Annotations for “The Last Adventure” 8 pages in Cinema Purgatorio #16
Writer: Alan Moore, Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Note: Some of this is obvious, but you never know who’s reading and what their exposure is. If there’s anything we missed or got wrong, let us know in comments.
General: The film within a film is Moore and O’Neill re-telling the story of actor George Reeves emphasizing parallels between his life that of Superman, the character he portrayed. In an unpublished interview, Moore mentioned that one of his sources for this issue was the 1999 book Speeding Bullet: The Life and Bizarre Death of George Reeves by Jan Alan Henderson.
George Reeves was a popular enough figure that many people have researched his life obsessively. This has generated more in the way of contradictions than of clear “fact”. While we note many places where the version Moore presents differs from other accounts, these are only a small sampling of the possibilities. Given all the contradictions, one cannot confidently call these “errors”. The quantity of conflicting stories and myths make this a topic that could fill another From Hell, not just six pages!
- The cover features actor George Reeves best known for playing Superman in the 1950s TV series. The man pictured is Reeves; the glasses seem to indicate he is character as Clark Kent.
- The overall image is similar to the oft-repeated scene of Clark Kent entering a closet to change into Superman.
- The red cape with the five-sided shape cut out refers to Superman’s cape. For discussion of the missing emblem, see the notes to P3p7.
- “Toni” is Reeves’ longtime lover Toni Mannix, who was married to MGM “fixer” Eddie Mannix. Some have asserted that she killed Reeves; her photo her is positioned almost as if she holds the gun. The glass appears to be cracked, referring to how Reeves relationship with Toni had souring towards the end of Reeves life.
- The Luger gun (pointed at Reeves’ head) is the one that Reeves was killed with. Police determined the death to be a suicide, though other potential killers have been theorized.
- “From Here to Eternity” references Reeves’ minor role in that 1953 movie.
- “Gone With the Wind” references Reeves’ minor role in that 1939 movie.
- The helmet and chain-mail are from the serial The Adventures of Sir Galahad, in which Reeves starred as Galahad.
- In Reeves left hand and below are his zippered Superman boots.
- “This is your life,” perhaps coincidentally, was the name of a popular early documentary TV show.
- “Gemma Watson” doesn’t seem to be a specific reference. (Unless it’s a disguised Emma Watson, but that seems unlikely.)
- “Mr. Ed Goes to Washington” is a mash-up of the 1960s talking-horse TV sitcom show Mister Ed and the 1939 comedic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
- The Bugsy Siegel couch was first seen in CP#6 P7,p2, then in issues #11, #13, #14, and several times in this issue. Note that both here and at P8,p3, while sleeping patrons are piled around the couch, no one is actually sleeping on it.
- “Abbot & Costello” were a comedy team who appeared on radio and in many movies. Several films feature them meeting monsters, including Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man.
- Bud Abbot and Lou Costello’s younger selves are shown on the left; their older selves are shown in the circle on the right. The younger entertainers perceive their older selves as monsters due to problems with gambling, alcohol, health, and taxes.
- In the circle, they are depicted in different styles (Abbot darker, Costello lighter) perhaps indicating that two photos were spliced together. This is reflective of the rift that developed between them in later years.
- Abbot & Costello are arguably similar to Reeves in achieving early popularity and then being typecast in their early roles.
- Details emerge here about the narrator’s relationship to Geraldine, whom the narrator hit.
- “Necro Golden Mane” is a play on Metro Goldwyn Meyer – seen earlier in issues #12 and #14.
- “The Last Adventure” refers to the full title of Adventures of Superman – and perhaps also Adventures of Sir Galahad – television series that starred George Reeves.
- “Mr. [Donald Carl] Brewer and Miss [Helen] Lescher” were George Reeves‘ parents.
- Who is this girl – suggest??
- Panelwise, the entire six pages of the movie-within-a-comic is shown in a uniform format: four rows of two. This formatting occurs in this issue and Purgatorio #8. This format apparently refers to small-screen television, as compared to big-screen movies.
- Panelwise, the left column features incidents in Reeves life, with the right column adding Superman parallels as a sort of voiceover. (This is consistent for pages 2 through 5, then the structure becomes a bit more fluid on pages 6 and 7 – where the story enters “imaginary” territory.)
- “Truth, justice, and the American way” was a Superman catchphrase. It was invented for the 1940s radio serial, and was part of the opening of the George Reeves Adventures of Superman TV show.
- This is the first of many stylized captions, all of which make parallels (and distinctions) between the lives of George Reeves and Superman.
- George Reeves was born in Iowa in January 1914, five months after his parents were married.
- “The world’s moving” is a play on “the earth moved” as an expression meaning “sex was great.” Its double meaning here is Superman’s father (Jor-El) having discovered the cause of planet Krypton’s earthquakes.
- Superman was born on Krypton, literally “another planet”. He was raised in a small Midwestern town called Smallville. Its location has only been specified rarely and inconsistently, but the 1940s Superman radio show placed Smallville in Iowa.
- Per Wikipedia: “the couple separated soon after Reeves’s birth. […] Later, Reeves’s mother […] moved to California”.
- “Rocketed” refers to how the infant Superman was sent from Krypton to Earth on a rocket-ship.
- Superman was “raised by a simple” Midwestern couple – Ma and Pa Kent.
- Reeves’s stepfather Frank Bessolo was a Pasadena wine merchant.
- Per Wikipedia, in 1927 (when George would have been 13): “Frank Bessolo adopted George as his own son, and the boy took on his stepfather’s last name, becoming George Bessolo.”
- Lou Koza claims: “In 1934, while a junior at the Pasadena Community College, George learned Frank Bessolo was not his biological father. He would soon confront his mother who stated she held the truth from him about his real father Don Brewer because the man had committed suicide.”
- Wikipedia’s account of the “father’s suicide” story differs significantly, both in the timing and in which father-figure it was about: “The Bessolo marriage lasted 15 years, ending in divorce, with the couple separating while Reeves was away visiting relatives. When he returned, his mother told him his stepfather had committed suicide.” Those interested in learning more about the conflicting stories about what Helen said, when, are referred to Jim Nolt’s web site. This rabbit hole goes way down…
- The bullet exiting the father’s fractured skull is a deliberate homage to classic images of Superman’s home planet of Krypton exploding as a small (roughly bullet-shaped) rocket carries the infant Superman to Earth.
- George Reeves took part in the Golden Gloves boxing competition while in college, over his mother’s objections. Sources vary as to why, precisely, he stopped. True Hollywood Noir claims “Reeve’s mother was so horrified that her son was boxing that she hired a retired fighter to beat him up. Mother wanted him to know what fighting was really like.”
- At center is Gilmor Brown, director of the Pasadena Community Playhouse, where George Reeves studied acting. Brown traveled to Europe yearly, and does appear to have taken Reeves along at least twice.
- The identity of the “boy” at right is unknown – suggest??
- The image refers to the frequent visual of Clark Kent pulling apart a button-down shirt to reveal his Superman costume (his “other identity”) hidden beneath it. The reader also sees an outline formed here in the rough shape of Superman’s chest emblem.
- “Taking on other identities” refers to both Reeve’s acting and Superman’s secret identity as Clark Kent.
- George Reeves’ first film job was a small part in Gone With the Wind (1939).
- In addition to the obvious irony in “make my name!” and using a stage name, there is another level of irony here: Reeves’ character is one of a pair of twins – whose names were accidentally switched in the film’s credits.
- Pictured in this panel are GWtW actors: Fred Crane, Vivian Leigh, George Reeves, and Clark Gable (?).
- The Superman comic book sometimes included “imaginary stories“, typically ones with extreme premises that couldn’t fit into standard continuity, so were deemed to be less “real” than the other stories. Moore famously engaged with this idea in his Superman story “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”.
- George Reeves was married to actress Ellanora Needles from 1940-1950.
- So Proudly We Hail (1942) was a war movie featuring George Reeves. Pictured as the nurse is Claudette Colbert.
- Per Wikipedia, Reeves was in the armed forces, but as an actor, not a soldier:
Reeves was drafted into the U.S. Army in early 1943. He was assigned to the U.S. Army Air Forces and performed in the USAAF’s Broadway show Winged Victory. The long Broadway run was followed by a national tour and a movie version. Reeves was then transferred to the Army Air Forces’ First Motion Picture Unit, where he made training films.
- “His humble role” recalls the phrase from the opening of Adventures of Superman: “disguised as Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter”.
- “Winged Victory” – see notes to previous panel.
- Although this scene seems to be set behind a theater, the logo displayed is associated only with the film adaptation.
- Other sources claim that there was no in-person meeting, but that George did contact his biological father Don Brewer by phone, while backstage during the “Winged Victory” tour near Chicago in 1943.
- Superman lives in a large fictional city named Metropolis. During the 1960s (the era of Superman comics that Moore most relates to), continuity held that Clark Kent moved to Metropolis after the deaths of his adoptive parents.
- “He set out for a metropolis” refers to Reeves moving to New York City in 1949 (though he returned to Hollywood in 1952.)
- His parents were not dead; Reeve’s mother, Helen Lescher lived until 1964. As Moore specifies they were “dead to him” due to his mother having lied and his biological father being absent.
- Jungle Goddess was a 1948 film starring George Reeves. It is not generally considered “glorious”.
- Pictured are Jungle Goddess actors: George Reeves, Wanda McKay or Armida (?), and Ralph Byrd.
- The Adventures of Sir Galahad was a 1949 movie serial starring George Reeves.
- George Reeves is said to have, at the end of each season, cut out the S-insignia and donated it to a hospitalized child or other worthy cause. (Mentioned at minute 9:45 in this documentary.) This story has been disputed, as the costumes were not cheap.
- Note how Reeves covers the emblem with his hand. That, plus having it cut out in most other shots (see previous note) allows Moore and O’Neill to clearly depict Superman without actually infringing upon DC’s trademark.
- “Man of celluloid” references Superman being referred to as “the man of steel.” At this point, Reeves largely steps down from celluloid (film) to television.
- Reeves first played Superman in a 1951 film, Superman and the Mole Men (later edited into two episodes of the TV show). Adventures of Superman was broadcast on television between 1952 and 1958. (Thanks to Tessa Braithwaite for a correction here.)
- The hands-on-hips pose is a typical one for Superman,
- Phyllis Coates played the “snoopy reporter girlfriend” Lois Lane for the first season (only) of Adventures of Superman.
- The exact details of Coates meeting Reeves for the first time vary in specifics, but all seem to include martinis and some variant of the phrase “welcome to the bottom of the barrel”.
- Superman can fly, and is bulletproof. Most episodes of Adventures of Superman displayed both these powers.
- The flying effects were achieved by dangling Reeves from wires. Internet research found no reference to him ever having fallen from those wires.
- In addition to being an epithet, “Jesus Christ…” may be a subtle allusion to how Superman is sometimes interpreted as a Christ figure.
- The tale of a small child wanting to “shoot Superman”, and Reeves talking him down, has been widely told, and even dramatized in the 2006 film Hollywoodland. Later sources allege that it never happened, and that the story was invented by Reeves.
- The boy holds a Luger, the type of gun that later was used to kill Reeves.
- The text “Superman” is partially covered up by the word balloon – again likely to prevent trademark infringement.
- George Reeves had a small (uncredited) role in From Here to Eternity (1953).
- While Superman was able to keep his “twin identities separate”, that was not the case for George Reeves. He “would only ever be” Superman in the eyes of the public. The Reeves biopic Hollywoodland shows audiences laughingly referring to Superman when Reeves character appears on-screen in From Here to Eternity (though, as with so much of this story, this is disputed).
- The characters at lower right are Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the iconic love scene on the beach in From Here to Eternity.
- “Cut!” both symbolizes how Reeves wishes he could separate the two parts of his life, and also how his mainstream acting career had been “cut off”.
- The speaker is Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen on Adventures of Superman.
- George Reeves was in a long-time romantic affair with Toni Mannix through most of the 1950s. Reeves’ statements about their relationship appear to be accurate.
- Eddie Mannix was MGM’s general manager. He was infamous for covering up crimes and scandals involving MGM’s stars by any means necessary.
- The Bugsy Siegel couch appears again, this time with Eddie Mannix(?) sitting next to the dead Siegel, apparently having just given his wife, Toni, some money.
- “Mobsters and criminal masterminds” describe Superman’s villains.
- Sunset Boulevard (1950) was one of the films featured in CP#15.
- Per Wikipedia, Eddie Mannix “reportedly approved of the affair, which was considered an open secret in Hollywood, as he was involved in a long-time affair with a Japanese woman.”
- This panel approximately reprises the layout of CP#15, P3,p3, itself alluding to a couple of scenes in Sunset Boulevard: the dead writer (Joe Gillis) face down in the pool, and the “waxworks” scene of aging silent screen stars playing bridge.
- Seated are: Toni Mannix, Phyllis Coates, Jack Larson, Eddie Mannix.
- The text is a typical description of Superman in the 1960s. Its applicability to Reeves seems to be his not re-marrying.
- The image is ironic. Reeves (unattached like Sunset Blvd‘s Gillis) would be dead at age 45 in 1959. These waxworks analogs long outlived Reeves. Larson, and Toni and Eddie Mannix would live to ages 87, 77, and 72, respectively. As of December 2018, Coates is alive in her 90s.
- Toni Mannix was widely believed to own the house that George Reeves lived in (though there is some evidence to dispute that).
- The house depicted is located at 1579 Benedict Canyon Drive in Beverly Hills.
- The text alludes to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, which was located in the arctic (“at the top of the world”), and which did contain many trophies. Top of the world also describes Reeves’ upstairs bedroom.
- During the 1950s, there was a famous (and famously well-endowed) sex worker in Cuba known as “Superman” who performed in a Superman costume.
- Shortly after a trip to Cuba, socialite Leonore Lemmon (later Reeves’s fiancée) was introduced to George Reeves by someone referring to him as “Superman.” At first she thought he was the Cuban performer. (Internet research found no references suggesting that Lemmon ever actually met the Havana “Superman”.)
- In 1958, on a trip to New York Reeves met (and was quickly infatuated by) Leonore Lemmon.
- Text alludes to the many people in Superman’s life with those initials (Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Lori Lemaris, etcetera). Leonore Lemmon appears to have been the only “LL” in Reeves’ life.
- The visuals depict typical elements from Adventures of Superman: a broken brick wall (which Superman would have smashed through), a friend of Superman (in this case Jack Larson‘s Jimmy Olsen) tied to a chair, and gangsters who have been knocked out by Superman.
- At least one source alleges that Reeves and Mannix had broken up before Reeves met Lemmon.
- The “one lethal substance” alludes to kryptonite, which is poisonous to Superman. The images suggest that Reeves great weakness was alcohol.
- Lemmon’s picture has been taped over Toni Mannix’s.
- Reeves did own a one-eyed Schnauzer named Sam.
- Panels 7 and 8 form form a fixed-camera sequence.
- Text alludes to Superboy’s pet dog, Krypto.
- Sam the schnauzer was stolen from a car in January 1959. There is a claim that Toni Mannix kidnapped the dog.
- Note that in the background, Lemmon and Reeves seem to be arguing about where to go, with Lemmon wanting to visit the jewelry store prominently advertising “rings” (suggesting she has an interest in marriage), while Reeves wants to visit the electrical repair store (possibly suggesting his desire to “repair” his television career).
- The caption alludes to various stories (many “imaginary”) about Superman’s death, while also alluding to the many proposed scenarios around Reeves’ death. These annotations rely on the account in True Hollywood Noir, which states that Lemmon let in the two neighbors at 12:05 a.m.
- The dialogue here becomes overly theatrical (better way to describe this??) perhaps to emphasize the imaginary story.
- According to a 1989 interview with Lemmon, Carol Van Ronkel was, indeed, in bed with writer Robert Condon in a guest room over the garage. She testified otherwise to the police in order to shield Mrs. Van Ronkel’s reputation.
- William Bliss was a neighbor. While it seems that Lemmon didn’t know him well, Reeves had apparently been in the habit of welcoming friends to drop by for visits (and drinking) late at night, as long as the light was on (which it was).
- The police report states that Reeves was woken up and annoyed by the appearance of the guests. In her 1989 interview, Lemmon denies that Reeves came downstairs at all.
- Lemmon’s dialogue here (or variants of it) are reported by most sources which have Reeves making an appearance. In the 1989 interview, Lemmon refers to saying something similar, but immediately after hearing the shot.
- In the 1989 interview, Lemmon vigorously mocks the notion that she would have been able to hear a drawer opening in the bedroom while she was downstairs.
- In that same interview, Lemmon says that about ten or fifteen minutes after the shot, she sent Bliss upstairs to “see what the Hell he is doing.”
- Caption is true of Superman. What enemies Reeves had is a matter of much debate; Moore and O’Neill show them on the next page.
- According to True Hollywood Noir, the coroner’s report listed a cause of “probable suicide”, and the death certificate simply listed “suicide”.
- Phyllis Coates (who played Superman’s “reporter girlfriend” in season 1) claimed:
that she had received a very disturbing phone call at 4.30am on the morning of Reeves’ death. It came from Toni Mannix, beside herself with anxiety. “She was hyperventilating and ranting,” recalled Coates.
- The “screwy” details questioned by the sergeant are accurate. While explanations have been proffered, many do not find them plausible.
- The case number on the sergeant’s file may be accurate. At least, that number is part of the subtitle of a novel about Reeves’ last days which written by Jan Alan Henderson (whose non-fiction book about Reeves Moore is known to have read).
- Putting these words “Forget it” into the mouth of a police official holding the case files he has (see below), is a strong suggestion of a police cover-up.
- Bernice Mannix was Eddie Mannix’s first wife. She died in a suspicious car accident while suing Eddie for divorce, leading some to suspect that Eddie had arranged her murder.
- Elizabeth Short (AKA “The Black Dahlia”) was the subject of CP#11, where it was suggested that the corrupt L.A. cops helped cover up her death.
- Leonore Lemmon definitely did lie to the police about several details.
- Lemmon did break the police seal on the crime scene, allegedly to remove perishable food. While there, she did remove some traveler’s checks that were apparently intended for use on her and Reeves’ upcoming honeymoon. Those checks were later turned over to her attorney. The amount has been variously reported as $4,000 or $5,000.
- After Reeves’ death, Lemmon publicly claimed that there must be another will.
- Of course, some people claim that Lemmon did shoot Reeves “after a drunken row.” There are widespread (albeit, as with so much about this, disputed) reports that Lemmon was prone to physical violence. Lemmon’s 1989 interview claimed that, while there had been drinking that night, “Nobody was loaded.” Given that the autopsy found that Reeves had a blood alcohol content of 0.27 percent(!), this claim seems dubious.
- As far as I know, no one ever claimed that Eddie Mannix personally shot Reeves (or anyone else), but that he “took out a hit”. Hence, he could conceivably have arranged to be unconscious as an alibi.
- “Persecuted him” refers to Reeves having received many threatening (if usually silent) phone calls, which he believed were instigated (if not always carried out by) Toni Mannix.
- Mickey Cohen was a gangster, previously mentioned in CP#15, who worked for the oft-mentioned Bugsy Siegel. Cohen is widely reported to have said that Toni Mannix was “the only person in Hollywood who had any balls”.
- The paper with Cohen’s number appears to be inside a souvenir from the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The World’s Fair souvenir echoes Superman’s lost city of Kandor.
- This would appear to be Mickey Cohen, sitting next to the dead Bugsy Siegel on the familiar sofa. He seems to be taking Siegel’s wallet.
- “Faster than a speeding bullet” has been a Superman catchphrase since the Fleischer cartoons in the 1940s, and was part of the opening to Adventures of Superman. Reeves, of course, was not faster than the bullet which killed him.
- Jack Larson did believe that Reeves killed himself, at least initially.
- “Lousy comic-company contracts” has more to do with Moore’s contractual disputes than Reeves. Larson actually claimed to believe that Reeves killed himself because he was typecast and couldn’t get acting work. Reeves had negotiated quite a favorable contract, and was still earning significant money from TV re-runs.
- Phyllis Coates is shown next to Larson. The woman in a veil behind her is presumably Leonore Lemmon. The older woman in dark glasses is presumably Toni Mannix, not answering Coates’ question.
- The caption alludes to “the American way” (see P2,p2). Ironically, for Moore, Superman is a perfect symbol of the American “values” of dishonesty, disillusionment, alienation, greed, and murder.
- The introduction to each episode of Adventures of Superman included the lines (slightly changed from their origin in the Fleischer cartoons): “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”
- The ghostly image of Superman is holding a cigarette holder.
- This is, of course, the closing image from a typical episode of Adventures of Superman.
- “Icy love” refers both to the ice cream treat (see first in CP#4 P8p3, and often since) and to emotionless sex, such as the narrator had with Mr. Flicker in CP#15. In this connection, note also the condom hanging over the seat back.
- “The incident” is presumably when the narrator hit Geraldine.
- The first caption strongly suggests that Geraldine died as a result of the narrator hitting her.
- “Just a Minute” is a comedy game show, first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on December 22, 1967, and still going as of this writing.
- The usherette hasn’t bothered to fully rearrange her clothes after her sex with Mr. Flicker at P1,p4.
- The gangster’s nickname is “Bugsy” Siegel, mentioned frequently by name in these notes, though far less frequently in the actual text of Cinema Purgatorio.
- The reference to “some sort of promotional thing … That’s what they do in cinemas these days” may be alluding to the sort of in-cinema promotional stunts used by promoters like William Castle to boost attention for otherwise low-profile horror films. Castle’s famous gimmicks ran from 1959-1965, which may have some bearing on the time period the narrator is from.
Moore has been broadly critical of the sort of promotional tie-ins that end up elevating business over art. Among Moore’s contract disputes was a row over promotional Watchmen buttons.
- Note how, though the narrator appears to be trying to distract herself, the thought “you shouldn’t have hit her that hard” spills into the middle of an unrelated sentence.
- The graffito at left is both a penis, and a caricature of Mr. Flicker.
- The panel repeats P1,p1, though shifted to the left and down slightly. Similar to recent earlier issues, the flow of the last page roughly recapitulates the first page, but in reverse.
- Rich Johnson reviewed this story at Bleeding Cool on December 6, 2018.