“You were my Childhood Hero…”
By Noldy Rodriguez
My meeting with Christopher Reeve could be interpreted as destiny, or maybe even Divine Intervention. One thing is certain — it was, and will always be, a meeting that will live with me for all the days of my life. You see, I have always looked up to Superman as personified by Christopher Reeve. He was a Father figure to me growing up since my father died when I was only three years old. I always looked to him as the father I never had and wanted him to be — the vision of the father as my Hero.
It was a cold New York December in 1994 with the highs only in the teens. While on leave from the Navy, I had read a small blurb in the New York Post that stood out to me: “Christopher Reeve to Host Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting Ceremony.” The day came, and I ended up getting up around 5:00 am to arrive at Rockefeller by 7:00 am. I wanted to have enough time to get settled to insure that my goal of meeting Christopher Reeve was finally met. My Uncle J.R. drove me to the subway station, and before I got out of the car he offered a word of prayer in my quest. At the time I didn’t know what to think about it, but I was serious enough to know that if anyone was going to make it happen it was God.
I arrived at One Rockefeller at 7:00 am sharp. I scoped out the landscape and began to strike up a conversation with one of the uniformed security personnel who was already set up on one end of the police barricades. I asked him if he knew if Christopher Reeve was arriving shortly. He just looked puzzled and said he wasn’t sure. Undeterred, I went to the ground level of the ice rink to see what I could find out. I approached the entrance of the restaurant leading to the ice rink and tree. There I met a very well-dressed young lady who I found out was the hostess for the event. I took the opportunity to provide her with the “Reader’s Digest” version of my mission to meet Christopher Reeve. She was very sweet, and listened intently as I told her how it was hard growing up without a father, but that it was made easier by my dreams of my dad being like Superman.
During our brief conversation, an older lady with a headset and press badge approached the entrance. She was the Rockefeller Center event coordinator. I jumped at the opportunity to tell my story and dream of meeting my childhood hero. Without missing a beat, she presented me with a written biography on Christopher Reeve with information about his next movie role, The Village of the Damned, and sent me on my way. I remember feeling like the kid from the movie, Christmas Story named “Ralphie” — the boy who opened the Little Orphan Annie decoder and listened intently for hours, only to be find out the message was for a CRUMMY commercial (thanks Ovaltine)! I walked away with my photocopied bio on Christopher Reeve a little defeated, but still optimistic.
I immediately went to Plan B, which was setting up a prime location to be able to see Christopher from afar and get the pictures autographed that I had brought with me. As I came outside of the elevator to street level, I looked towards the ice rink and to my horror there he was! Christopher Reeve was already outside! I later found out from the hostess that I had missed him by ten seconds!!!! At this point the kid in me came out just looking towards the ice at Superman. Yeah, I actually whispered that to myself. I took pictures with my film camera (before digital had come along), and proceeded with Plan B — convincing the hostess to give Christopher Reeve my pictures to autograph for me.
I continued my conversation with the hostess, and after about 30 minutes she walked over to a well-dressed gentleman who I later found out was the restaurant proprietor. She came back and gave me the greatest news! She explained to me if I stood to the side and didn’t interrupt, I could stay in the restaurant while Christopher Reeve rehearsed with the camera crew! I was floored! At that point I was in a haze like a kid in a chocolate factory. I literally had my childhood hero a mere few feet away with only a plate glass between us. I snapped a few pictures through the glass, and then the moment I had been waiting for all my life up to that point was here. I was face to face with Superman. Yep, I called him “Superman”!
Christopher Reeve looked towards me with his hand extended to shake my hand. While shaking his hand, I uttered the words I was determined to say, “You were my Childhood Hero”. He immediately replied back, “Childhood Hero? Those are some big shoes to fill.” I replied, “You filled them Sir. You did.” I remember being in a daze, but focused. I wouldn’t miss my opportunity to let him know how much he impacted me during my childhood years. What’s interesting about this meeting was that it was pretty much just him and me, my hostess friend, and some lighting crew people walking around. Christopher asked me if I lived in New York City and I said that I did, but was currently living in San Diego on leave from the Navy. When I said “Navy”, he asked me if I had seen the Blue Angels perform. I confirmed that I had, and that they came out of Miramar Air Station. He told me that he had the opportunity to fly with the Blue Angels in the late 80s, and that it was a great experience being in the F16, but as an experienced pilot, it was hard for him not to be a backseat driver!
I spoke briefly with Christopher about how happy my mom would be to know that I had finally met him, and that although terminally ill, it would lift her spirits. He seemed genuine the entire time, allowing me the moment with my Hero without appearing to be in a rush. He asked me if I wanted him to sign the pictures I had brought with me, and I replied that it would be an honor. His replied back that the honor was his. Christopher asked me how to spell my name because he had never heard it before and then wrote, “To Noldy Best Wishes, Christopher Reeve”. Then he signed my American flag picture without me being able to see it and placed it in my manila envelope for me (more about that picture later).
Afterward, I asked Christopher Reeve if he would like to take a photo together. I told him no one would ever believe it is really him, even showing them a photo. They would just say, “it’s a cardboard cutout”. We both chuckled. Before we posed for the photo, he said, “Let’s shake hands. You can’t shake with a cardboard cutout!” After the photo, Christopher asked me if I wanted some pastries. Yep, Superman offered me a bagel! Anyway, I just picked up orange juice and stood in awe.
That was when my meeting with Christopher Reeve came to an abrupt end, or so I thought. My bio event coordinator friend was extremely annoyed that the hostess allowed me in the restaurant and asked me to leave. At this point, not wanting to wear out my welcome, I said that I was sorry and that I had just come there to see Christopher Reeve. That’s when the icing on the cake of my meeting happened. Christopher Reeve said to the coordinator that it was okay because they were meeting together — “He’s in the Navy protecting our shores. We can give him a few more minutes of our time together.” Wow! I was floored! A few minutes later, Christopher wished me well and told me to stay positive and safe in my travels. By that time, a bunch of fans were outside the restaurant with Superman items. I heard the lady escorting Christopher say that the fans could go through the kitchen area, but he said that he still had 10 minutes, so he walked outside, signed everyone’s pictures, posed for photos, and then proceeded to the escalator where I took a picture of him from behind.
I went outside in awe and in what can only be described as pure intervention, my brother found me in the crowd of thousands that had amassed for the annual tree lighting ceremony. He asked to see the autographs, and as he looked through them he commented how it was so cool that Christopher Reeve had done that for me. On the picture of Superman standing in front of the American flag, Chris wrote, “GO NAVY, Christopher Reeve”. When I reflected on the thoughtfulness those two words conveyed to me and knowing the man that he was, I knew that Christopher Reeve was truly a class act and a true Super MAN.
I went back a week later with a bouquet of flowers for my hostess friend. She said that Christopher Reeve was a really nice person, and so kind to everyone he encountered. She also talked about how Christopher joked with the crowd at the restaurant entrance during the tree lighting. He even put his hands at his hips when the girls screamed “Superman!”. She also mentioned how lovely Dana Reeve was. I was off to ponder my meeting with my childhood hero…
As my mother laid sick in her bed, she looked at the pictures I had brought back from my meeting with Christopher Reeve. She smiled, and as tears streamed down her cheek, she uttered beautiful words as only a mother could say, “I am so Happy for you son.” Mom died six months later and shortly after Christopher Reeve had his accident. At the time, I reflected on my meeting with him and how that was a day I would never forget.
I have since married and have four beautiful daughters who know and support my love for Superman and the man who played him in life. I continue to look back fondly to the Superman days and one thing is for sure — as time goes by and I get older, I realize more and more how much my love and respect for Superman helped me get through the loss of a father and a mother. My childhood hero continues to endure and give me strength.
Special thanks to all the people in my life who have supported me through the years. Although some are gone, they’re never forgotten. To my loving wife, Amber, my brothers, friends, and Uncle Jr for your faith and belief that God answers prayers; to all the Superman fans throughout the world, Jim Bowers for being the Custodian of preserving the legacy of Christopher Reeve; and most of all, to my mom who supported my love of Superman and the Courage of Actor Christopher Reeve.
July 5, 2011
Thank you very much, Noldy, for sharing this special, wonderful day in 1994, and for your kind words and Super Support! Christopher Reeve was a dedicated, gracious gentleman. Meeting him is a Gift that will keep giving forever.