She does a movement with her head and tosses her hair to the side and smiles, emanating an irresistible glow as the camera clicks.
That was my introduction to both Lois Lane and the woman who portrayed her, Canadian actress Margot Kidder.
Superman: The Movie, released in 1978, was already six years old by the time I watched this visual masterpiece for the first time. It’s the kind of movie that you can watch over and over again and – in spite of dated visual effects and dialogue – it holds you in a way that the current film treatments have yet to capture. Much as Christopher Reeve left a near-impossible take on The Man of Steel to top, Kidder’s Lois Lane, sans her smoking habit, is just as timeless.
Considered by some as the First Lady of Comics, Kidder sadly passed away in her sleep at her home in Livingston, Montana recently. For a woman who had such a remarkable life, both good and ill, there could be no more peaceful way to leave. The Yellowknife-born actress – survived by her sister Annie, daughter Maggie McGuane, and two grandchildren – already had television and film projects under her belt by the time she walked – or stumbled, as Richard Donner warmly remembers – into the audition for Lois. From slasher films such as Black Christmas (1974) and a regular role on small screen shows like Nichols and McQueen, Margot had a plethoric resume and a small but significant wealth of experience.
She brought the right duality to the role that matched that of the title character; to Clark Kent, she was the feisty big sister that dismissed him as a romantic interest, while a shrinking violet when in the presence of the Man of Steel. While the complex relationship would have fallen apart if not for Reeve’s distinctive body language when in both roles, Kidder’s portrayal provided the perfect counterpart. Kidder’s Lois was a take-charge kind of woman ahead of her time that, when faced with this impossible stranger, felt able to be vulnerable without any fear of being hurt. You could tell that even without the “Can you read my mind?” monologue.
What made Margot so remarkable was that she was remarkable beyond Lois. Her candidness and conviction carried much weight in Hollywood and her life.
One thing she had always been open about was her very public battle with bipolar disorder. As a teenager in 1996, I can remember the details of her highly-publicized mental breakdown that I read in The Toronto Sun. As a man living with an anxiety disorder, I can relate at how daily a mental battle is. Out of respect, I will not recall those details. What I had not been aware of prior to this was that in she had suffered a minor spinal injury in a car accident in 1990. However, like she had in that incident, Kidder bounced back and became a strong mental health advocate, preaching tolerance and understanding of those living with mental illness.
While there were no Men of Steel in reality, she had had romances with actors and directors, including a very famous romance with Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau in the 1980s. The latter relationship also tapped into her activist personality, and a Trudeau biographer later credited her influence on Trudeau’s political decisions. Margot had a voice and opinion that commanded attention. There are two examples of her conviction both in the political spectrum and in the entertainment industry. In 2011, she had been arrested in front of the White House for protesting against the Keystone XL Pipeline.
As to the entertainment example, it was one I, for one, believe spoke highly of her character. Superman fans remember when she returned to the mythos in the role of Dr. Bridget Crosby in the fourth season of The WB series Smallville. She had been brought in for the season premiere instead of her former costar Christopher Reeve – Dr. Virgil Swann, respectively – due to health issues. Her character was his associate and hinted former love interest sent in his place during Clark’s recent crisis. Kidder appeared again later on and was supposed to come back, possibly to share the stage with Reeve.
However, after Reeve died earlier on in the year, and the writers wrote his character’s death as part of the plot, Kidder took a stance. She refused to reprise her role on the grounds that she felt the producers were trying to capitalize on her friend’s passing in a callous fashion. Subsequently, her character was killed off-screen as the result. The fact that she put the love and respect she had for her friend of many years over her career spoke highly of her character. This may not have impressed many fans or turned any heads, but it’s usually the small victories that stand out and Superman fans are very forgiving.
Margot Kidder made an impact on the world with her politics and her performances. That smokey voice and piercing gaze could disarm anyone. Her approach to the role of Lois made audiences believe that she could make a man who could fly give pause. Those that followed her in the role of Lois – Teri Hatcher, Erica Durance, and so forth – credit her take on the character’s independence as their influence on their portrayal. She is now the same annals as Noel Neill, who, ironically, portrayed Lois’s mother on that train scene in the first movie.
While many currently question how she died, it is more important to remember how Margot lived. As perfectly flawed and fallible as anyone, while still making her voice heard when it was needed. Actress, Canadian, activist, sister, mother, grandmother. Margot Kidder was a woman of many roles.
But for me, personally, it starts and ends with that smile.
Rest in peace, Lois.