July 16, 2009

Superman is dead, said his fiancee

It's been just over 50 years, and the crew obsessed with George Reeves still hasn't gotten that memo. From time to time, the memo comes to the forefront of my mind, although my curiosity is from a different angle than the fanatics.

They are certain that Lenore, who was Superman's fiancee and my father's sole first cousin, killed him. I've always been more curious about the use of the term "fiancee."

When the Web was new, one fanatic kindly snail-mailed me a copy of all the newspaper and video clippings she had collected about that one day in June 1959. Had she known my angle, I doubt she would have been quite so forthcoming, since she seemed in basic agreement with the keeper of the Superman flame, the chief fanatic who believes Lenore is good for his murder.

Lenore is my family's blackest sheep, the one who didn't attend her father's funeral. (There were many whispers the day we buried my great-uncle.) Why do I care? I have a tiny family, and I look for whatever stories I can find.

If anyone knows what happened, it would have been Lenore. Twenty years ago, several tabloid TV shows filmed her slurring most of her words, but crystal clear in one sentence: Superman is dead, dead, dead.

Lenore had a long and checkered history, a woman whose means were as mysterious as Truman Capote's Holly Golightly. She was known as a member of Cafe Society and for being the only woman ever thrown out of the Stork Club. Earlier in her life, she was known as "the Jewish Brenda Frasier." Frasier was famed as a debutante, at a time when debutantes made the news.

Jews, however, don't come out (as debs), and whether Lenore would have had the wherewithal for such formalities is another question no one in my family has answered. Still, in the 1990s, I knew people who knew of cousin Lenore from fame acquired 50 years earlier. They say she was beautiful.

(I've seen the photographs from Life and other magazines. Yes, she was. Should I want a family photo of my cousin, I would have to buy it from an archive. We don't have any.)

The one woman in my family known to have graduated from sarcasm to fisticuffs, Lenore does hold the record as most alcoholic member of my family, although the contest is still open, unless all of my generation has thrown the towel back on the bar.

Since my father's demise, I am the only one who knows where her body is buried. Her grave has no marker, and probably never will. While our family history is littered with bits and pieces of info about her, she rarely comes into comes into conversational play. Cousin Lenore? Maybe 30 seconds of air time every few years. No one else wonders about her.

My aunt once said her cousin, Lenore, was spoiled. I think my aunt was jealous that while she was turning in algebra homework, her one and only cousin was photographed at "Life goes to a party," in a 1940s issue of the magazine I happen to own.

For Superman's fiancee's full story, you would have to search New York Post archives from the late 1930s onward, or hope that Walter Winchell's radio broadcasts had been saved and transcribed. The NYPD probably has her in their arrest archives. Drunk and disorderly? My vote is yes.

Other newspapers probably covered other stories: when Lenore was 17, she was named co-respondent in a divorce case, at a time when such a thing mattered. Ask a Vanderbilt about the black sheep in their family: she married him.

In later years, every public hospital in Manhattan had her as a patient. Wikepedia claims she died of alcoholic dementia. I don't know where that factoid came from, just that it's not quite accurate. But finally tabloid TV producers are too young to consider retelling this particular celluloid hero story again. They don't remember George Reeve's Superman, even in reruns.

Personally? I suspect Lenore would have been too drunk to aim a gun. This theory has not been well received, but no matter how many books people write, or movies made (see Hollywoodland), no one will ever know what transpired that night

Then again, the L.A. coroner was on the job investigating the entire scene, and I don't think it's much of a stretch to assume the coroner in 1959 was on the take in old-time Hollywood, or that his notes were burned long ago, if indeed he wrote anything down.

Today something triggered my curiosity about this family mystery, though I can't say what. I remain fascinated by how far this woman strayed from ordinary family life at a time when TV dictated that Leave it to Beaver, the Donna Reed Show, and Father Knows Best were paragons of normalcy.

And I wonder: did anyone ever live the way those long-ago black-and-white characters portrayed middle-class life? I am guessing, not a chance.

Labels: ,