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Love of Life (1974-76)

Internet Movie Database link Character Name: Ben Harper

Reviewed by Joyce Kavitsky (

Love of Life 3 At the age of 22, a lean pre-Superman Christopher Reeve landed a leading role on this long-running CBS daytime television serial, where he played the kind of young man you love to hate in one of his earliest roles as a villian. This part was important to Reeve because it enabled him to pay back the money his stepfather loaned him for his education as well as getting experience acting on television that was very different from any he had previously in the theater. While on the soap opera Reeve also continued taking acting lessons, and even went on auditions.

The continuing story of Love of Life was about Bruce and Vanessa Sterling and the problems of their family and friends. The setting was the small imaginary town of Rosehill. Vanessa has a determined sister named Meg who tried to control the lives of everyone with whom she had any contact. Vanessa, who loved life (where the title came from) married but soon widowed. Meg married and had a baby, Ben Harper. But in 1958 Meg was divorcing her husband. Many different "sensational" conflicts took place in the story. When Reeve played the role the storyline went like this: Ben Harper, a very devious, lawbreaking, and immoral individual found it necessary to live a double life since he was married to two women in the same town at the same time. His first wife was Arlene Lovett, played by Birgitta Talksdorf. They separated and she followed him to his new home -- after he had married Betsy Crawford, played by Elizabeth Kemp, a sweet society girl. Lovett then chose to blackmail him instead of take him to court. It was all downhill for Harper from there with a falling out with both wives leading to a prison term for bigamy. Reeve bowed out at this point of the soap to pursue his career. It was just in time too because the new Ben Harper's first scene was that as the victim of a prison rape. In a 1981 DC Comics Superman II The Movie Magazine interview, Reeve says about his early role: "The guy had lots of money and no moral scruples whatsoever. He was married to two woman at the same time, one of whom was pregnant, and the Mafia had a contract out on him because of some black-mail extortion scheme."

Love of Life 2 The series began in 1951 and was created by Roy Winsor and directed by Larry Auerbach who directed the show since the beginning. Auerbach let the actor plan the next move in the scene by letting them almost ad lib the next action. Each scene was rehearsed about three or four times about the time it took for actors to really begin to remember their lines. The atmosphere of the rehearsal room was lighter compared to the seriousness of the scripts. Taping schedules were so tight that the actors were together for such long periods of time that the feeling of "family" developed among the cast and as a result they helped each other as a team. The taping of shows made things a little less hectic than they were in the days of live broadcast. But even with modern facilities, a complete show had to be rehearsed, blocked and taped within 12 hours. Actors accidentally called each other by their real names on-camera. Sometimes they got confused by stage setups and walked through fake walls. Reeve has fond memories of his soap opera days. For Reeve to meet the schedules for both the soap opera and a play he was in, for sixteen weeks, until the play came to New York, his day went like this: By 4:00am he had to catch a plane to New York and while on the way he would learn the lines for the days taping of Love of Life. He had to arrive at CBS studios by 7:30am and work the day until 5:00pm. Then he would hop on another plane at 6:00pm and shuttle back to that nights performance of the play.

Love of Life 1 Reeve's portrayal was so vividly realistic that his appearances were increased from two to four times a week. However, for at least one impassioned viewer, Reeve's Ben Harper was a bit too vivid. Reeve still winces when he recalls the time a woman in a New Hampshire restuarant confused him with his soap opera counterpart and whacked him over the head with her pocketbook shouting, "How dare you treat your poor pregnant wife that way?"

The play Reeve was doing all the shuttling back and forth for was A Matter of Gravity starring Katharine Hepburn. The 1976 play was on a pre-Broadway road tour that took it to such various stops as Philadelphia, New Haven, Boston, and Toronto. In an interview with TV Day Stars in September 1976, Reeve says about leaving the soap opera: "Katharine Hepburn inspired me to take on a new challange!" Reeve's next part was a bit part in the film Gray Lady Down. And then, soon afterward, he was cast in the challenging dual role of Clark Kent and Superman in Superman: The Movie.

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