Christopher D'Olier Reeve was born in New York City on September 25, 1952, the son of Barbara Pitney (née Lamb), a journalist, and Franklin D'Olier Reeve, who was a teacher, novelist, poet and scholar. His paternal grandfather, Colonel Richard Henry Reeve, had been the CEO of Prudential Financial for over twenty-five years, and his great-grandfather, Franklin D'Olier, was a prominent businessman, veteran of World War I, and the first national commander of the American Legion. Reeve's father was also descended from a sister of statesman Elias Boudinot, as well as from Massachusetts governors Thomas Dudley and John Winthrop, Pennsylvania deputy governor Thomas Lloyd, and Henry Baldwin, a US Supreme Court Justice. Reeve's mother was the granddaughter of Mahlon Pitney, another US Supreme Court Justice, and was also a descendant of William Bradford, a Mayflower passenger.
Reeve's father was a Princeton University graduate studying for a master's degree in Russian language at Columbia University prior to the birth of his son, Christopher. Despite being born wealthy, Franklin Reeve spent summers working at the docks with longshoremen. Reeve's mother had been a student at Vassar College, but transferred to Barnard College to be closer to Franklin, whom she had met through a family connection. They had another son, Benjamin Reeve, born on October 6, 1953.
Franklin Reeve's interests in socialism and English language and literature became important to him. He and Barbara divorced in 1956, and she moved with her two sons to Princeton, New Jersey, where they attended Nassau Street School. Franklin Reeve married Helen Schmidinger in 1956, a Columbia University graduate student. Barbara Pitney Lamb married Tristam B. Johnson, a stockbroker, in 1959. Johnson had Christopher and his brother, Benjamin, enroll in Princeton Country Day (later Princeton Day School), then a highly selective, elite private school. Among a very talented student body, Reeve distinguished himself by excelling academically, athletically, and onstage; he was on the honor roll and played soccer, baseball, tennis and hockey. The sportsmanship award at Princeton Day School's famed invitational hockey tournament was named in Reeve's honor. Reeve admitted that he put pressure on himself to act older than he actually was in order to gain his father's approval.
Reeve found his passion in 1962 at age nine when he was cast in an amateur version of the play The Yeomen of the Guard; it was the first of many student plays.
Massachusetts. The other apprentices were mostly college students, but Reeve's older appearance and maturity helped him fit in with the others. In a workshop, he played a scene from A View From The Bridge that was chosen to be presented in front of an audience. After the performance, actress Olympia Dukakis said to him, "I'm surprised. You've got a lot of talent. Don't mess it up."
The next summer, Reeve was hired at the Harvard Summer Repertory Theater Company in Cambridge for $44 per week. He played a Russian sailor in The Hostage and Belyayev in A Month in the Country. Famed theater critic Elliot Norton called his performance as Belyayev "startlingly effective." The 23-year-old lead actress in the play, a Carnegie Mellon graduate, turned out to be Reeve's first romance. She was engaged to a fellow Carnegie Mellon graduate at the time; they mutually ended the relationship when he made a surprise visit to her dorm room at seven in the morning and found Reeve with her. Reeve's romance with the actress fizzled a few months later when the age difference became an issue.