I didn’t go into my basement for an entire summer, and it was Margot Kidder’s fault.
Like everybody else in my world, I had fallen for her when she appeared as Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeve in the 1978 blockbuster film Superman. Mr. Reeve – be still my beating, adolescent heart – became a superstar, but it was Ms. Kidder who captured my attention. Ambitious, spunky and sexy smart with that unforgettable raspy voice, her Lois Lane was a worthy partner in love, crime-fighting and journalism for Clark Kent/Superman at a time when women in Hollywood were (were – ha!) routinely relegated to second fiddle.
“Easy, Miss. I’ve got you,” Mr. Reeve as Superman says to Ms. Kidder’s Lane in the film’s iconic rescue scene.
“You’ve got me?” she replies, alarmed. “Who’s got you?”
I didn’t know what onscreen chemistry was at that point – I was 12 – but I recognized the sizzle between those two.
Ms. Kidder, the definitive Lois Lane, was an inspiration for me, a future female reporter (I hoped). And when I learned that she was Canadian – stop the presses. I felt a sense of pride and also possibility: If this Canadian I had never heard of could become a movie star playing a newspaper woman, there was certainly hope for my own out-there ambition of becoming an actual reporter. I would be just like Lois Lane – bursting into my editor’s office full of ideas, demanding his attention and newsroom equality.
A devoted fan, I returned to watch her again and again – in Superman II and even sequels III and IV.
Even scarier, I returned to the theatre in the summer of 1979 to watch a horror movie, simply because Ms. Kidder was one of the stars. The Amityville Horror was terrifying: A happy family moves into a beautiful, underpriced Long Island home. But the house may be haunted, waking dad (James Brolin) at 3:15 a.m., making him want to do bad things, while mom (Ms. Kidder) and the kids are in peril. There was something petrifying in the basement and after some horrible person told me the film was based on a true story, I avoided the cellar of my suburban bungalow for weeks. (Also, I still freak out a little bit if I wake up in the middle of the night and the clock reads 3:15.)
Ms. Kidder was also excellent in the horror film Black Christmas, which predates Superman.
Years later, in her 40s, Ms. Kidder lived a real-life horror story: In 1996, she was reported missing and found days later in the bushes behind a suburban Los Angeles home “in obvious mental distress,” police said at the time. They described her as “dirty, frightened and paranoid.” The story was widely reported; everyone was talking about it – myself included. I was a working journalist by then, but the inspiration her Lois Lane had given me had long been forgotten, until that day. I remember well how Ms. Kidder’s infamous breakdown was treated: like it was a big joke. That’s one of the most horrible parts of the story.
How far we have come.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Ms. Kidder became an outspoken advocate for mental-health issues, working to bring awareness and understanding to the matter.
Ms. Kidder died on Sunday at the age of 69 – too soon, of course. But it gives me comfort to know that she lived long enough to witness a whirlwind of change in Hollywood and in the greater culture.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Ms. Kidder was not paid as much as Mr. Reeve, just as veteran city hall reporter Lois Lane was instantly overshadowed and replaced by rookie underling Clark Kent in the first Superman film. Hollywood still has a long way to go regarding pay equity, but at least there’s open outrage over the issue – and a hashtag.
Long before we were all tweeting about #TimesUp, Ms. Kidder was waging her own one-woman campaign about issues related to her own life and career. For years, she persevered, speaking publicly about what she called her “big, public flipout;” and continuing to excel at her craft, winning a Daytime Emmy Award in 2015 for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s or Pre-School Children’s Series for R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Series.
Ms. Kidder lived long enough to see the Hollywood tide turn, to experience the steamroller of the #MeToo movement and to see mental-health issues gain serious attention – not uncomfortable giggles – in the media and beyond.
I hope, in the end, that she felt, maybe not rescued, but liberated – not by a Man of Steel, but by a culture that understands the power of a steely woman.