Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The 'Curse' of Superman

Fifty years ago today, actor George Reeves died of a gunshot wound to his head.

Reeves was known for his portrayal of Superman in a popular TV series, one of TV's early hits in the 1950s, but the show went off the air in 1958 and Reeves struggled to find work, apparently reaching the conclusion that he had been typecast.

By June 1959, things seemed to be looking up for Reeves. The TV series was poised for a renewal in 1960, and Reeves was about to marry. But, in the early morning hours of June 16, 1959, after allegedly participating in an evening of dining and drinking with friends, Reeves was killed by a single gunshot to his head. His naked body was found sprawled on his bed.

In the decades that have passed since then, it has been debated whether Reeves killed himself or was killed by someone else. The issue has never been satisfactorily resolved, but it's clear from the evidence from the scene that he did not, as the urban legend suggested, die because he leaped off a building to see if he really could fly.

Nor does it seem likely that there is a "curse" on the role of Superman — an idea that took root, I believe, when the actor who played Superman in four movies in the 1970s and 1980s, Christopher Reeve, was paralyzed in an equestrian accident in 1995 and then died of cardiac arrest in 2004 at the age of 52.

I guess the rumors of such a curse stemmed, in part, from the similarity of the actors' surnames — but that, actually, is misleading.

George Reeves' birth name was George Keefer Brewer. His parents separated not long after his birth; his mother later married a man named Frank Bessolo, who adopted George. Apparently, he took Reeves as his professional name, although I have no idea why, and the burial marker in the mausoleum that houses his remains reads "George Bessolo Reeves."

In the case of Christopher Reeve, the surname is apparently his birth name.

Even so, it might be wise for any actors with the surname of "Reeves" or "Reeve" who are approached to star in a remake of "Superman," whether for television or the big screen, to think long and hard before accepting such an offer.