by Joseph Walker


Christopher Reeve wasn’t REALLY Superman – he just played the Man of Steel in the movies.  But for a few moments in Los Angeles 17 years ago, he seemed pretty “super” to me.


I was working at the time as a television critic for a small metropolitan daily, and I had traveled to California to represent my newspaper at one of the semi-annual press tours there.  During these press tours we watched upcoming television programs, and then had press conferences with the stars and producers associated with the show.  The idea was to provide material we could use in our columns around the time that the show actually aired.  This could either help promote the show or it could kill it, depending on the quality of the production and the mood of the critics at the time they saw it and conducted their interviews.


As you might expect, the television networks took great care to see that everything was Just Right for the critics on the days their shows were presented.  Accommodations were always first class, and meals were bountiful, rich and sumptuous (I blame my diabetes on heredity, Dr Pepper, laziness and 36 weeks of Century Plaza Hotel cooking – not necessarily in that order).


Special attention was always paid to the critics from larger newspapers, which meant I was usually on the low end of the press conference pecking order.  Kay, on the other hand, was the Grande Dame.  Hers was the largest newspaper represented at the press tour, and she took full advantage of the privilege and priority that status allowed.  She always sat in the middle of the front row, her huge purse occupying the seat to her left and her stack of notepads and press materials occupying the seat to her right.  Whenever Kay wanted to ask a question, she had the floor no matter who else was speaking or what else was going on.  And after each session, producers and network executives would hover around her to make sure she got everything she needed and to see if she wanted them to bring any stars over for her to speak to individually.


Meanwhile, the rest of us crowded around stars and producers and fought for their attention to ask an individual question or two.  I still have pencil lead in my arm from an overly zealous critic from Akron who thought I was horning in on his moment with Tony Danza.


I don’t remember what the television project was that brought Christopher Reeve to the TV critic press tour.  I just remember that he was there – tall, handsome and intensely pleasant – and that for some reason, I had a question I was dying to ask during the press conference.


“Mr. Reeve,” I began from my place on the back row, “it was recently reported that . . .”


“Chris,” Kay cut in, “are there plans for another `Superman’ movie?”


Reeve looked at Kay and smiled charmingly.


“Excuse me, Kay,” he said, “but that gentleman back there was asking a question.”


I couldn’t see the expression on Kay’s face, but I could see the black smoke curling out of her ears.  This just wasn’t done.  Kay was given precedence over EVERYONE – especially young guys on the back row from the 40th largest television market.


“Uh, Chris,” a man in a suit sitting next to Reeve whispered, “perhaps you could answer Kay’s question, and then the question from the back row.”


Reeve’s expression never changed.  He just kept smiling at Kay and said: “I’m sure Kay understands.  The other gentleman was first.”

Then he looked back toward me and asked: “What was your question again?”


There were a few guarded chuckles from my colleagues, who later told me they thought I was brave for defying Kay.  But it wasn’t me.  It was the guy up front, the nice guy, the guy who dared to apply simple rules of courtesy to a setting that traditionally ignores such niceties.


You know – the Super Guy.


— © Joseph Walker