Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Book Review: Hollywood Kryptonite by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger

This compelling book was the inspiration for Hollywoodland, a film that examines the mystery of the death of George Reeves, and uncovers a plot more sinister than any of Lex Luthor’s comic book scenarios. Here my take on the sad occurrences that led up to that fateful night.

George (Superman) Reeves was flying high in 1955. THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN was a smash hit, and the phrase, “Up, up, and away!”, delighted youngsters and red-blooded American women alike. One of them especially was the wife of M-G-M vice president Eddie Mannix, the man with organized crime connections whom the studio moguls used to crack the skulls of union organizers. Toni Mannix lavished her affections, as well as a house, car, and an extravagant lifestyle, on the handsome young leading-man in blue tights. (Hey, krypTONIte, George should have stayed clear of her.) She gave him the key to Hollywood’s high society, and he gave her a strong arm to escort her.

Many reporters and stars wondered about the wisdom of blatantly having an affair with the wife of M-G-M’s most feared and dangerous executive, but like his television counterpart, George feared nothing. Well almost nothing.

It was in a department store during a promotional appearance for his television show that George, dressed in full superhero regalia, did get a taste of fear. Scores of the 16,000 children in attendance decided to test Superman’s invulnerability. George fought back the tears caused by a barrage of kicks to his shins by his giggling fans. Maybe this was Karmic “payback” for all of those children who maimed and killed themselves imitating their hero by trying to fly out of high windows? But things got much worse for George when a young boy produced his father’s “World War II” memento, a loaded .30-caliber German Luger, and pointed it directly at the big red “S” on Superman’s chest. The boy wanted to have a slug than had been flattened from Superman’s dense skin as a souvenir of their meeting. Before the tike could squeeze the trigger, George convinced the lad that someone could get hurt when the bullet bounced off him then grabbed the pistol away from the youth. The boy took home a signed 8x10 glossy, and George kept the gun.

Then in 1957, just like his television counterpart, George’s world exploded. THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN was canceled. He thought this could be the opportunity to take other film roles. Unfortunately, nobody was offering them to him.

June 16, 1959, in the early morning hours, a drunk, naked, depressed Superman sat at the foot of his bed. His affair with Toni (and her money) had soured. His answering machine tape was filled with her frequent harassing calls, in which she threatened to expose his bisexual tendencies. (Did Superman like men? It would explain the red go-go boots.) But Toni was definitely not “all talk and no action.” Six months prior, she kidnapped his pet schnauzer from his parked car and killed it. Maybe it was her, using Eddie’s influence, that kept George from working in the film business.

Downstairs, the new love-of-his-life, Leonore Lemon, entertained some of the local ginhounds. There was always free booze at George’s house and the party raged on. George needed his sleep. Tomorrow he would pick up a small piece of change in a two-round exhibition boxing match with prize-fighter Archie Moore. Moore would badly bruise him just like the kids did at those Superman personal appearance tours so many years ago. On the dresser was a .30-caliber Luger. His mind raced faster than a locomotive.

Leonore Lemon amused her inebriated guests by making the comment, “He [George] is getting the gun now, and he is going to shoot himself.” Chugging drinks and laughter was their only response. The booze stopped flowing when a shot was heard from the bedroom. Was Leonore physic?

The next morning the most ironic thing happened. A message was left on George’s answering machine offering him the chance to produce, direct, and star in a movie about witchcraft. It would have been the only professional work for George since his show was canceled, and the chance to restore his self-esteem.

Incidentally, every SUPERMAN comic book reader knows that the only thing besides kryptonite that can kill Superman is magic. If George would have waited 24 hours before squeezing the trigger, magic (or in this case, witchcraft) would have saved him.

No comments: