Monday, August 23, 2010

Been There, Done That – Christopher Reeve

“Want to fly to New York for the weekend?” my friend, Cindy Burkert asked me.

I was three years out of college, and still not completely financially solvent, but I had a teaching job and a little bit of money, and this sounded like a trip too good to pass up. A group of people Cindy knew had put together a Broadway excursion and one of the members had to drop out right before the event.

Theater tickets had already been purchased for the two main events—Peter Pan with Sandy Duncan at the Lunt-Fontaine and something about a Sunday morning that I think starred a woman named Maureen. Hotel arrangements had been made, and airline tickets were reserved for the entire group.

“Sure,” I said. The travel package wasn’t too bad price-wise and the trip itself sounded too good to pass up, so the next Friday we were on our way.

I’d not been to New York before, and it was incredible to see. Times Square, the Statue of Liberty, and Broadway were all so much more, so much bigger than I had ever imagined. Even though it was a weekend, the hustle and bustle of people on the street was more intense than I’d ever seen in my entire life living in Indiana.

After some sight-seeing and a little shopping, we were off to the matinee of the Sunday play. It was a good play, but our seats were clear in the back balcony. It was hard to stay focused on what was happening so far away on the stage. Maybe that’s why the name and who starred in it have escaped from my memory.

An early dinner, and we were off for Peter Pan. This one was much better because out seats were smack dab in the middle of the theater. Of course I was familiar with the play, having seen the television version starring Mary Martin a couple of times in my youth. Being in the theater when Peter (Sandy Duncan) flies was truly magical, and I thought that performance alone was worth my coming all the way to New York to see it.

After the show, we decided to go to the top of the Empire State Building. You know how romantic that seems in the movie Sleepless in Seattle? Let me tell you, it’s not so romantic on a cold fall night when the rain is lightly tapping on the city streets. At the top of the building, the frozen stuff that hits you with gale winds isn’t rain at all, but more like sleet! And it was COLD!

We stayed just long enough to walk around to all sides of the building and glance at the lights below then headed back to the elevators and down toward the street. It took us several minutes to find a taxi back to the hotel, but at last we made it, frozen though we might be.

The next day we were on our own, away from the tour group. Our only requirement was to be at the airport in time for our evening flight back home.

“What should we do?” I asked.

“Let’s just talk a walk and see if anything looks interesting,” Cindy suggested.

I was game, so off we went. It wasn’t long before we discovered one of those kiosks where people can buy discount tickets for the shows that have not already sold out that day.

“How about another show?” I suggested, after all, we were on Broadway!

Cindy and I looked over the options and decided on a play we’d never heard of, starring a man we’d seen a few times before on TV, in an old soap opera called “Love of Life,” where he’d played a character named Ben Harper. Oh, and there was that other thing—a little film called Superman: The Movie.

The play was called The Fifth of July and it was running at the Circle Theater, which was considered Off-Broadway.

We got to the theater early and, with nothing better to do, we just sort of hung around outside. After awhile, we saw a tall man heading directly toward us. The walk looked familiar, even if the scruffy beard and shaggy hair didn’t. It was Christopher Reeve!

As he got closer, and seemingly from out of nowhere, a small group of girls appears, rushing toward us, cameras in hand. Flashes started going off and Christopher stopped to talk with all of us. Somehow in our blind luck, we had stopped in front of the stage door where he needed to enter to get ready for his performance.

He chatted for just a moment, signed a couple of autographs, then he said, “I have to go get ready for the show, but I promise, if you meet me right here afterwards I’ll pose for pictures and sign more autographs.” 

Somehow I hadn’t even thought to take a picture!

We chatted for a couple of seconds with the girls who were there, but then like they had appeared, they were off, seemingly disappeared into the recesses of the city streets.

Cindy and I went around to the front and entered the theater lobby. I hadn’t really thought much about the location of our seats until we got there. Second row! And for a play starring Christopher Reeve, the man we had just met and discovered in person that he was gorgeous!

I was so excited for the play to begin and enthralled by the whole thing as it progressed, until. . .this incredibly good looking man who I had just had the chance to talk to and drool over did something few people had ever seen in a play, movie, or on TV in 1978. He reached over and kissed another man full on the mouth! Suddenly it hit me, his character was gay, a word that didn’t even have the same meaning at that point in time. And it was certainly the first time I’d ever thought about, let alone seen anything like that.
I remember being sort of stunned throughout the rest of the play, but that didn’t quell my desire to meet with Christopher again after the matinee.

The only problem, by the time the performance was over, Cindy and I had to rush—and I do mean rush—to make our plane! Our luggage had already gone over as part of the tour group, so we got dropped off and literally ran through the terminal, boarding just seconds before they closed the door and taxied toward the runway.

Not only did we not get to see him again, but we also hadn’t gotten to take any pictures, sort of our proof of what had happened that day.

Fortunately for me, I was talking about this experience one day to some Osmond fans I knew and fate brought luck my way. Two of the girls who appeared out of nowhere at the stage door turned out to be fans that I’d heard of, and even written to, but had never met. Sue and Nancy Carlson had come up to the theater that particular day from Westwood, New Jersey, hoping to meet Christopher Reeve. They did, and they took pictures, which, once we connected, they were happy to send copies of to me. (see above)

The first thing I did when I got back to Indiana? I went to the video store to rent a copy of Superman and thought about how Clark Kent had actually spoken to me!

2 comments:

Francine said...

Fun story! I would have fallen over my self to be in such a situation -- I was such a fan of Chris' during my jr. high and high school years - can't count how many times I saw Superman I & II, and Somewhere in Time. I saw "Death Trap" as well where Chris' character kisses Michael Cain's character and had to get special permission from my mom to see that flick. He did a lot of good in his later years and leaves a legacy of a beautiful love story and philanthropy work. I still haven't read his memoirs, but need to put it on my list. Thanks for sharing! My own stagedoor Broadway stories include snapping photos of Matthew Brodrick, Tom Hulce and my favorite, Ralph Fiennes!

- Fran

Francine said...

Fun story! I would have fallen over my self to be in such a situation -- I was such a fan of Chris' during my jr. high and high school years - can't count how many times I saw Superman I & II, and Somewhere in Time. I saw "Death Trap" as well where Chris' character kisses Michael Cain's character and had to get special permission from my mom to see that flick. He did a lot of good in his later years and leaves a legacy of a beautiful love story and philanthropy work. I still haven't read his memoirs, but need to put it on my list. Thanks for sharing! My own stagedoor Broadway stories include snapping photos of Matthew Brodrick, Tom Hulce and my favorite, Ralph Fiennes!

- Fran