Margot Kidder was a spectacular Lois Lane.
On the surface, it seems like a pretty straight forward role. Ace reporter, Superman’s girlfriend. Easy enough. But it’s a deceptively tricky part. There’s a difficult balance to it that’s so essential to the character. A good Lois needs to be a take charge, courageous reporter, brash and almost a little bit foolhardy in her dedication to tracking down scoops and uncovering truth. But she also needs to have a softer side, one that comes out when she’s with Superman and she lets down her guard. Lean too far in either direction, and the character doesn’t feel quite right. But capture both, and you’ve got magic.
Kidder played both sides of the character seamlessly, and established the quintessential Lois Lane in Superman: The Movie. Her introduction is perfection: She storms into Perry White’s office, ignores new hire Clark Kent entirely, and pitches a series of articles about a string of senseless killings that are plaguing Metropolis. Kidder’s chemistry with Christopher Reeve is palpable from the start, even when he’s the bumbling Clark Kent. And it soars when he’s Superman. Her reaction to the dramatic helicopter rescue is a dang delight:
And her first interview with him is absolutely brilliant. Kidder captures the balance of the character so well. She’s thorough and relentless in her questioning, but charmingly flirtatious all the while. The entire conversation is tough yet sweet, and also slyly dirty. Watching Kidder and Reeve together is an absolute joy. It’s well crafted scene, but Kidder takes the strong script and elevates it further into something truly special.
When Superman: The Movie came out in the late 1970s, Lois Lane wasn’t in the best spot. The fearless reporter of the 1940s had given way to a lovesick, constantly put upon girlfriend in the 1950s, and this stayed the norm for several decades. The 1950s Adventures of Superman television show followed a similar pattern, with Phyllis Coates playing an enjoyably tough Lois in the show’s first season before Noel Neill took over from the second season on with a softer, more acquiescent take on her. Lois did have a brief feminist revolution in the comics in the early 1970s, dumping Superman and striking out as a freelance reporter, but it didn’t last. For the rest of the decade, her career took a backseat to her primary role as a romantic interest for both Superman and Clark Kent.
Then Kidder found a way to capture it all. The bravery, the determination, the compassion, the romance. She embodied every iconic element of Lois Lane, putting them all together in a compelling, layered performance. Kidder’s take on Lois defined the character not just for that time, but potentially for all time. Every Lois we’ve seen since, on page and screen, has had a bit of Kidder to her. The more successful ones have had a lot of Kidder. The less successful ones, less so. Kidder set the standard for what Lois Lane can be.
She went on to play Lois three more times. Superman II was a bit loopier than the original, but it had plenty of great moments for Lois. Whether she was infiltrating a terrorist plot to blow up the Eiffel Tower, discovering Superman’s secret identity, or trying to punch out a Kryptonian villain, Kidder was wonderful from start to finish. The next two Superman films suffered a substantial dip in quality, though. Kidder was largely written out of the third movie after she was vocal in her disagreement with the studio’s firing of original Superman director Richard Donner. The fourth and final film was a low budget mess, but even then she made some poor material work well and her talents shone through the subpar writing.
Margot Kidder was far more than just Lois Lane, of course, and her life consisted of a fascinating and inspiring series of ups and downs. She was born in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, a remote town in Northern Canada. From there she made her way south into the Canadian film and television industry, and then to Hollywood. She starred in a few notable films before landing the role of Lois Lane, but she became an overnight superstar when Superman: The Movie became one of the most successful films of all time.
She had an interesting career throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, earning critical praise for some gritty film roles and well-received stage performances. After suffering a nervous breakdown in 1996, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and became a mental health advocate in the decades that followed. She was also very involved in progressive, liberal causes, and devoted much of her later life to political and mental health activism.
Kidder passed away yesterday in her home in Montana at the age of 69. She was a remarkable woman who led a remarkable life, in so many ways. Her take on Lois Lane was a spectacular moment in pop culture history that has inspired viewers for generations now, while her activism touched and helped so many. She’ll be greatly missed.