February 15, 2007
Last night I rented Hollywoodland, a dark film that flickers with the tarnished glamor of old Hollywood and its mysteries. Weaving together fact and fiction it deals with the death of George Reeves, the hapless wannabe star who got stuck in the role of Superman in early television and died young, purported to be a suicide.
Anyone born in America after 1938 was influenced by the Superman character as a child. I was certain that flying was possible, and remember my own scientific experiments in jumping off the roof to prove it in the backyard of our house on Semmes Avenue in Mobile. (Okay, I didn't actually jump off the roof. I just thought that would get your attention.) I had read Superman Comics and the character was as real to me as he was to the kids who saw him later portrayed on television.
I was old enough to enjoy the tv series as a lark -- Reeves' stolid Man of Steel seemed so incongruous with his almost-pretty face -- but I do know how much he and the character meant to those coonskin-cap wearing hula hooping kids a little younger than I. You could not help but be troubled by the idea of the actor taking his own life, and later rumors circulated that the story had much more in it than that.
Hollywoodland tells one such story, actually paralleling Reeves' life with that of a shallow, opportunistic sleaze of a Hollywood Private Eye looking for a way to make a buck, and finding a story to track. The movie captures the end of the glamor era in Hollywood with first rate performances by Ben Affleck as Reeves, Diane Lane as an aging beauty, and Adrien Brody as the P.I.
Never being a Ben Affleck fan, I admit he won me over with this one. He looks and acts a great deal like Reeves, and here we see him as charming, ambitious and trapped. Diane Lane, always winning, is made up to look older but not old; she carries off that awkward age of a woman in some distress about losing her youthful appeal.
The real story of George Reeves is just as fascinating as the movie version, and I just linked you to it, so I recommend you click on those blue letters and then return here. (I just said that because I'm always linking on the blog and nobody ever seems to go there.)
I also suggest you rent the movie and buy some popcorn or mix up some Manhattans -- the drink of choice in the showbiz 1950's.
I have one more thing to say about me and Superman. My second husband was an actor in summer stock with a youngster named Christopher Reeve. Chris was the hotshot that season, and my husband Jim was, I guess, kind of a George Reeves who was never going to make it in spite of good looks and a certain amount of talent. Chris was impatient to get going on his career, and moved on to New York to work in commercials and on Search for Tomorrow before we saw his name on the marquee reading, "Christopher Reeve as Superman."
When you're on the fringes of show business, you learn to expect the unexpected, and, while it was almost always assured that Chris Reeve was going to be a star, it could not have been known how he would transcend the role of Superman and become a super man in his own right.