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The Life and Tragic Death of ‘Superman’ Star George Reeves — Plus the Actor in His Own Words

Actors and the roles they play oftentimes touch audiences of the big screen and the small, creating a connection that is so strong — so iconic — that it becomes difficult to separate the two and, for the actor involved, it becomes a battle against typecasting. Some actors push back against it (Sean Connery with James Bond), others go with the flow (Jonathan Frid with Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows) and still others resist but ultimately manage to parlay it in such a way that it furthers their career (Adam West of Batman and William Shatner with Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk).

And then there’s George Reeves.

For several generations, George Reeves is the definitive Superman, having played the character on the big screen in the 1951 film Superman and the Mole Men, and then on the small from 1952 to 1958 in the syndicated Adventures of Superman. So powerful was the connection with his fans that he felt trapped, stifled by the part, and lost in the sense that his career was over, while being unaware of the impact that he was having and would continue to have for years to come.

In a 1956 interview with the Akron Beacon Journal, George confirmed, “The only rub in playing Superman is that I have a tough time finding other roles. Most movie producers feel I’m too closely identified with Superman, so won’t use me.”

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“George never fully realized how loved he was,” offers Jim Nolt, webmaster of the long-running site devoted to both Reeves and the series, The Adventure Continues. “He wanted to be admired for his talent and never knew the recognition he would have received if he had been around just a little while longer.”

Gary Grossman, author of the definitive book on the show, Superman: Serial to Cereal, and a series of political thrillers under the umbrella title The Executive Series, agrees, commenting, “I believe, just as Adam West had been adored and found by new fans in life after Batman, especially on Family Guy where he was Mayor Adam West, George Reeves, had he lived into the ’70s and ’80s, would have been the go-to guest star on everything from Family Guy to The Love Boat and other types of shows. Jack Larson [Jimmy Olsen on Adventures of Superman] said that George told him, ‘If I only knew I had adult fans, I’d feel better. I’d be happy.’ But he didn’t have the opportunity to see all the adult fans grow up and recognize that people of all ages, even in the 1950s, were watching The Adventures of Superman.”

In the podcast above with biographer Jim Beaver (also available on iTunes), and in the article to follow, a number of people reflect on the life, career, tragic death and continuing legacy of George Reeves — including George himself. Please scroll down for more.

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