“He hopped off of the balcony and said “Good evening Miss Lane” – and Geoffrey Unsworth looked over at me and went (mugs impressed face) because the tone was just right. We went through the test and we knew…we had him. I remember we sent the test back to Warner Brothers and we prayed. We said we love, love this kid. And they saw it and they went great, go with him, if you feel that strongly that’s terrific…”
-Tom Mankiewicz, Taking Flight – The Development of Superman
A casting call so grand in scale it echoed the the search for Scarlett O’Hara decades before, the question of just who would fill Superman’s boots for the upcoming 1978 movie would similarly become the stuff of Hollywood legend.
39 years ago today, young, idealistic and ambitious actor Christopher Reeve took to the makeshift set at Shepperton Studios clad in the most embarrassingly makeshift of superhero costumes to perform a pivotal scene for Director Richard Donner.
Sweating profusely in long johns with layers of black shoe polish in his hair, Reeve, although clearly nervous, manages to somehow transcend the outfit and even at this early stage, convey the most human of aliens in the most earnest of ways.
It would take a year of weight gain and pumping iron before lean Reeve would fill out the cape in the style to which comic-book readers had become accustomed to over forty years, but the excitement (and relief) must have been tangible by the end of the audition process – having screened everybody from Sylvester Stallone to the producers dentist.
The final word is best left to Donner about his ‘discovery’ of the man who would go on to embody the Man of Steel for 10 years, three more movies and beyond –
“I didn’t find Chris. God gave him to me…”