Christopher Dennis InterviewBy Jeffrey Bridges
Most days, and especially on the weekends, you can find Christopher Dennis outside of Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in scenic downtown Hollywood, California. He and others, most notably his friend Joe McQueen (who plays the Hulk) greet tourists and passers-by, posing for photos and delighting children whose eyes light up at seeing their favorite comic book heroes brought to life.
Christopher Dennis is the star of the new documentary feature, "Confessions of a Superhero". I'd actually talked to our benevolent Editor-in-chief, Steve Younis, about interviewing Mr. Dennis before I was even aware of the film. I think he's got a fascinating story to tell, and it's my pleasure to be able to bring it to Superman fans around the world.
To Christopher Dennis, what he does is more than just take pictures with people, hoping to get a nice tip. He's every bit in character, and he knows his Superman mythology perhaps as well as anyone. During our interview, some folks stopped by and asked if he'd be willing to pose for a photo with their son, and not only was he willing but he was thrilled. He picked the tyke up and smiled for the camera, and upon handing the boy back to his parents, advised him to stay in school and eat his vegetables, because that's what Superman would do.
Mr. Dennis, as close a duplicate to Christopher Reeve as you'll ever find, was gracious enough to sit down with me at Wizard World Los Angeles for an interview, and later invited me into his home to see his most impressive Superman collection. When he talks about Superman there's an excitement in his voice and a sparkle in his eye, and you know he's speaking from the heart.
Jeffrey Bridges: How did you get started portraying Superman?
Christopher Dennis: This basically started by me showing up on set and people telling me I looked like Christopher Reeve. What happened was, every time I showed up on set, I was portraying another character. On one set, "Ali", they didn't realize what they were doing when they had cast me as a press guy. They had me in a fedora, glasses, and a gray suit! So I could not help myself. I had a Superman t-shirt. And since everybody kept telling me how much I looked like him, I decided to put the t-shirt on underneath. And one day while we were on that set, one of the guys goes, "Do you have the S underneath?" and he's pointing down at my shirt. And then I ripped open my shirt, and that was kind of the beginning of it all. The guy just about dropped dead laughing and said, "Can I get a photo of you like that?" And it was the guy that was doing stills for the movie. So I pulled open the shirt and he got the shot.
I was a waiter at the time, trying to get out on auditions, and it was a little bit hard because my boss would say, "Well, I don't have anyone to cover your shift." So that got me thinking... well, wait a minute! What can I do where I'm my own boss and can take off to an audition when I need to? Then I just started thinking about it and all of a sudden it dawned on me... people keep telling me how much I look like Christopher Reeve, why don't I don the suit that everyone knows him for? At first, I was a little bit hesitant about it. I was thinking, is there something else he was better known for? Superman just kept popping up... the whole world knows about Superman, and he's the all-American icon. Every guy dreams of being like Superman, so I started thinking maybe that's not such a bad idea.
His Superman costume, which I got to see up close, is most impressive. He spared no expense in getting it made, even going so far as to endure horrible pain for the good of the suit.
JB: Where did you get the suit?
CD: I got a one-piece blue leotard, and then I went out to the dance stores and bought shorts, and I went to a ladies' exotic shoe place to try to find the boots. Because everywhere I was looking for men, they didn't have anything that came up high enough with the right type of cut. But you could find that cut on a lot of the women's stuff. So I went in and was like, "Pardon me, I know this is a bit of an odd question, but do you have anything in a size 12 men's?" And they didn't, at the time. So I started off enduring a lot of pain with my feet, because at the end of the day my toes would be bloody just from standing in those boots that didn't fit. But they were close, and they were good temporary boots. So I wore that outfit until I could upgrade to the next best thing.
So I hade a makeshift outfit to begin with, and actually I own one of the actual Christopher Reeve outfits. And then I had them custom make this (current) one to the specifications of that one. But I did alter the colors a little bit, because I don't want to have an exact replica of the suit out there, because then someone could say, "Oh, well you've got fourteen of these, how do we know which one's real?" So the yellow is a bit different, and I'm using a royal blue, and a maroon.
JB: Was that expensive to get made?
CD: The tights alone were $1300. And the cape was another $350. The belt is an actual belt that was worn by Christopher Reeve. The boots were custom made by the same gentleman who made George Reeves's boots, and are $850 a pair. Basically my outfit is made by the same people who make them for (movie) studios.
Wondering how he can afford such a high-end costume? Believe it or not, he gets by almost entirely on tips from people he poses for photos with.
JB: How do you make a living doing this?
CD: We're out in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater, we're like ambassadors to Hollywood. We accept tips for photos, but I'm always telling people that tips aren't mandatory, because I'm out there for the love of the character. So if they want to tip me, they can, but I always let them know they're not mandatory. Because we do have characters out there that have taken it to another level and they're like, "Hey, you owe me a dollar!" That kind of scares people, and it's intimidating to go out somewhere and have a guy trying to force the tip out of you. So me and Joe (McQueen), sometimes we work together as Superman and the Hulk.
His eye takes on a little twinkle.
CD: Marvel and DC kind of clash sometimes, but we get out there and people come up and want a photo, and we're fine with it. They can take a photo and not tip us, and we still pat them on the back and tell them to have a lovely day.
JB: Do you make enough, then, to get by?
CD: Oh yeah, I make enough to get by out there. But I'm also doing stuff on "Jimmy Kimmel Live", as the character of Superman. And I was on "The Daily Show" and also on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno", dressed up as Superman. So I'm getting a lot of publicity out there.
Not only that, but his friend Joe McQueen (the Hulk) used to be homeless, and now he's back on his feet and has an apartment of his own, all thanks to what they do and the tips and generosity of people they meet on the streets of Hollywood.
CD: Actually, I had run into a couple guys that were filming an infomercial on golf clubs. And I went over and gave the director my business card, and I didn't realize he was having a hard time shooting that infomercial. He kept seeing Superman taking photos with tourists and greeting people, and he kept looking over. So when he called a break, he decided, "Let's go over and talk to these nuts." Because at first, he thought we were freaks! And then all of a sudden, he's like, "Wait a minute, we have a lot in common. They're not so freakish." We talked for a few minutes that day, and then maybe three or four more times on the phone, and within two weeks we started shooting.
JB: That's really fast!
CD: Well, that was the fast part. Shooting took us two years. I won the "Show Us Your Best S" contest for the premiere of "Superman Returns" (held opening night at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood), so I won a trip to go to the premiere in London, and the film crew followed me there, and we went to the premiere and after-party in Los Angeles as well. You paid $500 to go and the money went to the film school, so it was for charity. And any time we hear something about charity we're all over it.
JB: And the movie just premiered at the South by Southwest film festival.
CD: Yes, it was just at the South by Southwest film festival. It was directed by Matt Ogens, produced by Charlie Gruet (who also shot and deigned the promotional poster) and Jamie Patricof, and you may have heard the name from "Half-Nelson," he was one of the producers on that. And then we have Greg Huehn, who composed the music.
JB: Is it going to be at other film festivals coming up?
CD: We're going to be entering it into other film festivals, hopefully the LA Film Fest. We've already got a four-star rating. We showed it three nights at South by Southwest, and the first two nights were sold out and we turned a bunch of people away the first night, and the second night they said a hundred, maybe two hundred people got turned away. And then the last night the movie showed in a bigger auditorium, and there were only like twenty seats open. So, it looks like we've got a hit!
JB: I wish I could have seen it already, so I hope it does come to LA. Is there a listing of places it'll be showing that people can check?
Be sure to stop by those websites to keep up to date on "Confessions of a Superhero". Judging by the reviews, and meeting Christopher Dennis in person, it's something you won't want to miss.
There's a lot of reasons behind what Mr. Dennis does, not the least of which is the man who inspired him.
JB: So you actually got to meet Chris Reeve, right?
CD: Yes I did. I met him a couple times.
JB: So what did Chris think about the resemblance?
CD: He looked up at me and he says, "Astonishing!" And I looked down at him and said, "There's nothing astonishing about me. You are amazing." And he said, "No, you're astonishing!" and we went back and forth like that for a minute, and then he said, "You know, I've seen a lot of look-alikes, and up close they don't look anything like the person they're portraying. But you, on the other hand, have me as a dead ringer when I went to Julliard." Now why didn't I have a tape recorder for that!?
We were getting ready to meet with him again just prior to him passing on. I was just getting everything ready, the suit pressed and cleaned. They were going to let me don it at the "Get Motivated" seminar... and it was going to be an honor and tribute to Christopher Reeve because to me, he was the Man of Steel. All of a sudden we get a call from this guy who plays Batman (Maxwell Allen) and he's weeping over the phone, and he's telling me Christopher Reeve just died. And it actually took a day for it to actually sink in. I was in denial the whole day, even though it was all over CNN... we taped the whole thing, twenty-four hours.
The very next day I'm working on the set of "Domino" and everybody's coming up to me, asking if I'm okay. Don't come up and say that to me, I'm on set! My eyes are red enough already! But they would come over and ask me "Are you okay?" and all of a sudden the tears would start dropping. And I'd get that cleared up, and another person would come by, and then there go the tears again. They were actually going to give me a paid day off, but the best thing to do was just go on. That's what he would want us to do.
JB: What did he think of all this?
CD: I like to think that he knew that I portrayed Superman in Hollywood, but unfortunately I don't think he knew that. When I got to meet him, it was October 24, 2000 at a re-release of "Somewhere in Time". They hired me to fly up to New York and don the Richard Collier outfit, and go around and say "Pardon me, but can you tell me where I can find Miss McKenna," which of course was Jane Seymour's part. And eventually they escort everybody inside because they're getting ready to start the movie, but they want me to linger outside for any latecomers. And sure enough, there was one... turned out to be Bonnie, who becomes my wife later on. And that's one of the reasons we were so looking forward to going up and meeting him at the "Get Motivated" seminar, because we were going to tell him that we met in 2000 at the screening of "Somewhere in Time," and his movie brought us together.
JB: And you and Bonnie got married in Metropolis!
CD: I did. June 11, 2006. We have Superman wedding rings and got married underneath the Superman statue, which was really awesome and kind of a dream come true. Although I wanted to put a bunch of S sequins on her dress, she wasn't up for that. But I did get a big S logo on her veil.
I've found, while I'm out there on the Boulevard, a lot of people don't know about Metropolis, Illinois, and the Superman celebration that they have out there, even people from Illinois. I run into people from Chicago all the time, and I ask them if they know about Metropolis, and they think I'm pulling their leg!
Willing to prove his Superman fandom to anyone who asks and many who don't, Mr. Dennis invited me back to his apartment to see what can only be described as one of the biggest Superman collections on earth, full of some of the coolest rarities you'll ever find.
JB: I've seen some photos of your apartment, which I'll be visiting soon. When did the collecting start?
CD: Believe it or not, it's a five year-old collection. On my first trip to Metropolis, Illinois, I was standing in the middle of one of the biggest Superman collections that you could imagine. Jim Hambrick is the owner and proprietor of what I like to call the biggest Superman collection in the world. And when I was standing in the museum, I was looking around and I just turned into that little kid. I turned to Bonnie, my girlfriend at the time as we weren't married yet, and I turned to her all starry-eyed and said, "I want one!"
And she said, "One what?"
And I said, "Just look around!"
And she said, "Oh my God, you're talking about one of each thing in here, aren't you?"
So, our first trip, we spent over $35,000 on merchandise.
CD: We maxed out our credit cards. I figured, if we're going to do it, go balls out and don't hold anything back. If you're going to do something, do it right the first time or don't even bother at all. That's my theory, because I'm also kind of a perfectionist with what we do. We're adding stuff constantly. Every day we get new stuff.
JB: Are you running out of room yet?
CD: You would think, "Oh my God, where is he going to put all this?" But guess what? I started shifting stuff and pinning stuff to the ceiling.
JB: Eventually, I imagine, you're going to run out of space.
CD: Eventually, yes. Either that or the walls are going to be held up by Superman.
JB: What's it like, getting to play Superman?
CD: Being able to portray Superman, I'm just so ecstatic about it. With the fact that I look so much like Christopher Reeve, and my name is Christopher, and we're both the exact same height, and Christopher Reeve, when he went out for the part, weighed the same amount I weigh. I have a lot of connections with the character. My birth date is on the anniversary of George Reeves's death date. I just felt, with all these similarities, I just figured... what better person to be portraying Superman than someone that has all these connections? And on top of that, I'm an avid collector and I have a love for Superman. I feel that a person that's going to be out there portraying Superman, or the Incredible Hulk, or any of these characters... they have to know their character. They have to know the history, the origin, where do they come from, where were they created, how long have they been around? You have to know all this stuff. I can tell you Superman was created June 1, 1938, and then tell you about February 12, 1940 when he makes his radio debut, and Bud Collyer portrayed him on the radio. And then after that, 1948 comes along and you've got Kirk Alyn playing Superman, and it goes on and on.
And with George Reeves, I don't believe that he committed suicide. I believe Lenore Lemmon was the one, and you can quote me on that if you like.
JB: So how long are you planning to do this for?
CD: I feel that the way it worked out for George was a sad story, and then of course people start saying there's a curse. I always tell people that say that, "I'm the mold that's gonna break that curse."
PHOTOSI have over a hundred photos of Mr. Dennis's small, one-bedroom apartment in downtown Hollywood. You could write a dissertation and a thesis and a novel and a set of encyclopedias about everything in his collection and still not cover everything. As such, I'll provide descriptions of some of the pieces I was most fascinated by, and let the photos speak for themselves.
Photos 2 - 13
This was the cape from his first costume, which he decided to start getting signed by anyone and everyone who had anything to do with Superman. Eventually he branched out into getting autographs from other stars, and he'll let anyone draw a sketch on the cape as long as the art is Superman related. Spend some time looking at these photos and you'll find all sorts of signatures, including but not limited to:
He even found Lee Quigley, the young baby Kal-El who was placed into the capsule in "Superman: The Movie," but was sad to discover he had passed away from a drug overdose. He has not yet been able to track down Aaron Smolinski, who played the older baby Kal-El on earth.
Between the time of the interview at Wizard World LA and three days later when I visited his apartment, he had obtained several more autographs and sketches.
Approaching his apartment building from the street, it wasn't difficult to spot which one was his.
Photos 15 - 16
Life masks of Marlon Brando and George Reeves. Where did he find such amazing things? Ebay. Turns out a lot of his finds come from there, and he keeps his wife by his side when browsing to make sure there's someone to keep him from going overboard.
A "Superman Returns" store DVD display, used to house his expansive Superman DVD collection. As you can see, many of them are signed.
This is an original Superman comic strip that ran in the newspaper from 1943.
Look closely in the corner and you should spot a large, thin crystal. That's a prop from the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Christopher Dennis has "an inside contact" at Warner Brothers, and when they clean out storage and are looking to unload old props, Christopher gets a call and if he can afford it, it's his for the buying. This is how he obtained most of his props from the movies.
Up there, hiding in the corner... two autographs from Kirk Alyn!
On the left is a prop piece of Kryptonite from the Kirk Alyn serials. Christopher Dennis met Tommy Bond, who played Jimmy Olsen in the serials, and Tommy had always intended to give the piece to Christopher but sadly passed away before he could do so. Thankfully he mentioned it to others and Christopher was given the piece at a later date, and remembers it and his meeting with Mr. Bond fondly.
An original pinball machine from the release of "Superman: The Movie". It was made before the movie was released and the company, unsure if the movie would be a hit, didn't want to use the likenesses of the actors in the film in case the movie bombed.
Yes, that's his pet snake. Yes, its name is Clark Kent.
Most of the publicity photos in this book were signed, and it had more publicity photos in it than I've ever seen. Just above the book you'll see a model of the ship Kal-El arrives on earth in from "Superman: The Movie". Mr. Dennis also makes dioramas and that is part of one current piece he's working on.
Hanging from the ceiling... that's Clark Kent's hat from the very first costume-change scene in "Superman: The Movie". You can see it's labeled for "C. Reeve" and the scene its in, and you can see the signed photo still from the movie of Christopher Reeve wearing it as he runs down the alley.
These are the glasses Christopher Reeve wore in "Superman: The Movie". The exact ones. I got to put them on. I WORE SUPERMAN'S GLASSES.
My only regret is I didn't get a photo of myself in them. But let me tell you, wearing Clark Kent's glasses is so cool it's on a plane by itself.
This is a reprint of a newspaper article that claims that a man named Mayo J. Kaan was the original model for the physical appearance of Superman, but some of the article's facts seemed dubious at best.
Editor's Note: DC Comics released a statement a few years ago stating that Mayo Kaan's claims were false.
These are shots from the floor looking up at the ceiling. Just like Mr. Dennis mentioned before, he's got things tacked and pinned to the ceiling and walls in every conceivable place.
Margot Kidder's original dress from the flying scene in "Superman: The Movie".
These are pieces from the London premiere of "Superman Returns" that Christopher went to as the winner of the "Show us your best S" contest at the premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theater.
Mylar promotional posters from "Superman: The Movie". I'd never seen them before. These were hanging on the wall next to the bed, and as you can tell even the ceiling in here was covered in posters.
Not one to miss ANY opportunity to display his Superman fandom, even the light switches are bedecked in Superman paraphernalia.
These are pieces of stars from the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As broken stars are repaired, Christopher has been salvaging usable pieces to construct his own star, which he is going to place a Superman shield in the center of.
And no, everything still isn't displayed yet, as you can see by these stacks of action figures, waiting to be freed from their cardboard and plastic restraints.
These are the actual film trailers for "Superman Returns."
These are three trailers for "Superman II" and one trailer for "Superman: The Movie," on film.
Inside this box is an original 8mm film reel from the Fleischer Superman cartoon, "Volcano".
This is a Lionel Luthor business card prop from "Smallville".
Clark Kent's nameplate from his desk at the Daily Planet in "Superman: The Movie".
Yep, that's the octagonal key prop, also from "Smallville".
Ties from The Christopher Reeve Collection, released through JCPenny's a few years ago. Celebrities designed ties and all proceeds from the sale of the ties went to the Christopher Reeve Foundation.
Looking very cool but not nearly as cool as it did in the movie, that crystal with the silver glitter paint on the tips is the prop model used for baby Kal-El's ship in "Superman: The Movie".
One of Christopher's completed dioramas, this one of George Reeves.
A photo of Christopher with Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder and Jack O'Halloran. Christopher is Margot's official Superman when she goes to events to sign and meet fans.
These are slides of special effects shots from the movies, before the effects were added in.
Yes, that's the Superman Homepage up on his computer!
This is a piece of original art that Christopher is working on, all done in Sharpie markers. He got frustrated by folks putting three or four images together and calling it "Superman Through the Ages", even though they hadn't included all of the different incarnations. This is his attempt to actually fit as many of them into one piece of art as possible.
Christopher and his wife Bonnie have Superman wedding rings that they had custom-made at a Los Angeles jewelry store.
A replica of Clark's red kryptonite class ring from "Smallville". Yes, it even says "Smallville High School" on it.
The oldest piece in the collection, this pin dates all the way back to 1940.
Also one of the oldest pieces in the collection, this card dates back to 1941.
Click here to view our complete photo gallery of Christopher Dennis' collection.
SIDEBARChristopher Dennis's filmography
In addition to appearing in numerous commercials and magazines, Christopher Dennis was in the following feature films and television shows:
This interview is Copyright © 2007 by Steve Younis. It is not to be reproduced in part or as a whole without the express permission of the author.