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Schoenberger's book is behind 'Hollywoodland'

Nancy SchoenbergerWhen George Reeves, who starred in the 1950s television series “Adventures of Superman,” died from a gunshot wound in 1959, authorities labeled his death a suicide. For Nancy Schoenberger, professor of English at the College, who investigated the story along with her husband, Sam Kashner, for their 1996 true-crime book Hollywood Kryptonite, the evidence did not add up. Their thesis, that Reeves was murdered as part of a lover’s triangle gone awry, will drive the new feature film “Hollywoodland,” scheduled for release nationwide on Sept. 8.

“There were all these strange things about the case,” said Schoenberger, recalling research she conducted for her book. “Reeves did die from a gunshot wound to the head, but there were no fingerprints on the gun. There were a couple of bullet holes in the room. There were bruises on the body. The autopsy was mishandled,” she said.

After interviewing one of the principal detectives, Schoenberger and Kashner learned that Reeves had been involved in an affair with Toni Mannix, the wife of movie executive Eddie Mannix.
“We came to the conclusion that George Reeves was the victim of a hit,” Schoenberger said. “We argued that when Reeves ended his affair with Toni Mannix, she became incensed and began stalking him and harassing him. That harassment rose to the level of having him murdered through her husband’s Mob connections.”

Schoenberger BookThe new film “Hollywoodland” pursues the same argument but ultimately leaves the questions surrounding Reeves’ death open. The movie stars Ben Affleck as George Reeves, America’s first unlucky Superman. The role—a tragic one—is a departure for Affleck, and it promises to bring a new depth to his film career. Diane Lane stars as Toni Mannix, the older femme fatale whose affair with Reeves, the authors argue, most likely got him killed. Bob Hoskins portrays Toni’s husband Eddie Mannix. Adrien Brody stars as the detective who tries to solve the case. Allen Coulter, who has directed episodes of “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” is the director.

Although the film is being touted as an originial screenplay, the production company bought the rights to Schoenberger and Kashner’s book, and it will give them consultant credits.

Schoenberger explained that the film differs from the book primarily in its treatment of the lead investigator. “Their device of fictionalizing the detective was very smart” she said. “Our book did not have a true hero.”

Originally Keanu Reeves, known for his roles in “The Matrix” series of films, was considered for the part of Superman. He was interested but ultimately declined, Schoenberger noted. “There is this idea that there is a curse on the role of Superman because of what happened to Christopher Reeve, who became paralyzed in an accident after his starring role in ‘Superman,’ the movie, and, of course, what happened to George Reeves. Here was Keanu Reeves with the same last name, and he thought it would be tempting fate to accept that role,” she said.

Schoenberger, who teaches creative writing at the College, is the author of several books of poetry and of Dangerous Muse, the 2001 biography of Anglo-Irish writer Caroline Blackwood. Kashner is the author of the recent memoir, When I Was Cool, which is about studying with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and other Beat writers at the Jack Kerouac School of the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colo., during the late 1970s. An earlier biography co-written by the couple, A Talent for Genius: The Life and Times of Oscar Levant, has just been optioned by DreamWorks and Ben Stiller’s Red Hour Films.

Although she is excited about the release of “Hollywoodland,” Schoenberger said, “I can’t say it’s a payoff because the great pleasure is the writing and publishing of a work.” She plans to continue exploring poetry and nonfiction.

“Poetry is a meditative art; it draws on a different part of the brain,” she explained. “Nonfiction draws on your research abilities. Poetry takes you into yourself and nonfiction leads you back into the world. It’s a nice balance to have. Why should you do only one thing?”