Monday, February 15, 2010

Christopher Reeve

In his autobiography, Still Me, Christopher Reeve doesn't talk about Superman much. It's clear that Reeve liked the role, but didn't like what it did to his career. Following the success of the first movie, he deliberately sought roles that were in no way like Superman. As a result, he selected Somewhere in Time--a movie that evidently flopped on release but now has a very dedicated cult following. I remember seeing all sorts of memorabilia when I visited Mackinac Island, where it was shot.

On top of trying to distance himself from the role, Reeve seems genuinely unaware of how much those movies meant to people. He writes nothing about fans, about people accosting him on the street, etc. You'd think this would have been a major part of his life, but he spends more time describing the comedic stylings of Robin Williams than he spends discussing what Superman meant to people. He gives it one paragraph:

During my stay in Hollywood [for an appearance at the Academy awards; this is after his injury] I entered hotels and buildings through garages, kitchens, and service elevators, and met cooks, waiters, chambermaids, and maintenance crews. Many of them said they were praying for me. Others looked me right in the eye and said, "We love you, Superman. You're our hero." At first I couldn't believe they meant it. Then I realized that they were looking past the chair and honoring me for a role that obviously had real meaning for them. I didn't feel patronized in any way. Clearly a part I had played twenty years before was still valued. The fact that I was in a wheelchair, unable to move below my shoulders, and dependent on the support of others for almost every aspect of my daily life had not diminished the fact that I was--and always would be--their Superman.

Reeve writes about basing Clark Kent on Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby, which is awfully obvious once you give it a second's thought. He writes about being the custodian for the character, and that he did his best with it. I wonder what he would think of current comics artist Gary Frank using his face for the comics version of the character in several of the titles now being published.

In all, he devotes about ten pages of 300 to Superman, which shows what his mindset was. For a man who endured a spinal injury that left him quadripeligic, one might think that he would use Superman as an image for the freedom of movement he longed for and could only experience in his dreams. Nope. He mentions his heroes: Charles Lindburg and Harry Houdini, who embodied this longing for freedom for him. The true recurring image is not flying but sailing. He finds it in his dreams every night, and it orders his existence to some extent.

That said, he does report some funny things about Superman:

In the first draft of Superman was a scene in which Superman sees a bald man walking down the street. Thinking it's Lex Luthor, he swoops down to collar him and take him away. But it's Telly Savalas, who says, "Who loves ya, baby?" to the startled Superman and offers him a lollipop.

Reeve is glad they got rid of that scene. And:

The less said about Superman IV the better.


This is but one fan of Reeve Superman, discussing a movie book she found.

Then there's My Enduring Relationship with the Man of Steel, which is about a woman's fascination with Reeve's character. At first, her fantasy is to interview Reeve, as Lois Lane does on her balcony in the movie. After learning that Reeve wasn't really much of a Superman fan, but is everything she hoped he would be as a person, she reconsiders her fantasy:

...while there was always a part of me that wanted to be with a Superman, what became more prevalent was the part of me that wanted to be like him. After all, Superman has given us a role model with qualities that we mortals can emulate without having to bend steel with our bare hands – fortitude, integrity, honesty, humanity.

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