I live across the street from the house where George Reeve (Superman!) died mysteriously. A friend wrote a book about the possible cause of the suicide/murder/accidental shooting, and Ben Affleck did a film about George Reeve, so I am familiar with all the theories of his demise. And I’ve been inside the house many times because the people who live there are good friends. I was even responsible for arranging for a team of psychics (“ghostbusters”) to tour the house one afternoon. But I am not as intrigued about how the actor who portrayed Superman may have died so much as the dilemma he felt in his lifetime about being so closely associated with the super hero role. Full disclosure: I used to run home from school to watch the show. I also know the lovely Noel Neill, who portrayed Lois Smith, a role I would have dearly loved to play!
As an actor myself I’m well aware of the trap of early success in a role that comes to define you. George Reeve is far from the first actor to face typecasting. Our own Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows was played by Jonathan Frid, who for some time wrestled with the fate of always being associated with his role as a vampire. Sally Field has made no secret of her wish not to be known as “The Flying Nun.” But it’s certainly not a fate worth shooting oneself over, as it’s claimed George Reeve may have done!
All of us on Dark Shadows went through a period when we hoped we’d heard the last of “I used to run home from school to watch you!” I would get stopped in the grocery store or on the bus by fans who would ask, “What was it like to be bitten by a vampire?” I’d go to auditions for roles I was entirely unsuited for and realize that the casting director had grown up with a poster of me on his bedroom wall―he just wanted to meet “Maggie Evans.” But at a certain point, when I’d been cast in many other roles and my career was established, I embraced my association with the series that launched my career. Now, some 47 years after I spoke my first lines on Dark Shadows, it gives me pleasure to know young fans are getting their first taste of the show on DVD.
At a recent book signing for Down and Out in Beverly Heels, I acknowledged that as thrilled as I as with the reviews for my second novel, every reviewer referenced me as a Dark Shadows actor. Do I mind? Not at all! In fact, I understand it so well that I made my heroine, Meg Barnes, deal with the same situation. She’s an actress who once starred in a wildly successful television series playing an amateur sleuth, Jinx Fogarty. No matter what she does the rest of her life or in her career, she will be known as Jinx Fogarty! I get it. I embrace it.
I can only smile when someone comes up to me in the post office and says, “I used to run home from school to watch you” . . . except when the fan appears to be older than I am!