end, even the movie leans towards suicide.

George Reeves was born George Keefer Brewer in Woolstock Iowa on January 5, 1914. His early film career was highlighted by a small role as one of Scarlet O'Hara's suitors in 1939's, "GONE WITH THE WIND."

Reeves continued getting positive notices but his career was put on hold when he entered the service in World War II. During his stint, Reeves starred in many military training films. After the war, he was earmarked as "leading man" material but his army connections into Hollywood died suddenly.

In civilian life, Reeves was able to scratch-out a living in acting but he aspired for greatness. Out of frustration, he moved to New York City and began a relatively successful career on Broadway. In 1951, DC Comics was adapting one of its characters, Superman, for a TV series.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0B1ufyXOds
CLICK ON THIS LINK FOR THE SHOW'S FAMOUS OPENING CREDITS SEQUENCE

In the early 50's, television was in its infancy. Many actors, unable to project TV's eventual impact, refused the Superman role because of television's perceived limitations, (few people had TVs). When the role was offered to Reeves, he was skeptical but took the chance. He achieved great notoriety but the contract he signed wasn't lucrative. Even worse, several clauses restricted him from working simultaneously on other projects.

The low wage and inability to get much outside work gradually embittered Reeves during the show's 104 episode run, (September 19, 1952 through April 28, 1958). Still, his mother, close friends and co-workers were shocked by his suicide.
THE NEW YORK POST HEADLINE...BY TODAY'S STANDARDS THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN THE JUICIEST TABLOID STORY OF ALL TIME.

We "baby-boomers" were over-saturated by TV.  I liked so many other shows but I watched the same Superman episodes ad nauseam. I can still recall the disappointed tone in my dad's voice as he said to me, "I bet you've seen that crap (Superman) a million times."  I hate to admit it but he was right...but directly he (most parents) created the problem. 

Although I was an outdoor kid, the TV was an inexpensive baby-sitter. Kids from my generation were conditoned to stay out of their parent's hair (trouble), by watching television. So while the indoor portion of my mis-spent youth may have been better served, reading, studying or learning an instrument...I was glued to re-runs of cowboy adventures, puppet show high-jinx and cartoon frolics.
AMAZINGLY, AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, I REMEMBER, WORD FOR WORD, THE NARRATION DURING THE OPENING CREDITS, (see it by clicking on the link near the top of the page). TO ME, EVEN AFTER COUNTLESS VIEWINGS, THEY WERE (AND STILL ARE), QUITE EXCITING.

Without delving deeply into what I watched...I would have to say, "THE LONE RANGER," "LITTLE RASCALS," "THE THREE STOOGES" and "BEANIE AND CECIL" were my favorite TV shows. But dad was right about was Superman, I watched it a gazillion times.  Oddly, I still want to see them the show and rue the fact that I haven't been able to share that joy with my son Andrew. Because as chintzy as their plots and production qualities were, they were fun...over and over again. You'd think that whatever cable station has the rights would show them all the time or at least have observed the 50th anniversary by airing, "THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN."
THE OBVIOUSLY LOW PRODUCTION STANDARDS WERE SECONDARY...THE SHOW GENERATED IMAGINATION AND MADE KIDS LIKE ME THINK THAT ANYTHING WAS POSSIBLE.

Set in a big city, (Metropolis), the TV show's writers may have missed their mark by not including Superman's famous adversaries from the comic book series like; Lex Luther, Brainiac and Mr. Mxyzptlk. However the TV show did have a similar villain, a miniature Martian named Mr. Zero. On the other hand, the writers did get a lot of use out of the unearthly element Kyrptonite. As the story goes (the Superman character was created in 1938), Kryptonite was his Achilles Heel...any exposure to it was debilitating and could cause death !

THE ULTIMATE HOOLIGAN, MR. MXYZPTLK WAS A CHALLENGING NEMESIS WITH AN EQUALLY DIFFICULT NAME TO PRONOUNCE, (my friends and I pronounced it...MITZLE-PLICK).

The only natural substance that Superman was vulnerable to was Kryptonite.  This metal was native to his defunct home-planet, Krypton.  You may recall that his father (Jorel) flew baby Superman safely to Earth in a tiny one-passenger rocket ship before Krypton exploded.  However, remnants of this lethal element splattered throughout the universe and always seemed to find its way into the hands of Superman's enemies.

In the end, bad contracts and the pressure to succeed WAS George Reeves' Kryptonite.
STIPULATIONS IN REEVES' CONTRACT REDUCED HIM TO SHORT PUBLIC APPEARANCES, A RARE FILM ROLE AND GUEST STAR OPPORTUNITIES ON OTHER TV PROGRAMS LIKE, "THE LUCY SHOW."

Most kids at the time couldn't conceive of Reeves internal angst but the adult public soon understood.
THE GREATEST TRIBUTE TO REEVES, ALBEIT POSTHUMOUS, IS THAT KIDS STILL ADORE HIS CHARACTER AND ALWAYS WILL.

Lost was one of entertainment's greatest figures...along with the careers of his fellow actors who played; Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen Perry White and Professor Pepperwinkle.
MAYBE GEORGE REEVES WASN'T A POSITIVE ROLE-MODEL BUT SUPERMAN AND HIS EQUALLY FICTIONAL ALTER-EGO CLARK KENT WERE.

Also, don't believe the urban legend that George Reeves' suicide occurred after he went crazy. That nonsense suggested that he really thought he was the man-of-steel and that he jumped out of a skyscraper in the expectation that he could fly.

In life, George Reeves will be remembered as a kind and charitable gentleman who internalized his unhappiness. In death, he was the one guy who needed: TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE AMERICAN WAY...and didn't get it.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Love your blog. Superman was great but I liked the original batman better.

Jason said...

Word was that he killed himself with a Kryptonite bullet!