Thursday, September 18, 2008

Episode #40: Christopher Reeve: A Modern Superman!

To learn more about the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation go to the web site: At Superman dogtags are still available for purchase. 100% of the cost goes to Christopher Reeve's foundation for paralysis research. As of the writing of this blog, September 18, 2008, supplies were still avialable but limited.
Christopher Reeve would have celebrated his 53rd birthday on September 25, 2008. He was born in 1952. He passed away on October 10, 2004.
He got hooked on acting very young. According to the biography on his website, Christopher Reeve made his first appearance in the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. He graduated from Cornell University in 1974 and studied at Julliard under the actor and teacher John Houseman, whose most famous role was in the movie and TV show Paper Chase. At Julliard, Christopher Reeve's roommate was the actor and comedian Robin Williams, who remained friends. After a few tv appearances, Reeve's first film role was a minor role as a submarine officer in the 1978 movie Gray Lady Down.
After Superman, one of Christopher Reeves best movies was 1980's Somewhere In Time, co-starring Jane Seymour. He appeared in movie, TV and stage roles and was also a director.
Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in an equestrian accident in 1995. After he was able to return home he dedicated his life to campaigning for a cure for paralysis, and raising the quality of life for paralysis victims.
In 1998 he wrote his biography Still Me, published by Random House. Nothing Is Impossible: Reflections on A New Life was published in 2002.
Also in 1998 Reeve starred in a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's movie Rear Window. He appeared in two episodes of the TV series Smallville as paralyzed scientist Dr. Virgil Swann (a tribute to Superman artisit Curt Swan?). He informed Clark about his kryptonian heritage and told him that his original Kryptonian name was Kal-El. In an episode of Smallville after Reeve's death, Dr. Swann also passes away. Clark receives the kryptonian metal disc that Dr. Swann had come into possession of.
Christopher Reeve's last project was directing the film The Brooke Ellison Story, the true story of an 11 year old girl who became a quadraplegic in an accident and perseveres to graduate from Harvard University.
Reeve's widow Dana only survived her husband by two years, passing away on March 6, 2006 from lung cancer.
Christopher Reeve is survuved by his children, Will, Matthew and Alexandra, his mother Barbara Johnson, father Franklyn and brother Benjamin.
Some great resources about Christopher Reeve's role as Superman/Clark Kent are the documentaries and commentaries on the DVD's Superman: The Movie, Superman II and Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut.
The operative word that was Richard Donner's slogan in directing the movie was verisimillitude, which means, in regards to Superman lore, be true to the source material. The original script he inherited from Godfather author Mario Puzo was enough for two movies, but very campy. Donner hired Tom Mankiewicz as Creative Consultant to rewrite the script. Tom bought in to Donner's philosophy and got rid of most of the campy feel to the movie. For myself the parts that aren't campy are the strongest parts of the first two movies.
The documentaries and commentaries reveal the struggle to find the perfect actor to portray Superman. The producers wanted a "name" actor, but Donner wanted an unknown actor. A famous actor, to him, would distract an audience from believing they were really seeing Superman on the screen. A lot of actors who auditioned for the role could act but were not in Superman shape, and others were in great physical shape but could not act. Donner had a struggle convincing the producers and studio that Reeve was perfect for the role, and was proven right.
Christopher Reeve's philosophy in portraying Superman was to let the costume do most of the acting. He felt underplaying the role would emphasize the power of the character, as opposed to a more forceful and outgoing presentation. When Reeve discussed plaing the role of Clark Kent, Mankiewicz reminded Christopher that he was always playing Superman, but Superman was portraying Clark Kent, a real double role.
One of the biggest special effects struggles was to convincingly show Superman flying. Donner was impressed at how Reeve would angle his body and move his arms to portray the illusion of Superman flying. In the first scene that shows Superman, in the Fortress of Solitude, Superman flies straight toward the camera. When he banks to the right of the screen, stage left, that was not a planned move. Christopher improvised that moment. Donner said that after a moment of silence the crew broke out in applause in admiration at how well Reeve made Superman fly.
Ironically Christopher was not a comic book fan as a boy, although he did watch The Adventures of Superman George Reeves TV series. Also, Reeve was tall, but skinny. Donner hired former British weightlifting champion and Darth Vader actor David Prowse to condition Reeve, who also went on a high protein diet to bulk up for Superman. Reeve's natural hair color is brown, so it was dyed to black
What made Christopher Reeve's performance in the first two Superman movies so memorable? Reeve bought into the philosophy of verisimillitude, respecting Superman lore. Underplaying the role of Superman allowed the physical strengths of the character show through more convincingly than a more forceful performance.
Reeve effectively portrayed Clark Kent and Superman as separate people. The tow characters stood differently, spoke with different inflections, moved differently. In several scenes we see Superman peek out from under his Clark Kent disguise. During the mugging scene, Clark "faints" after catching the bullet in his hand. While Lois retrieves her purse Clark peeks over his glasses at the bullet in his hand. When Clark first enters Lois' apartment after her interview with Superman, when Lois turns her back to him while she talks, Clark removes his glasses and becomes Superman. He stands there holding Clark's glasses, with the expression on his face as if he's saying How I wish I could tell you who I really am.
Over the decades there have been several different angles on who's the disguise, Superman or Clark. The original golden and silver age Superman was the real person and Clark was the mild-mannered disguise. The Fleischer 1940's cartoons had a more asssertive personality in contrast, as did Goerge Reeves in the 1950's TV show, and Dean Cain in Lois & Clark. Although I didn't watch a lot of episodes of Lois & Clark I did enjoy Cain's more worldly Clark, who wandered the world as he struggled to find a way to effectively use his powers. The post-Crisis Superman begun by John Byrne was an earlier version of the disguise, so Clark can still have some sort of a normal life.
Christopher Reeve portrayed a traditional Clark Kent, a sometimes clumsy person who sometimes stuttered, the opposite of Superman's confident personlaity. His performance in the first two Superman movies holds up even today.

Learn more about the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation at

To contribute to the renovation of Jerry Siegel's boyhood home, through September 30, 2008 go to

Superman Fan Podcast can be found at Send e-mail to

My Pull List is my spoiler-free comic book review blog I write about the comic books I read every week. It can be found at Send e-mail about this blog to

Thanks for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Superman WebRing

Superman WebRing The Superman WebRing
This site is a member of the best
Superman websites on the Internet!
Previous SiteList SitesRandom SiteJoin RingNext Site
SiteRing by



Total Pageviews