We, at ABILITY, were delighted by the invitation to interview Christopher Reeve. We were anxious to know about his personal progress. He has been consulting with physicians worldwide, and we knew of his full agenda working on behalf of cures for diseases of the central nervous system—a great many speaking engagements, television appearances and the establishment of a foundation to support this work.
We also knew Christopher has been thrust into the role of spokesperson for the national disabilities community, and we are aware that this doesn’t appear to be going especially well. We concluded it would be informative to talk to him, discuss recent developments and issues about the disabilities movement, and to gain Christopher’s view of the controversies about his role in these various activities.
Our plan for the interview included facilitating a telephone link between Christopher and disability activist, Dr. Frederick Fay. We met with Christopher and his wife, Dana, at their home in New York, in the woods—a reasonable commuting distance north of New York City.
Our collective first impression was that we were in a house designed for a large man. Generous rooms, big chairs, not a lot of furniture, sort of rough and ready—a place for people who want to experience and make the most of every season. On closer examination, it seemed that the fundamental sensibility at work was accommodation to a person using a wheelchair. Hardwood floors, not many rugs, a very operational space. It is not a house appointed by an interior decorator; instead, it is the home of a family whose overriding design scheme is to choose things that are personally meaningful—objects were selected because the people who there like them.
As the day advanced, we didn’t change our minds about our early impressions—only the primary intelligence at work. It became obvious that the most important thing going on in this house is the thoughtful, considerate and supportive rearing of the children. It’s a kid’s house. It is a place for children to gain greater confidence and self-esteem. There are children’s drawings and paintings everywhere, on the walls and, of course, the fridge and cabinets. Evidence of developing awareness, special visions, further insights, and a loving family.
It is a lush, rural area, with a watercolor-esque pond visible through the window, not far from the house. Looking very much like Walden, it seemed an immense bottomless pond. That house was also a marvelous place for a conversation, a telephone link between Christopher Reeve and Dr. Fred Fay. And as a conversation between these men developed—ripened—it appeared bigger; a large place where large people gather to talk about large things; matters of being and of not being, individual responsibilities, heady social agendas, ultimate goals, final issues and what it means to be a person.
Not far into the conversation, it became clear that, whatever their differences, here were two men who liked—respected—each other. As time passed, a piercing light from the overhead window moved across Christopher’s pillow toward his face. “Would you like for us to close the curtain? The sun will soon be directly in your eyes.”
“No, it comes in every day at this time, it feels wonderful.”
The sun did fall across his face; it was hot, and Christopher perspired. It was a very personal, highly sensory experience—the kind of thing essential to feeling completely alive.
When John Wayne first met Christopher Reeve at the 1979 Academy Awards, he turned to Cary Grant and said, “This is our new man. He’s taking over.” Fresh from starring in the hit movie Superman, Reeve was a hot property. Unfortunately, it was this very role which made it so difficult for Reeve to fulfill the promise Wayne and others had seen in him. Not because he didn’t have the skills, but because he had played the part of Superman so well.
Reeve would soon learn, like many actors before him, who once you’ve played the American icon and hero, that it’s tough to just drop the cape and tights for another role. Even a Julliard trained actor and Cornell University graduate who had played so many of the classics on and off Broadway had to come to terms with the fact that he was now typecast as a comic book hero. The image persists today, even after his 1995 accident. A soon to be released biography by Chris Nickson, entitled Super Hero, begins with the following passage:
“Christopher Reeve might have portrayed Superman in the movies, but no one thought he might really be a superman himself. Until May 1995, when he was thrown by his horse and left paralyzed. For many people, that would have been the end. They’d have simply given up. For Reeve, ...
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