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Christopher Reeve was born September 25, 1952, in New York City. When hewas four, his parents (journalist Barbara Johnson and writer/professorFranklin Reeve) divorced. His mother moved with sons Christopher andBenjamin to Princeton, New Jersey, and married an investment banker a fewyears later. After the divorce, the boys also spent substantial visitation timewith their father, who writing under the name F. D. Reeve, is a noted novelist,poet, and scholar of Russian literature. While with him, Chris and Ben wereexposed to a stimulating intellectual environment that included Sundaydinners with F. D. Reeves friends: Robert Frost, Robert Penn Warren, andDaniel Patrick Moynihan. Meanwhile, Reeves stepfather, Tristam Johnson,generously paid tuition for the boys to attend the exclusive and academicallychallenging Princeton Day School.
"Chris was extraordinary," his mother recalled to an Asbury Park Press reporter. "He wasendowed with a great many extraordinary talents. He had a wonderful mind, wide-ranginginterests, a willingness to take risks. He was an athlete and scholar with a passion for acting,which began very, very early." Reeve traced his love of acting back to the early years of hischildhood when he and his younger brother would climb inside cardboard grocery cartonsand pretend they were pirate ships. "To us they became pirate ships simply because we saidthey were" Reeve said. "The ability to retain at least some of this childhood innocence isessential to fine acting." By age eight, he had appeared in school plays, become interestedin music, and was taking piano lessons. At age nine, he was picked to be in a Gilbert &Sullivan operetta Yeoman of the Guard for Princetons professional theater, the McCarterTheatre. "While I was growing up," Reeve recalls, "I never once asked myself, Who am I? orWhat am I doing? Right from the beginning, the theater was like home to me. It seemed tobe what I did best. I never doubted that I belonged in it." Those he worked with wereconvinced as well. Milton Lyon, the Artistic Director of the McCarter Theatre who didFinians Rainbow and South Pacific with Reeve, told him when he was about 14 years old:"Chris, you better decide what you want, because youre going to get it."
At age 15, Reeve got a summer apprenticeship at the Williamstown Theater Festival inMassachusetts. By age 16, he had an agent. At Princeton Day School, Reeve participated invarious school activities including being President of the Drama Club and Student Directorof The Glee Club. Reeve later said about those years, "I loved the theater so much. But Ibegan to feel guilty. I thought I wasnt giving enough time to school. So I joined as manyschool clubs and teams as I could. I played on the ice hockey team. I was in the schoolorchestra. I even sang with a choral group!" After graduating from high school, Reevetoured the country as Celeste Holms leading man in The Irregular Verb to Love, then wenton to college at Cornell, although he continued to work simultaneously as a professionalactor, "thanks to an understanding agent whod set up auditions and meetings around myclass schedule."
Reeve had a special love for ice hockey, a sport that he played from the peewee levelthrough high school where he was Princeton Days number one goalie for all four years. Hethought of pursuing the sport as a career until his freshman tryout at Cornell brought areality check. The varsity team there was the NCAA champion and Ken Dryden was thegoalie. Reeve said, "On the first day of practice, I noticed that there were only twoAmericans and the rest were Canadians. I was in the goal, and the whole team lined up onthe blue line, each with a puck, and they were supposed to take turns going from left toright taking a slapshot. They started to get out of sequence, and sometimes two or threewere coming at me, faster than Id ever seen a puck come at me in my entire lifetime. I gotabsolutely shelled, and I thought, You know, Im probably going to end up with no teeth,and so I retreated to the safety of the theatre department. That was the end of my hockeycareer. In retrospect, I made the right choice. And I still have all my teeth.“As part of his studies at Cornell University, where he majored in Music Theory and English,Reeve spent time studying theater in Britain and France. Of his work in England, where heobtained employment as a "dogsbody" at Londons prestigious Old Vic theater, Reeve said:"I was a glorified errand boy, but it was a very exciting time there. I helped by teaching theBritish actors to speak with an American accent. Then I went to Paris to work with theComedie Francaise." By the time of his graduation from college, Reeve had alreadyperformed in such widely respected theaters as the Boothbay (Maine) Playhouse, theWilliamstown Theatre, the San Diego Shakespeare Festival, and the Loeb Drama Center.
His roles included Victor in Private Lives, Aeneas in Troilus and Cressida, Beliaev in A MonthIn The Country, and Macheath in Threepenny Opera.In lieu of his final year at Cornell, Reeve was one of two students accepted to advancedstanding (Robin Williams was the other) at New Yorks famous Juilliard School of PerformingArts. Here he studied under the renowned John Houseman. When it became financiallydifficult for his stepfather to continue to pay for Reeves education, he took the role of BenHarper in the long-running television dramatic serial Love of Life. While Reeve continued hisacting lessons and performed in the soap opera, he found time to audition for and win acoveted role in A Matter of Gravity, a new play slated for Broadway starring KatharineHepburn in 1976. By this time, the demands of his career had become so great that Reevewas forced to give up his final year at Juilliard, but Reeve said of working with Hepburn: "InGravity, I had the privilege of spending nine months working with one of the masters of thecraft." The two became very close and stayed in touch until Hepburns death in 2003.In 1976, Reeve went to Los Angeles and got a small part in Gray Lady Down, a submarineadventure film. Back in New York City, he was in the off-broadway production My Life.During that production, Reeve auditioned and successfully screen tested for the 1978 movieSuperman. Reeves mother later said: "He took the Superman role, quite frankly, as a careermove. He felt, even with the risks it entailed, that it would mean he would get a greaterrecognition and he could bypass the cattle call." Reeve portrayed Superman as "somebodythat, you know, you can invite home for dinner... someone you could introduce your parentsto."
He made Superman believable by playing him as a hero with brainsand a heart. Reeve said, "What makes Superman a hero is not thathe has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to usethe power wisely." Reeve told Gene Siskel: "The key word for me onhim (Superman) is inspiration. He is a leader by inspiration. He setsan example. Its quite important that people realize that I dont seehim as a glad-handing show-off, a one-man vigilante force whorights every wrong." For playing Clark Kent, Reeve reasoned that"there must be some difference stylistically between Clark andSuperman. Otherwise you just have a pair of glasses standing in fora character, and I dont think thats enough for a modern audience."In 1986, Reeve added that "Superman is nothing more than apopular retelling of the Christ story, or Greek mythology. Its anarchetype, watered down and made in vivid colors for twelve-year-olds mentality. Its pop mythology, which extends to the actor, thenseeps over to a demand that that actor reflect the needs of theworshipers. The worship doesnt only go on in the temples - it goeson in the streets, and restaurants, in magazines.But, you know, Im from New Jersey, Im not from Olympus orKrypton, so back off cause I cant take the responsibility." The 18months of shooting for that movie took place mostly in England,where Reeve met and began a relationship with modeling executiveGae Exton. This union produced two children, Matthew Exton bornon December 20, 1979 and Alexandra "Ali" Exton born in 1983.
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