The following isn’t going to be an obituary (there will be hundreds of those all over the internet, I’m sure); this is just me sharing a personal memory of an encounter with ‘my’ Lois Lane; the late Margot Kidder.
But first, a bit of context…
December 1978… a time I believed a man could fly.
As a kid of 12 years old, I remember seeing 1978’s “Superman: The Movie” in cinema almost 40 years ago. It was nothing like what I’d half-expected. I imagined the movie would be a campy, “biff-sock-pow,” Batman TV series-type riffing on the Superman mythos. What I saw unfold on the screen that day was an epic, beautiful and powerful modern myth. Like the ancient stories of the Greek gods, but told in modern day parlance and decor.
It opened with sepia-toned images of a kid reading aloud from the pages of an old Superman comic book; a nice way to acknowledge the source material. Then came the beautiful and powerful blasts of music from composer John Williams. The title track theme almost literally proclaims “Super-MAN” in bold brassy notes.
We then have an extended prologue on the planet Krypton (or “Kryptin”, as pronounced by Marlon Brando’s “Jor-El”). The Kryptonian sequence has a ‘Gods-of-Mt. Olympus’ vibe to it. The icy, densely populated crevasses of the Kryptonian landscape suggest a highly advanced people who’ve come to adapt to their increasingly inhospitable world. The Kryptonians are mostly attired in reflective clothing that literally glows on camera (the garments used the same type of glass beads used to make reflective highway signs).
Three irredeemable villains are being tried for crimes of ‘sedition’ within a giant dome of justice. They’re all found “Guil-tyyyy!” and immediately ejected into space for all eternity (or until the sequel). The evil trio are rendered two-dimensional by Jor-El’s ‘phantom zone’ (sort of a spatial prison that looks to be a flying record album jacket).
Krypton is doomed, so Jor-El and his wife send their only son (and Christ metaphor) Kal-El to Earth for safety. Krypton is then destroyed in spectacular fashion, in an action sequence that simultaneously recalls both 1976’s “Logan’s Run” and 1974’s “Earthquake.”
Kal-El’s escape pod zooms to Earth as the child is educated with advanced knowledge of his destination en route. Once there, young Kal-El is renamed “Clark” and raised by childless Kansas farmers John and Martha Kent (Glenn Ford, Phyllis Thaxter).
The adult Clark (now played by the late great Christopher Reeve… a true Superman if ever there was one) eventually moves to the great city of “Metropolis” (NYC redux). There, he lands work as a new reporter at The Daily Planet newspaper (oh, so 1978!). Kent immediately befriends, and becomes enamored, of star reporter Lois Lane (Margot Kidder).
Later that evening, Lois’ helicopter suffers a near-fatal accident upon departure from the Daily Planet’s rooftop helipad. Kent then chooses to reveal himself to the world as “Superman” (cue Williams’ iconic theme…) as he flies skyward to rescue the falling Lois Lane, as well as the careening helicopter (that’s why he has two hands, right?).
Superman is outed to the world, and a tenacious Lois Lane wants the full story.
In one of the most unabashedly romantic sequences in a superhero movie to date, Lois interviews Superman on her penthouse balcony (how she affords it no one knows) and then partakes in a dreamlike flight over Metropolis with him. Circling over Lady Liberty (Metropolis is New York City) and above the clouds, the two gently hold hands. Superman’s merest touch enables Lois to fly right alongside him.
The entire sequence is almost like something out of a 1940s Hollywood musical. Lois even has an interior monologue during the flight (using the lyrics of “Can You Read My Mind?” which was also recorded as a pop single that year by Barbara Streisand).
The rest of the film, while still very entertaining, lacks some of the romantic, epic, mythic quality of the first half.
It is also somewhat offset with campy villainy in the form(s) of Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, his bumbling henchman Otis (a comically inspired Ned Beatty), and Lex’s gang moll Eve Teschmacher (a vampish, dead-sexy Valerie Perrine). The three conspire to slice half of California into the Pacific ocean using a hacked US nuclear missile in order to open up new beachfront coastal properties along a severed San Andreas fault line (“Costa Del Lex”).
As ridiculous as all of this sounds, it’s a lot more entertaining in execution.
“Superman: The Movie” was arguably the birth of the modern superhero movie, the next being “Superman II” (1980) and 1989’s “Batman.” In 2008, we had Marvel’s “Iron Man,” which gave birth to the current Marvel movie explosion.
“Superman” was certainly the first time I’d ever seen a comic book character get such a deluxe, post–“Star Wars” kind of treatment. It was truly new at that time. Until then, most superhero stories were campy TV shows like Batman or Wonder Woman, or black & white one-reeler serials from the 1940s.
While many of the special effects vary in quality (some of the rear-projection and miniature FX don’t hold up very well), the overall feeling of the film, especially when combined with Williams’ magnificent music, elevate the sum of the movie’s parts into something truly grand (and even a bit awe-inspiring).
Director Richard Donner made so many smart decisions for “Superman.” The music, cinematography (courtesy of “2001” cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth) and the high octane casting of Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando. Relative unknowns Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve proved to be inspired casting choices as well. They are simply perfect.
Kidder’s Lois, unlike many of her successors in the role, is truly believable as a reporter. I believed her in the role just as I believed that Chris Reeve could fly by just pushing off and aiming his arms. Kidder’s Lois is quirky, earthy and attractive, but she’s not some fluffy glamour-puss. It’s a well-balanced performance.
The chemistry of the late Reeve and the now-sadly late Kidder was palpable, and that chemistry fills the spaces of their scenes together. Behind-the-scenes, Kidder spoke of the brotherly affection she had with the oh-so-serious young Reeve. That fraternal affection translates onscreen as budding romance.
1980’s “Superman II” had some great moments for the Lois character as well. The 2006 director’s cut of the film (my preferred version, despite its roughness in patches) has Lois figuring out Superman’s secret identity a lot sooner than she does in the 1980 version. The Lois Lane character was used in a somewhat reduced capacity throughout the sequels (she has little more than blink-and-you’ll-miss-her bookended cameos in “Superman III”).
The last time I saw Kidder cinematically was a cameo in 2009’s rebooted “Halloween II” (directed by Rob Zombie) in which she played the therapist of the the new version of “Laurie Strode” (now played by Scout Taylor-Compton, a lesser substitute for the 1978 original’s Jamie Lee Curtis). Kidder was only in one scene, but it was nice to see her again on a big screen, however briefly.
In the late 1990s, Kidder had very public struggles with mental illness and even homelessness. That she rebounded and eventually returned to acting is a testament to her strength, and I salute her for that. Her struggles maybe even helped to demystify and debunk some of the stigma that still (sadly) surrounds mental illness. She was a survivor.
I had the pleasure of meeting Margot Kidder in a somewhat unusual way, at least to a non-conventioneer. We met at San Diego Comic Con in the summer of 2009…and I wasn’t the one who initiated our meeting, either.
Earlier that day, I’d decided to cosplay for the very first time (at the tender age of 42!). I slipped into ‘Version 1.0’ of my now somewhat infamous “Fred Flintstone” costume (since further refined by my brilliant wife into the nearly cartoon-perfect version that I wear now at conventions). As I nervously walked into the San Diego Convention Center that day, I was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly (and unexpectedly) positive reaction the costume received.
As I walked across the autograph area, I was still getting used to being stopped for photos when I heard a vaguely familiar woman’s voice yell, “FRED!!!” I turned around to see Margot Kidder running towards me with her assistant, briefly leaving her assigned autograph area. She told me that my Fred Flintstone costume was her favorite costume that she’d seen all day, and she asked me if I wouldn’t mind posing for a photo with her. I said of course I wouldn’t mind. I also asked if I could take one with my camera as well, and she graciously agreed. Her assistant took our pics, we shook hands and she thanked me.
My initially shaky confidence significantly rose after that encounter. I’m also quite sure I blushed a shade of red at least as red as Rudolph’s nose.
When I heard that Margot Kidder passed away this morning, it hurt.
The Margot Kidder I remember was not only a perfectly realized Lois Lane, but also a kindly, slightly hippie-ish lady who helped a ridiculously shy, very overweight, first-time cosplayer not only gain a bit of self-confidence, but also feel genuinely good about himself. I thought she had an earthy, humorous, Carrie Fisher-esque vibe about her (minus about 30% of Fisher’s wonderfully acidic sardonicism). Kidder was, in my brief-but-memorable encounter with her, a sweetheart.
While I can’t claim to really know Margot Kidder, I will miss her nevertheless.
She helped build my confidence as a cosplayer (a hobby which I still enjoy to this day) and she will forever be ‘my’ Lois Lane.
Goodbye, Margot Kidder (1948-2018).