Margot Kidder, actor, activist and horror icon, has passed away at the age of 69.
Most will recall her as journalist Lois Lane in Richard Donner’s 1978 comic book smash, Superman, who gave our titular hero a reason to spin the earth backwards. Yet Kidder’s acting career began a decade prior in her native Canada, where she starred as the eldest daughter to a bush worker on the Ottawa Valley in Peter Pearson’s The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar. While it’s considered by many as the best docudrama of the 1960’s, it never quite made a mark outside its English-Canadian border, though it was enough to get Kidders feet wet.
The role that proceeded was Norman Jewison’s (In the Heat of the Night) adaptation, Gaily, Gaily, based off Ben Hecht’s autobiographical novel, in which Kidder played Adeline, a prostitute who befriends a man named Ben Harvey (played by Beau Bridges). The film was nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound), and while it didn’t quite shoot Kidder’s career into the limelight, it did highlight her uncanny ability to imbue minor roles with a major sense of comedic timing, landing her alongside Gene Wilder in 1970’s Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx. This versatility would eventually catch the eye of relative newcomer Brian De Palma (Hi, Mom!), who would have not one, but two roles for Kidder as Danielle Breton and Dominique Blanchion, Siamese sisters who are surgically separated with conflicting deliriums in 1973’s Sisters.
A year later, Kidder would find herself back in Canada in the Dublin set A Quiet Day in Belfast, as well as the Terrence Malick (under the pseudonym David Whitney) written comedy, The Gravy Train. While A Quiet Day in Belfast would win Kidder her first Canadian Film Award for Best Actress, it would be Bob Clark’s home invasion slasher, Black Christmas that would cement her status as scene stealing Barb; a mean-spirited boozer who alleviated scenes of immense dread with an unpolished coarseness that would further demonstrate her uncanny ability to inject humor into the most unlikely of places. Not only would she receive another Canadian Film Award for Best Actress, but she would forever become an unsung hero of the horror genre, tackling the role of Kathy Lutz in Stuart Rosenberg’s (The Pope of Greenwich Village) The Amityville Horror; the supernatural account of the haunting of a New York home in 1974 that had previously been the scene of a gruesome mass murder.
Both Superman’s Lois Lane and Kathy Lutz showed in equal measures just how confident and determined Kidder was at highlighting roles that brought strength to the screen, helping to give rise to the unyielding force of women, both at home and in the workplace. If the patriarchal workplace was defined by the career driven woman, then it’s Kidder who put the super in Clark Kent, often standing taller than the highest skyscraper against the male dominated industry of journalism. And as Kathy Lutz, Kidder embodied a steadfast mother with a wavering Catholic leaning that stared down the red eyes of Satan, refusing to yield to the madness of bleeding walls until the family structure was completely safe.
These compelling and persuasively strong characters reflected not just Margot Kidder’s determination as an actor, but her ongoing struggle with bipolar disorder, which would go undiagnosed for almost two decades after soaring around the world with the man of steel. Her ability to tackle mental illness while raising a daughter in between acting proved just how adept and skillful she was in both life and her career, which took a substantial break after a 1996 manic episode that caused her to seek psychiatric care.
Despite these odds, her acting picked up with a wide assortment of film and television work, which she juggled while acting as the Montana State Coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America, an interest she attributed to discussions around the dinner table growing up with conservative parents. Because even when life became a real gold-plated whore, Margot Kidder, the unheralded face of determination, looked it dead in the face and told it where the light socket was.
You will be missed.
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