Bizarre Facts Most People Don't Know About Christopher Reeve's 'Superman'
If its 94% Rotten Tomatoes score is anything to go by, the original Superman movie can rightly be considered a classic. It's almost universally loved, and some argue it's one of the best superhero movies ever made (even if others think it's impossible to make a good Superman movie).
What you might not know is that making the film was a nightmare - perhaps even more so than Tim Burton's Batman. There are a lot of bizarre facts from Superman: The Movie's tumultuous production - and yes, four of them involve Marlon Brando. From the moment Richard Donner was brought onto the film (last minute), the Man of Steel's first feature was one hell of a ride. Here's all the bizarro trivia surrounding the first of Christopher Reeve's Superman movies.
The Original Director Dropped Out Last MinutePhoto: Tostie14 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0
Guy Hamilton, the director of Goldfinger, was initially set to direct Superman but dropped out at the last minute. Somewhat panicked, producer Alexander Salkind called an up-and-coming Richard Donner, who described their conversation to The Hollywood Reporter:
I was hot. It was just a high point in my life, because I had done a lot of TV and then The Omen. I was getting a lot of calls and I had no idea where I was going. And then I got this call from Alexander Salkind.
He said, "Do you know who I am?" and I said, "No. Why are you calling me?"
He said, "I’ll get to that. I’m a producer. Did you ever see The Three Musketeers?" I said I did see it, and he said, "I produced that."
And I said, "The way I hear it, they tried to release a second picture without paying the actors."
He said, "Well, that’s a long story. I’m making Superman. I don’t have a director and I’ll pay you a million dollars."
Fun fact: Richard Donner was sitting on his toilet during the whole conversation.
After Receiving The Script, Donner Got BakedPhoto: Erik Hustad / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0
In less than an hour, the script and costume for the movie were delivered to Donner's door. The filmmaker wasn't pleased with what he read. A lifelong fan of the comic character, Donner told The Hollywood Reporter that a movie based on the script he received would "destro[y] the legend of Superman," that it was "disparaging," and "just gratuitous action."
Donner immediately called writer Tom Mankiewicz to discuss a rewrite. Mankiewicz was not interested in a comic book property, but Donner begged him to come over until he finally relented. In Donner's words, this is what happened next:
I got a little stoned, smoked some weed, put on the Superman costume. I was in pretty good shape then. It was like elastic. And Tom pulled up, and I ran across the lawn and Tom turned and looked at me and ran back to his car.
Tom says, "You’re crazy. Get the f*ck away from me!"
I said, "Tom, listen. You’ve got to read this." I gave him all my feelings about what we should do. I said, "The most important thing when you look at it is this: Make a love story. And prove a man can fly."
So he read it and he called me that night and said, "You know, there’s a lot we can do with this."
Salkind First Wanted Sylvester Stallone To Play SupermanPhoto: Rocky (1976) / United Artists
Right from the get-go, Donner and Salkind didn't see eye to eye on the film. Donner forced a complete overhaul of all the flying FX, despite Salkind's protests. Casting was another issue, one that started with the Italian Stallion:
I met with Sylvester Stallone because of [Salkind]. I tried to be nice and say, "This is wrong." I liked Stallone; he turned out to be a nice guy. He wanted to do it. I remember meeting him in his manager’s office and I was as cordial as I could be. He was a big star and I’m some punk kid.
A lot of actors wanted to do it. They gave me a list of all these names and I said, "Listen. Your flying stuff is sh*t, and I have to create a man who flies. Even if you saw Paul Newman or Robert Redford in that costume, no one is going to believe them." I fought for an unknown.
There were many more big-name actors that were considered, and the list is eye-popping: Dustin Hoffman, Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Nick Nolte, James Caan, Jon Voight, Sam Elliot, Charles Bronson, and even Bruce Jenner. Yet in the end, Donner got his "unknown."
Christopher Reeve Auditioned In A Big, Bulky Sweater To Look MuscularPhoto: Warner Bros.
It didn't work.
When he auditioned for the film, Christopher Reeve wore the bulkiest Shetland sweater he could find, in hopes of fooling Donner that he was buff. Apparently, Donner didn't buy it for a second. He said to Reeve, "Problem quite honestly, buster, is I got to get a guy that is bulk, that looks like a muscle zoo."
Donner had an ace up his sleeve, though. Who better to beef up your hero than one of the baddest villains in the business?
Reeve Received Fitness Training From Darth Vader HimselfPhoto: Xanathon / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Donner called David Prowse, the actor who filled out the imposing costume of Darth Vader, to put his Superman through a rigorous weight-training program. When Prowse got his hands on Christopher Reeve, the young actor was 6'5" and only 170 lbs. In six weeks, Reeve went from a "string bean," as numerous people in the production called him, to a much beefier 212 lbs.
As an actor, Reeve had everything the producers were looking for, except the physique. But he convinced Donner that he'd be able to put on the muscle, and the rest is history.
Donner Cast Margot Kidder As Lois Lane Because She Was ClumsyPhoto: Warner Bros.
Donner's explanation for why he chose Margot Kidder to play Lois Lane is aggressively '70s. It absolutely would not fly today, given just how patriarchal his criteria was, but it did then. This is how Donner described Kidder's audition:
I'd seen Margot Kidder in a TV series called Nichols. She was charming and very funny. When I met her in the casting office, she tripped coming in and I just fell in love with her. It was perfect, this clumsy [behavior]. She was one of the few [actresses] we flew to London to test with Chris. Anne Archer [also tested]. But they were magic together.
Let me tell you a funny thing about Margot. When we were shooting, her makeup man comes to me and says: "We have a little problem. Margot scratched her eye putting her contacts in."
I said, "Do it without your contacts." That day she was wonderful, because she was wide-eyed, with no depth perception. She walked into a desk - and she was the girl I wanted her to be.
She said, "But I can't see!" There was a law after that: Every morning people had to come to me and make sure she didn't have her contacts in, and that she would act without her contacts. It just made her wonderful.