With his broad shoulders, sturdy chin and six-foot-one frame, George Reeves made a motion-picture-perfect Superman. The second actor to portray the DC Comics superhero, after serial star Kirk Alyn, Reeves helped popularize the character as television's first Kryptonian on Adventures of Superman, and as the first Superman filmed in color.
It would be a role that, for better and worse, would come to dominate and define his career. Though he is most widely known for wearing the blue, red and yellow tights, Reeves had a rather fascinating movie career that stretched from Army training films to Oscar winning pictures. He appeared alongside legends like James Cagney and Frank Sinatra.
To salute the Man of Steel on the day of his birth, here are seven things you might not know about George Reeves.
He appeared in 'Gone with the Wind' — and was incorrectly credited.
Reeves pops up in the movie's opening scenes, as a suitor to Scarlett O'Hara with bright red hair, one of two "Tarleton Twins." His character name is Stuart, though the credits mislabel his role as "Brent Tarleton." Gone with the Wind was George Brewer's first film role as George Reeves, after Warner changed his name, though the epic took so long to produce, it would end up being his fifth film released.
He acted in two films that won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Wind grabbed the 1939 Oscar for best picture, and Reeves would again appear in a trophy-winning flick in 1953, From Here to Eternity. Reeves plays Sergeant Maylon Stark alongside Burt Lancaster and Frank Sinatra. By this point, he was in the midst of his television career as Superman.
He was a Notre Dame football player alongside Ronald Reagan in 'Knute Rockne All American'
Rewinding to 1940, we find Reeves in a minor role as a Notre Dame footballer — so minor that the actor would be uncredited. He is listed as "Distraught Player" in the Ronald Reagan classic. Reeves has a tiny non-speaking part in another Reagan flick, 1939's Smashing the Money Ring. The link between Reeves and Reagan goes back even further, as the two both briefly lived in Galesburg, Illinois at the same time as youths.
He served in the Army and appeared in the U.S. Army Air Forces' Broadway show 'Winged Victory'
After being drafted into the Army in 1943, Reeves served in both the U.S. Army Air Forces, performing in their Broadway show and film Winged Victory, and in the First Motion Picture Unit. Other soon-to-be-stars in Winged Victory included Red Buttons and Mario Lanza.
Before becoming Superman, Reeves played another legendary hero.
In 1949, Reeves slipped into chainmail to portray a legendary Arthurian knight in the 15-part serial Adventures of Sir Galahad for Columbia Pictures. The voice of the villain, the Black Knight, was provided by Paul Frees, who also gave life to Boris Badenov on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
He filmed an educational film about government savings stamps called 'Stamp Day for Superman'
Having served and worked in the Army Air Forces' First Motion Picture Unit, Reeves was no stranger to educational films. In this 1955 short, Superman explains to kids why they should invest in government savings stamps. A side episode of Adventures of Superman, this 18-minute outing created for the U.S. Treasury is part of the public domain.
He wrote a pilot for a television series called 'Port of Entry'
Looking to branch out from his role of Clark Kent and Kal-El, Reeves penned a script for an action series set in Hawaii and Mexico called Port of Entry, which he hoped to produce. Superman offered a pay bump and he returned to the cape, while Port of Entry never mustered the capital to set sail.