February 15, 2012

Christopher Reeve, an Actor and Activist Among New Jersey Hall of Fame Inductees

Christopher Reeve

Princeton Native Christopher Reeve Named to New Jersey Hall of Fame

In the “Class of 2012” of the New Jersey Hall of Fame announced last Friday by Governor Chris Christie, Princeton is represented by author Joyce Carol Oates, who won in the general category, and actor Christopher Reeve, who was selected in the arts and entertainment category. Ms. Oates, a National Book Award winner, teaches in the creative writing program at Princeton University. Mr. Reeve, who grew up in Princeton and graduated from Princeton Day School, died in 2004 at the age of 52.

The star of the Superman films was cited not only for his achievements as an actor, but also for his tireless work as an activist on behalf of people with the kinds of debilitating neck and spinal cord injuries he suffered during a riding accident in 1995. This recognition is fitting, said his mother, Princeton resident Barbara Johnson, since Mr. Reeve’s efforts in service of others were far-reaching and date back to his youth.

“Chris had been an activist earlier in his life. He was a co-founder of The Creative Coalition [with Ron Silver]. He went down to Chile when playwrights were being threatened by the regime, and that was a very scary thing,” she said.

In a letter to Town Topics January 25 after she was informed of her son being named to the Hall of Fame, Mrs. Johnson expressed her gratitude to friends and fellow Princeton residents who voted for him when he was nominated. She also wrote of his early theatrical experiences in Princeton that helped shape his future as an actor. In a telephone interview this week she elaborated a bit.

“I remember particularly Chris’s appearance in the play Witness for the Prosecution at PCD (Princeton Country Day School, predecessor of PDS),” she recalled, with a chuckle. “I think the role was a housemaid, complete with Scottish accent. The play was directed by the late, beloved Herbert McAneny, who told me Chris was always asking for more direction.”

Mr. Reeve knew from the age of 12 that he wanted to be an actor. “Friends would say to me, ‘You don’t want him to go into that, it’s awful.’ But, my response would be, ‘I could no more stop him than I could stop a rainstorm.’ He was determined,” she said.

Though it was the Superman film series that made him a superstar, Mr. Reeve had an impressive career in other films and on stage. He made his Broadway debut opposite Katharine Hepburn in A Matter of Gravity and went on to star in such films as Deathtrap, Somewhere in Time, The Remains of the Day, and The Bostonians. Stage credits include FIfth of July, Summer and Smoke, The Front Page, and Love Letters. He directed television and film productions and wrote the best-selling books Still Me and Nothing is Impossible: Reflections on a New Life.

In 1995, Mr. Reeve became the chairman of the board of the Christopher Reeve Foundation, supporting research to develop treatments and a cure for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury and other central nervous system disorders. His advocacy for that and numerous other causes won him awards and wide recognition, including the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service in Support of Medical Research and the Health Sciences from The Lasker Foundation in 2003.

The New Jersey Hall of Fame’s mission is to encourage children to strive for excellence. In addition to its annual awards designations, the organization holds essay contests for children and is planning a mobile museum, designed by Princeton architect Michael Graves, to further its message.

The “Class of 2012” will be inducted at a ceremony on June 9 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. In addition to Mr. Reeve and Ms. Oates, those named include media tycoon Samuel I. Newhouse, business leader John Dorrance, actor Michael Douglas, jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, basketball coach Bob Hurley, athlete Milt Campbell, Wild West Show star Annie Oakley, and Bruce Springstreen’s E Street Band. The event is open to the public. Visit www.njhalloffame.org for more information.