Celebrating a ‘super’ man

Visitors to Woolstock’s George Reeves Day learned that the actor not only portrayed Superman, he was a super man.

The fifth event celebrating Woolstock’s native son paid homage to Reeves’ life’s work on the screen and behind the scenes by the Friends of the George Reeves Memorial.

Guests browsed through displays of Reeves’ accomplishments while event organizer Veronica Guyader gave a presentation on the actor’s life inbetween showings of his movies and television programs.

Born in a two-room house on the northwest side of Woolstock on January 5, 1914, George Keefer Brewer was the only son of Don and Helen Brewer and the great, great grandson of Wilson Brewer, founder of Webster City.

Within three years, the marriage was over and Helen took George to California where she later remarried.

George’s mother was a domineering woman and the boy grew up believing his stepfather, Frank Bessolo, was his real father. When his parents divorced, his mother told the boy that Bessolo had committed suicide in order to insure that George would not try to contact him later.

While growing up George was both athletic – becoming a Golden Gloves boxer – and an aspiring thespian, said Guyader.

Fearing her son would ruin his good looks by boxing, Helen hired two thugs to rough up the young man in order to drive home her point, explained Guyader.

It was at the Pasadena Playhouse where a casting agent discovered George and cast him as the red-headed twin Stuart Tarleton in the opening scene of the epic film “Gone With the Wind”.

But before he could make his film debut, the studio asked George to do two things – dye his hair red and change his surname from Bessolo, explained Guyader.

The studio paid George $108.34 to dye his hair and George’s monumental film debut was also the debut of his new last name – Reeves.

Reeves went on to play supporting roles with Warner Brothers Studio in over 50 films including “From Here to Eternity”, “So Proudly We Hail” and “Winged Victory”.

“He was in ‘From Here to Eternity’ and I saw several scenes filmed scenes on the beach,” said Pollyann Bjornson, who witnessed the making of the film while living in Hawaii. “He played opposite some pretty well known actors”.

But the role that earned him his most devoted audience was that of the Man of Steel in the television series “The Adventures of Superman” from 1951 – 1958, said Guyader.

“Children loved Superman and he loved being Superman for the kids,” said Guyader. “He had a passion to care for children”.

“He brought me many thrills on a Saturday afternoon in Webster City (at the theatre),” confessed Glenn Lee at the Woolstock event.

The role was both a blessing and curse to the man, said Guyader. While it afforded him the ability to serve as a role model for children and the funding to perform humanitarian works throughout the country, it typecast him and limited his acting career.

So powerful was Reeves’ portrayal of Superman, Warner Brothers Studio and Kellogg’s cereal, the sponsor of “The Adventures of Superman”, didn’t want him to take any roles that would reflect badly on the hero’s image, explained Guyader.

Off-screen, Reeves had a tragic, personal life. Divorced from his first wife, he dated a married woman and also a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer, without finding happiness.

“But his humanitarian deeds were his real legacy,” said Guyader. “He was known by fellow cast members as ‘Honest George – the people’s friend’ and later Col. Reeves”.

Reeves became an ambassador for the City of Hope Cancer Research Hospital and the national chairman for the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation. Speaking fluent Spanish, he often did volunteer work the Hispanic communities of Los Angeles, said Guyader.

“There was an innate goodness in the man,” said Guyader. “He was so much more than just Superman”.

It is in that spirit that the Friends of the George Reeves Memorial raise funds to donate back to the community in his honor.

While the Woolstock home where he was born was torn down in 2011, Reeves’ generous spirit lives on in his fans locally and throughout the country, said Guyader.

Over the years, the group has worked on improvements at the Woolstock City Park, purchased two HERO theatre seats, contributed to the Wilson Brewer Park Complex, the Kendall Young Library and the Heartland Museum, she said.

“It was George’s true legacy to give back to the community,” said Guyader. “It is a disservice to typecast him as Superman because he was so much more”.