To watch Margot Kidder is to be charmed by Margot Kidder. She is equal parts shy, brash, and, at times, so frank as to be bordering on lewd. I recently saw her on an episode of The Dick Cavett Show, which aired on August 3, 1970. After being introduced, she saunters onto the stage in an exquisite empire waist dress with a Juliet sleeve that looks as if it was found in a thrift shop. She takes her place next to Cavett and his other guests, Janis Joplin and Gloria Swanson. Almost immediately, she pulls her legs up onto her chair and into her body, and we see that she is barefoot. It is this small movement that signals to me her sense of her own body. There is a self-consciousness in the gesture, an awareness of herself in space, and it was this that I was drawn to. It is a normal, but deeply intimate movement, a testament to her own interiority. Throughout the show, she is quiet but persistent in her commentary, prompting a conversation about women’s lingerie in which Swanson takes credit for inventing the panty girdle. Cavett blushes and, through all of this, Margot giggles, surveying the awkwardness with glee. She is not completely self-assured, but she is present, never evasive. She is vulnerable, but what exactly makes her vulnerable is a mystery. She seems almost ethereal, but her motions are those borne of insecurity and awareness.
In the wake of this interview, Margot appeared in some of her most memorable roles, in films such as Brian De Palma’s Sisters (1972), Black Christmas (1974), The Amityville Horror (1979), and, in the film she is most remembered for, Superman (1978). Margot Kidder is an exquisite actress. She has a control and a vulnerability that is incredible. She imbues her characters with the same relatability that can be seen in her interviews, and it was this relatability that was such a large part of her public persona. She seemed to be accessible and completely human, not solely an aspirational figure of glamour, the kind that stars are traditionally made to become. The reality was darker than that. There were struggles that we, her audience, could not even fathom, but she was always willing to give so much of herself to demand what was right.
In the process of researching Kidder’s life, it was, once again, an interview of sorts that caught my attention. In 1976, Kidder posed for Playboy. Her agreement to appear in the magazine was contingent on being able to write the article that appeared alongside the photographs. In this article, she railed against the magazine and its effects on women, especially young, impressionable women. She recounts the time when, at 14 years old, she first became aware of the magazine. She speaks of the way it caused her to analyze every inch of her body, how she was made to feel inadequate as she looked at the women who were the supposed images of perfection, and how, trying to fashion herself after these women, she had always found herself lacking. Her goal in doing this was to shatter the illusion that the magazine cultivated. She wanted to show what a real body looked like, to expose the real toll that these images have on women, and to restore some power to women whose lives are, from a young age, dictated by magazines such as these. She states, “Hopefully, these pictures are of a real honest-to-God, in-the-flesh, fucked-up-like-everybody-else human being. At first, I said no to Playboy, pleading male chauvinism. Finally, I said yes in a fit of missionary zeal. I’ll show them what a real body looks like, I thought to myself. I’ll be brave and outrageous and get the photographer to show me in all my imperfect glory… But maybe I chickened out. When the contact sheets came back from the lab, I put huge Xs through the pictures that I thought made me look lumpy. However, halfway is better than nothing. If you’re 14 and reading this, take solace: You probably look a lot better than you think. And nobody looks like Miss January.” With these words, she alters the discussion. She has refused to be passively consumed. She has allowed women into a discussion about their own bodies, one that had, for so long, been dominated by men. Kidder ends the piece with a critique of her own vanity and selfishness when faced with her image. But in this, she unfairly maligns herself, for, with this article, she has done a rare thing within the pages of Playboy; she has managed to wrest power from the men who have wielded it for decades and has given it to the women who were most impacted by the images the magazine propagated. She has opened the magazine up to the impact it has. For this alone, she is a legend.
It is this insistence on honesty, this frankness, this willingness to be vulnerable and uncomfortable that is so appealing in Margot Kidder. This is what makes her stand out in a sea of performers, many of whom were more prolific during the 1970s and 80s. She was aware of the forces that had impacted her life, the standards and the powers that had hurt her and many others and she strove to expose them, to render them false and rob them of their power. She was not required to do this, it would probably have been more acceptable for her to refrain, but she did it because it was necessary. It is this challenge that I believe is inherent to Kidder. You see it present throughout her whole life; this desire to hold power accountable in any way and with any platform she has at her disposal. This was a woman who lived her convictions and her power was immense.
Brosnahan, Chris. “Margot Kidder: Playboy 1976,” Medium. May 15, 2018. https://medium.com/@ChrisBrosnahan/margot-kidder-playboy-1976-e532241cc56.