Christopher Reeve Stories

By Jo Addie

Revised 9/19/2011 (originally published in INSITE, 1995)

I worked on Somewhere in Time back in ‘79, and became friends with Chris. As most of you already know, I spent three weeks as an extra in all the 1912 scenes which included background people (with the exception of the park scene). There were few extras who worked as many days as I did. The days I wasn’t needed, I spent watching the filming. I even had the tremendous joy of spending an entire day off from filming with Chris and Jane, flying to the mainland in Chris’ plane and going bowling with them for some needed recreation “off the rock”. That was one day in my life I will always treasure. (You can read the story of my extraordinary experience being involved with the film,Barely in Time, in the Articles section of the SIT Website.)

Everyone is able to enjoy the fantastic 1994 SIT Weekend when Chris joined us, by ordering the SIT Event DVD #3, “Christopher Reeve Returns to Mackinac”, through Somewhere in Time Gallery. This was 7 months before Chris was paralyzed. His visit there was so magnificent an experience, and so revealing of Chris’ character, it is a must-have DVD for all fans. I doubt the 650 in attendance at the Grand, Saturday night October 29th, expected to come away so very impressed with the star of their favorite love story. He was honest, articulate, witty and bright.

In addition to my personal account of getting to know Chris, I have other stories to tell. I would like to relate a few “Chris Reeve stories” that I heard firsthand from people on the island, during the filming. I’ve said before that Chris is the kind of guy anyone would want as a friend. I’ve said that he had an optimistic nature and a wonderful childlike enthusiasm for whatever project or hobby he was involved with, a person whose genuine zest for life was apparent at all times. He was also one of the nicest people I have ever met. And he was quite diplomatic, as the next story will reveal.

Filming on location for this picture afforded little time off, as we worked a six day week, up to 16 hours a day, with only Sundays free. One Sunday afternoon very early in the shooting schedule, two college age girls were playing frisbee on the lawn along the road up to the Grand, between “Arthur’s cottage” (the tennis pro shop) and the “theatre” building (which is actually the island’s school). Chris was riding his bike along the road, and stopped, asking if he could join in the game. Naturally, the girls were thrilled to let him play, and after they had finished and he was about to ride off, one of the girls asked him to autograph the frisbee. He willingly obliged--but then the two girls started to argue over which one of them would own the frisbee. To settle the dispute, Chris broke the frisbee in two, signed the other half and gave a piece to each girl!

Many have asked if Chris was ‘down to earth’. Well, consider this story: The majority of the island’s summer workers are college students, staying in cottages all over town, dormitory style. On a particularly pleasant day late in the afternoon, a group of guys living in one cottage near the buildings that were the film’s headquarters, decided to cook their dinner on a grill in the backyard. The aroma of barbeque chicken was wafting through the air, when one of the guys noticed a famous stranger standing on the other side of the picket fence that fringed the yard. He greeted the guys with, “Sure smells good!”, whereby the group promptly invited Chris to join them for the meal. After polishing off the chicken, Chris himself went into the kitchen and helped do the dishes.

As of this year, 2011, I have a new story to relate about Chris during the time of Somewhere in Time’s filming. In July, I was at an Ace Hardware store in Woodruff, WI, where our family summer cottage is. I was writing a check for my purchase, and my checks have DBA “Somewhere in Time” (the name of my antique business) on them. The cashier noticed it, and said, “I know that movie -- and I met Chris Reeve once, many years ago.” I asked, “Really? Where was that?” She went on to say that she used to be the dining room hostess at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago. When Chris was in town filming the movie, both before and after filming wrapped on Mackinac, he was staying there. “He came into the dining room several times during that time. We came to be on a first-name basis.

“I told him how much I enjoyed him in Superman and especially how over-the-top excited my son was about the movie. Chris asked my son’s name, and offered to call him on the phone to speak with him. He asked me what time would be best to call, and I gave him our phone number. Sure enough, he called on the agreed upon time. Though I usually answered all calls, I made certain my son answered the phone. Chris asked for me, and when my son asked who was calling, as I had trained him to do, Chris said, ‘Christopher Reeve.’ My son literally dropped the phone and came screaming, ‘Christopher Reeve is on the phone, mom!’ I went to the phone, then gave it to my son, and they talked for a while. Actually, Chris called him a couple times during that week.”

Chris was shooting Somewhere in Time in his break between Superman I and Superman II, and so it was in his honor that the island’s only theatre (which was used for the play scene in the film) acquired the picture to show during his stay. I’d become a Christopher Reeve fan because of his wonderful dual portrayal as both Clark Kent and the Man of Steel. So I was on hand for this, of course. There was quite an electric quality to the air in that full theatre, with all of the audience whispering about whether Chris might actually attend. Sure enough, just before the house lights dimmed, Chris came in with a few others and sat down in the third row, two rows in front of me. The audience signaled their excitement with applause, and the film began. But unfortunately the theatre experienced some technical difficulty for this important showing, and the picture stopped midway into the second reel. A few minutes passed before they got it running again, but then only picture without sound. If you know the film, it was where young Clark and his foster father, played by Glenn Ford, are having a heart-to-heart on the farm about keeping his powers a secret. It’s kind of a nice moment, and one of the few which reveals Clark’s family life. Imagine our disappointment--with the film interruption happening when The Star was present--turn into joy, when Chris calmly stood up and filled in the dialog for us, until the sound came back. This event even made it into the area newspapers. (By the way, in Superman, Chris’ voice was dubbed in for the actor playing young Clark because he had a strong southern accent.)

This next story I am a little reticent to tell, as it is a tad embarrassing. It happened before Chris and I were on a first-name basis. All the extras would go to the wardrobe department and get into our selected costume for the day, then stop in the make-up room, where our hair was put up and our hats were positioned properly before we left in carriages for the set. It was in this room that the stars also had their make-up and hair done as well, as they didn’t provide them private dressing rooms or trailers on this picture like they usually do. This particular morning we were preparing to shoot the breakfast scene on the lawn of the hotel. I had been instructed to wear the most unusual costume of the five I wore, the riding outfit. It included a dark green fitted waistcoat over a long black skirt, an ivory silk blouse with an ascot, a top hat with a green chiffon scarf tied in a bow around the back of it, high black boots and a riding crop to carry. I’d also been given a brooch to put on the ascot.

I was in the room with my friend Susan and her friend, who were standing in one corner waiting for me. Chris had just had his make-up completed. I hadn’t noticed he was standing at the all-glass wall, looking out. My hair and hat now finished, I started struggling with putting that brooch’s thick pin through the fine silk, and was having a lot of trouble with it. I turned from the mirror and said, toward my friends, “Will someone please help me with this pin?” Whereupon Chris swung around and came over saying, “I will.”

Now picture this. I’m standing there, with Chris sort of bending down, his face practically in mine, with his large hands trying to get this silly pin through the ascot, while my so-called friends are making all sorts of ridiculous faces and contortions over this, behind him--but in full view of me--like school girls mimicking the thrill I must be having. So to keep from laughing, I am looking up at the ceiling. I didn’t know if I could endure this with dignity. The pin wasn’t cooperating, and after what seemed like an eternity, he stepped back and said hopefully, “How’s that?”, then promptly frowned disapprovingly. I turned to look in the mirror, determined to say it was wonderful no matter what it looked like, but finding it was really crooked, and before I could say anything, Chris said, “I’ll do it again.” Oh, yes, we repeated this memorable moment, until the pin was in its proper place. I thanked him, and he said, “Any time.” So you could say, Chris’ devotion to making this picture a good one even extended to his helping extras with their costumes!

I thought INSITErs would want to know the circumstances surrounding Chris’ arrival on the island for the 1994 Somewhere in Time Weekend. He’d been trying to attend every year since the first one, but was unable, due to his busy schedule. He told me when I saw him in November ‘93 in NY that he was going to come next time! And he did.

Everyone is able to enjoy the fantastic 1994 SIT Weekend when Chris joined us, by ordering the SIT Event DVD #3, “Christopher Reeve Returns to Mackinac”, through Somewhere in Time Gallery. This was 7 months before Chris was paralyzed. His visit there was so magnificent an experience, and so revealing of Chris’ character, it is a must-have DVD for all fans. I doubt those in attendance at the Grand, Saturday night October 29th, expected to come away so very impressed with the star of their favorite love story. He was honest, articulate, witty and bright.

That fall, Chris was working on a remake of a very good sci-fi film, Village of the Damned (British, 1960) in Marin County, California. That Friday of our Weekend, his schedule called for a night shoot--he worked all night long on Friday. He requested for Grand Hotel not to make his flight reservations until after noon on Saturday, so he could catch a few hours sleep before traveling cross-country to Mackinac. After arriving in Chicago via Northwest Airlines, he and Dana, boarded a chartered plane which landed them right on the island’s airstrip. A carriage taxi then brought them to the hotel, about 8:45 pm. They were served a private dinner in their room. About 10 pm, Bill Shepard introduced him to the capacity crowd of over 700, he stepped through the curtain and the audience went wild with excitement. He answered questions for over an hour, joined toward the end by SIT Director, Jeannot Szwarc. Afterward, he met fans and posed for photos for nearly another hour. I took most of those photos of him with people, using their cameras. A small group of us then retired to a suite for a private cocktail party; Chris and Dana left at 1 am.

About 8 o’clock the next morning, (Sunday), Chris and Dana enjoyed breakfast in the dining room. As any visitor to Grand Hotel knows, the dining staff (as well as the chambermaid staff) is entirely Jamaican. They leave their homeland in spring and spend six months on Mackinac. Most work long hours every single day, with one day off a month. If a celebrity is in their midst, they are not allowed to approach them, let alone ask for autographs. They cannot leave the dining room to meet the celebrity elsewhere in the building. Chris must have intuitively known this, for after he finished his breakfast, he called his waiter and said, “Bring your friends over, and I’ll take care of you.” Chris shook many hands, and even signed Jamaican money for some of the guys, (whatever they had on them) a memorable moment on their last day of the season. I found this particularly touching.

Following this, Chris came out to the Parlor, where an extremely long line had formed, and signed autographs for nearly two and a half hours. He gave each fan the time they wanted with him, to take a picture and have a short exchange.

Then we took him (and Dana) down to the lakeshore to see the “Is It You?” plaque, that INSITE had funded and unveiled the year before, where he talked candidly with the small group present. Jim kept the camera running as we walked back to the hotel. I was so impressed when Chris turned to one man in the group and remarked, “You were dressed as Robinson last night,” (something you can hear on the program --we had to leave it in). Imagine, after having done all that traveling, on little sleep, and meeting well over two hundred people the night before into the late hours, breakfast, meeting hundreds of fans in the morning while signing autographs, he could still remember what one guy wore the night before and comment on it! That was the kind of man Chris was. He was so focused on other people, never on himself.

He still saved time for me to have our interview I’d requested. Though he always gave excellent interviews, I believe the one he gave me that day was one of his very best ever. It’s 17 minutes long, (with nothing edited out) on the 2-hour program mentioned earlier. What a whirlwind visit! After leaving the island by ferry, a van ride to the Pellston airport, boarding a Pellston flight to Detroit, our star endured a five hour layover in Detroit before flying back to San Francisco, to be able to work Monday morning! How’s that for devotion to us fans! Yes, he really wanted to be there with us.

Another notable story I need to include here…from one of our members, Paul Connors. Way back in 1976 when Chris was on Broadway (with Katharine Hepburn), in A Matter of Gravity, well before his rise to stardom in Superman, Paul and his brother Bill saw the play and were impressed with Chris. They waited for him outside the stage door to meet him after the show. “Chris came out and we were able to chat with him for about 30 minutes. He was very gracious, warm and personable--even then. When he finally had to go, he excused himself, offered his hand and looked each of us in the eye to make sure we knew he was sincere. I was very impressed with that and his overall kindness toward two brothers who were complete strangers to him. The second time I met him was also in NYC and after SIT came and went from theaters, around 1983. I was with my brother again and Chris was giving a talk on acting to a small group at the New School. After the program, as we approached, he looked at us and smiled. He said, ‘I remember you guys, you’re the two brothers who waited in the cold to chat with me. You’re Bill and Paul, right?’ He shocked me again when he remembered that I was a paratrooper. He asked me if I was ‘still jumping out of perfectly good airplanes?’ I was stunned because both times I met him I was in civilian clothing.”

It is a source of pride for longtime INSITE members, as well as it should be for those new to our group, to be able to say we funded his permanent tribute – Chris’ Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That was a campaign we started a scant 3 weeks before his accident. It took us two years to raise the funds (over $15,000) for the Star and the Afterglow Party held in the Cheers Bar Set in the Hollywood Entertainment Museum. The celebration, held April 15, 1997, garnered one of the largest crowds ever for a Star Unveiling and made international news. Jane Seymour was one of our chosen speakers, along with Glenn Close, his longtime friend. (This program, “A Star for Christopher Reeve” is SIT Event DVD #5).

Christopher Reeve was known industry-wide for his extensive charity work, for his support of the physically challenged through Special Olympics, for his high-profile role in the Creative Coalition, making appearances in behalf of the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) to drum up more support nationally for the arts. He campaigned for better drinking water for New York City.

He also went singlehandedly to Chile during the oppressive Pinochet regime at a time when there were riots and dangerous upheaval, and many actors and other high profile people were being given a deadline and the choice between execution and leaving the country for their criticism of the dictatorship. Chris carried a petition from Amnesty International, and though he did not speak the language, he made his plea for freedom of speech. His visit there eased the pressure and ended the time-critical standoff.

He was such a fine spokesperson, Dana said he had been encouraged to run for Congress, but Chris was satisfied doing what he could in between his many acting commitments.

Not many of his fans know that Chris was standing up for good causes long before he himself was unable to stand – and became the dedicated advocate for those wheelchair-bound from paralysis.

I never heard him complain, or say anything negative. He was always positive, and upbeat. He had ‘magnetism’. You could not meet Chris and not love him. When I was going to see him in person the first time since he was in his chair, I admit I was a little nervous, wondering if I would be okay—not indicating any ‘discomfort’ or awkwardness. As I approached him, and our eyes met, he recognized me immediately and grinned, just like always, saying a familiar ‘Hi, Jo’, and I instantly knew he was the very same guy – in that instant put at ease by him with the realization he was the Chris I’d always known.

It was only after his terrible accident and paralysis that people the world over got to know what sort of a man Christopher Reeve truly was: genuine, eloquent, unselfish, caring, and always using his numerous talents in forward-thinking, positive ways. What he did for the “lost cause” of spinal cord injury research is now legendary.

He taught himself to breathe without his ventilator for long periods. Chris remains a ‘medical miracle’, being the first person ever to regain movement beyond two years of being paralyzed. He was able to move his fingers and shoulder, even his legs (underwater) after 5 years of paralysis. That was due to extraordinary determination, and a regimen of exercise every day. He remained focused and hopeful to the day he died.

His death, from an allergic reaction to an antibiotic he was taking for the second time, ended his life at 52, nine years after his accident. (Chris had a unique physiology. He often had the opposite reaction to drugs than what they were intended to do, and sometimes had allergic reactions the second time he took a drug.)

If one day there is a cure found for spinal cord damage causing paralysis, everyone will have Christopher Reeve to thank for it. Before his injury, there wasn’t even any research being done. Chris united researchers throughout the world, working on various aspects of related nervous system disorders, and created a network so that any advances could be quickly utilized.

The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation continues his efforts, and also makes possible quality of life grants for those with paralysis, providing resources, and equipment funding.

Now you know a little more about our Somewhere in Time star. The man. The hero. The advocate. The friend.

- Originally published in April 1995 issue of INSITE -