SUPERMAN Cast Shares Intimate Memories from the Richard Donner Years at WonderCon

     April 4, 2015

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Decked out in light-up leis, cast members of Superman and Superman II joined a highly nostalgic crowd for a celebration of “The Richard Donner Years.” In attendance were Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Diane Sherry (Lana Lang), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Jack O’Halloran (Non), Valerie Perrine (Eve Teschmacher), and Aaron Smolinski (Baby Clark). (Sarah Douglas — Ursa — was scheduled to attend, but was prevented from reaching the con by that classic feller of supervillains, a flat tire.)

  • Much of the panel served as a tribute to Christopher Reeve’s life and work. McClure described him as “a teacher — one of my life’s great teachers.” Kidder said that when she first heard about Reeve’s accident, she thought, “This guy is not a deep thinker, he’s not going to make it. But the person he bloomed into… He really became a heroic person.”
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    Kidder had lighter memories of Reeve as well, describing their relationship as “like a brother and sister” and telling a story about their shared love of skating, which she prefaced with the admission, “I’m from Canada, I skate like a hockey player.” She and Reeve would go skate together while the film was shooting in England. “The English are terrible skaters. The game was, ‘How many people can you knock over without touching them?’”

  • Everyone also praised the leadership of Richard Donner, who was brought onto the project after its shooting location was changed from Italy (where Marlon Brando — Jor-El — couldn’t film because of a sexual obscenity charge for Last Tango in Paris) to England (where the original director, Guy Hamilton, couldn’t go because of tax trouble). At the time Donner was brought on, they still hadn’t figured out how they were going to make Superman fly.
  • Kidder described the process ultimately arrived at for shooting the flying: a fiberglass mold of each actor’s body was made, which the actor then lay on top of with their costume worn outside the mold. Wires were attached to the molds. Kidder’s first word to describe the experience was “Painful! If you’re hanging in a harness for 14 hours a day for weeks and weeks, your…pelvic area will become sore.” She also told a story about one day when she and Reeve were up in the harness, and “some kid dropped his clapperboard on the wire,” knocking it askew. She and Reeve
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    plunged toward the floor until they were caught, and as they were falling Reeve held his hand out like Superman. “Afterward I was like, ‘Chris, what were you doing?’ and Chris said, ‘I really thought I could hold us up!’”

  • Kidder admitted she thought they were making a flop. She was dispirited because she was going through a divorce during filming, but Donner handled it by teasing her about it — coming up to her and shouting “Divorce!” — and making her laugh.
  • Almost everyone else had happy memories from the shoot. Perrine recalled the sequence where she saves a kryptonite-poisoned Superman from drowning. “I can’t swim! I was so scared to go in that water, I drank a whole bottle of champagne. If you listen carefully to that scene, you can hear me slurring my words.” (“It was the ‘70s,” laughed Sherry.)
  • O’Halloran had especially fond memories of Brando. He remembered a conversation between Brando and Donner, in which Brando said, “We’ve been working really hard, let’s take a day off!” and an incredulous Donner responded that shooting cost $350,000 a day. Brando offered to pay out of his own pocket and the off day was had.
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    McClure was living on a houseboat in Marina Del Rey when he was called in to audition and he and Donner, who had always wanted to live on a boat, spent his entire meeting talking about boats. Then as McClure was leaving, Donner said, “Do you know who Jimmy Olsen is?” McClure replied, “Golly, Mr. Kent!” He then heard nothing for three months, until Donner called him in to take one more look at him, then hired him right away.

  • Moderator Jay Towers described the “Superman stomach ache” — the soaring feeling you get when you hear the John Williams theme song — and asked what the cast members experience when they hear it. Aaron Smolinski, who was three years old and mostly nude for his scenes in the film, said that, “I always have this urge to get naked and go move a bunch of cars. Apologies to everyone in the parking lot.”
  • Finally, Donner himself spoke briefly via a prerecorded video message. “Nobody else will ever be Superman AND Clark Kent the way Christopher Reeve was,” he said. He also expressed warm regards to the rest of the cast but warned, “Don’t believe a single thing they say.”
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Image via The Movie Database

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