Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mysterious Death of Superman

Humble Beginnings

Woolstock, Iowa map
Woolstock, Iowa map

The story of George Reeves begins on Jan. 5, 1914, in the small town of Woolstock, Iowa, where he was born George Keefer Brewer. Located an hour's drive due north of the state capital of Des Moines, Woolstock is today a farming village of slightly more than 200 people in a sparsely populated rural farming region.

Reeves' mother, Helen Lescher Brewer, gave birth to him less than nine months after her wedding to Don C. Brewer. In those days there was a stigma against premarital sex, so his birth date was originally given as April 5.

Helen Lescher Bessolo
Helen Lescher Bessolo

His mother lied to him about his birth date, and it was not until adulthood that he learned the truth. She also reportedly lied to him after she divorced Brewer, telling George his father committed suicide. She later married Frank Joseph Bessolo and, out of respect for his stepfather, who legally adopted him in 1927, George took on his name. He retained it until 1939, when he changed it to the more Hollywood-sounding George Reeves.

While George was a young adult, his mother divorced Bessolo and relocated to Pasadena, California. He became an amateur boxer but reportedly gave it up because of Helen's concerns for his well-being. Later, he attended Pasadena Junior College, where he became interested in acting. He interned in a number of live stage productions at Pasadena Playhouse, where many great actors performed early in their careers. It was there that he met actress Ellanora Needles, whom he married in September 1940. The marriage lasted 10 years and they had no children.

And then one day he was "discovered."

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