Christopher Dennis – Being Superman
It is easy to judge a book by its cover. If you stroll around Hollywood Blvd you will see many different Hollywood Characters.
The most famous one is the Superman. It is not just any Superman, it is THE Superman. The one who was the first to pose with fans and tourists for tips. That was 25 years ago.
You might find them hilarious, you might be in awe. But you probably never ask for their real names, their stories and how they got here.
Underneath the Superman costume lies a whole different character: Christopher Dennis. Having a troubled past as a foster child, he grew up to escape from every shelter. A troublemaker and runaway who later worked with a truck driver and drove restlessly through 49 states. He smiles with regret when he says that he never made it to all 50 states. There was no bridge to take him to Hawaii.
I visit Chris at his new home and he proudly shows me around and explains what he is working on. He lives here for free and in exchange he has to take care of the shelter dogs and the property. The charity organization ‚Dogs Without Borders‘ gives dogs from other shelters, that were supposed to be put down, another chance. Chris lives here with his three cats that he adopted. He loves to work with animals, because they never talk back. He has a very special connection and a certain way of talking to the animals, as if there was a different person speaking. Having been given a second chance in life himself, he can relate to these cats and dogs.
When he was younger, he made some bad choices in his life, causing a lot of damage to other people. But having a good heart, he sought for remission where he could and found forgiveness where it was appropriate.
He looks at me with his blue eyes that carry a certain heaviness. He wears a Superman shirt over a somehow gawkish posture and goes with his hands through his tousled thick hair. Time to jump into the phone booth. Or rather squeeze into the tiny bathroom to put on makeup and curl his hair into the iconic locks.
While he prepares to dress up, he tells me about June 10 in 1991, the day he became Superman. With people always telling him how much he looked like Christopher Reeve, he one day decided to put on a Superman costume and drive down to Hollywood. Back then you didn’t see a lot of men wearing tights and a cape out on the streets. Sitting on the bus, scared to death, he decided to just cross the street to hop on the next bus that will take him back home. The bus did not come. But a lot of people drove by, screaming ‚I love you Superman‘ and taking pictures. He quickly gained confidence. And ultimately fame. Chris is appears to gain confidence with every minute he explains every detail about his handmade costume. The boots were made by the same man who made the boots for George Reeve, the Superman of the TV Show during the 1950s. The boots are now more than 20 years old and carry more duck tape than soles.
Now in his costume, sitting on plastic chairs outside of the property gate on a quiet street and deeply inhaling the smoke of a cigarette, he tells me that his greatest regret in life is having been addicted to drugs like speed and crack. He quit using drugs after he was high watching a movie with a funeral scene, thinking he was watching his own funeral from above. He had something what he calls a spiritual awakening. But that was way before he became Superman. He has told this story many times, probably in the same words and with the same accentuation. Just as if he cites his lines out of a screenplay.
A passion becomes profession. Chris is probably the biggest Superman fan you’ll meet. He claims to have a collection of Superman items stored away that easily has a net worth of 1 million USD. He once had to decide between his marriage and his Superman collection. He is separated from his wife now.
This devotion to Christopher Reeve and his looks and every little detail of Superman makes him stand out from other impersonators.
He straightens up his walk as soon as he wears the costume and the cape to step out of the shadows and sets foot on the shiny plaques of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. With his impressive height and the padded body he is getting all the attention he is craving for.
Hollywood: A land of dreams with the freedom of expression. Also a land of broken dreams. His most emotional memories as Superman are about the moments, when people get excited to see their Superhero. Hugs and tears of joy are worth more to him than a tip for a picture. His weirdest moments of being Superman? When people want to have sex with him as Superman – which he says always politely declines, because that would not be appropriate, representing Superman.
But he flirts with the normal mortal beings walking by. It’s alright, you can check me out, your boyfriend won’t mind – that phrase makes people smile, no matter if he even changes boyfriend to girlfriend.
Hollywood Blvd is his kingdom. Everyone knows him, everyone respects him. Always well mannered and always polite. He celebrates the freedom of speech and expression to become something greater than his mortal persona. Something that is real, something that you can breath, touch and feel.
Most people morph into something in virtuality, where everyone can be whatever they want to be. Mostly disappearing in meaninglessness in the vast world of social media and virtual reality.
Superheros don’t smoke. That’s why we go to the backside of a small Tattoo shop. Chris starts talking about smoking and lights up a cigarette. A quite surreal picture, Superman sitting on the backdoor steps of a tattoo parlor, just next to the dumpster and smoking while ‚Superman‘ by Lazlo Bane blasts out of his smartphone. He sings the lines of the ‚Scrubs‘ main theme out loud: No, I know I’m no Superman – I’m no Superman…
That’s when reality hits me again. I look at Chris, he has put on his reading glasses and checks his emails to see if the adoption of one of his dogs went through. Just before midnight, we decide that it is time to go. I drive him back to his home in Encino and after hugging him goodbye, I try to process everything I’ve learned and experienced today.
Hollywood is the land of opportunity, the wildest imaginations are brought to live. People’s dreams are brought to play. This is a place where dreams can come true. Chris‘ biggest dream is to one day receive a star on the Walk of Fame to be forever remembered for what he his and for what he believes in.
Christopher Dennis appeared in the 30 Seconds to Mars music video ‚City of Angeles‘ which you can watch on Vimeo here. He also stars in the documentary ‚Confessions of a Superhero‘ which is available on US Netflix or in the iTunes Store here.
UPDATE: As of now, Christpher doesn’t live and work at the animal shelter anymore. He struggles to find work and a place to stay. He recently started a GoFundMe campaign where he wrote:
I’m trying to raise $1000.00 I need help raising money for a new superman suit. As of late august i got beat up by street people wildding golf clubs, they knocked out 2 of my teeth and stole my superman outfit. They also stole money that i had saved up so now i have no way of making the money that i need. I have a dentist fixing my teeth for free. I have been portraying superman here on Hollywood Blvd. For over 25 years I am the founding father of the costumed characters in the U.S. and canada I started june 10th 1991 I meet over 20,000 people as they come to Hollywood California and take pictures with them for tips.