King Kong without Fay Wray? It's been done. Tarzan without Jane? Maybe he was better off before Bo anyway. But the Man of Steel without Lois Lane? Unthinkable. Still, that's the way it's shaping up for Superman III, which is set to roll next year. Christopher Reeve will suit up again, but Margot Kidder's saucy reporter may have scooped her first and last superkiss. No matter that her bedding of the big guy in Superman II has helped win the sequel better reviews and a bigger box office ($87 million to date) than the 1978 original. The official position given to Margot by Warner Bros, and producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind is that "The Superman-Lois relationship has gone as far as it can go." Is that truth, justice, or just the Hollywood way?
Hogwash, says the Kidder, who feels she's been unceremoniously dumped. Margot, 32, thinks it's her infamous big mouth that may have lost her a projected $1.5 million fee for Part III. During the filming of Superman II in London last year she lashed out publicly against the Salkinds for firing original director Dick Donner, who happens to be her mentor. "If I think someone is an amoral asshole I say so," snaps the Canadian actress. "Now I have a studio quite angry with me and the Salkinds in a position to claim my car." Co-star Reeve is supportive. Having already labeled the Salkinds "very strange people," he adds, "If Margot does not play Lois, I hope it's for a damn good creative reason and not some political nonsense."
There's a glimmer of hope. Insiders indicate that Margot's role may simply be reduced to cameo size. Kidder is philosophical. "I love Lois Lane. I could play her till I die, but I'm not going to die if I don't play her," she says. Indeed, Kidder has found a new movie hero. He's Richard Pryor, switching from comedy to drama as a returned Vietnam POW in the just-wrapped Some Kind of Hero. Margot is the hooker who loves him, and their graphic sex scenes—in bed and bathtub—are said to be steamy enough to snag an X rating. "They're not pornographic but very, very hot," agrees Kidder. When Pryor first brings her character to orgasm, Margot describes it as "painful and crying. He's broken through my defenses."
Certain tabloids suggest the same chemistry developed offscreen. Margot denies it. "I adore Richard but we weren't having an affair. He's cute, but he's got a girlfriend." Kidder saw no evidence of the drug-addicted wild man of yore. "He's so full of power and wisdom. I kept waiting for him to turn into 'the lunatic' But he never did. I was devastated when the work was over."
Part of the job was studying the hooker life from the inside, enlisting the aid of a group of San Francisco prostitutes. The actress expected "pathetic man-haters with needles hanging out of their arms" and found "bright, articulate women. I should have been a hooker," says Kidder, who once nearly hustled for real during her research but then backed off. "I guess there's something about the mavericks of society that appeals to me more than the middle-of-the-roaders."
Yet today Margot is further from the margin and closer to a normal life than at any time in her high-powered 17-film career. Formerly a member of the "nothing in moderation" school, she has matured into an on-the-wagon, drug-free health nut. The impetus is her daughter, Maggie, 5, the proudest byproduct of her tempestuous 1976 marriage to writer Tom (92 in the Shade) McGuane that lasted one year. When Maggie's not on vacation visiting her father's 300-acre Montana spread, she and Margot and Annie Scrimshaw, an English housekeeper, occupy a spacious three-bedroom retreat in Malibu Canyon purchased with Margot's Superman and Amityville Horror loot.
Though the living's easy, Margot frets about the Hollywood fallout: "I wonder if I'm raising my kid right. My instinct is to get her the hell out of this town." Margot knows the temptations all too well. "I was never close to being an alcoholic or a drug addict, but I did dabble. I've cleaned up out of the sheer terror of the inevitable result." She stopped drinking too, she says, "because my body started screaming and falling apart. I just took myself to a health farm and stopped, except for an occasional beer." A nutritionist helped ("Basically I'd never eaten three meals a day in my life"), and though she still doesn't cook, Margot gorges on high-protein foods and salads in local health bars.
Her personal cleanup campaign has brought more than physical changes. "I found that half my depression left and also half of wacky, zany, outspoken Margot disappeared," she explains. "I drank because I was a lot shyer than I ever cared to admit. My cover at parties was to act like Daffy Duck." She pronounces the Hollywood drug culture "tragic. Having watched a number of people go under from drugs [Ray Sharkey, her co-star in 1980's Willie & Phil and in the Pryor film, was recently arrested for heroin possession], and having myself screwed up a number of times, it terrified me. I don't want Maggie shooting heroin in her foot when she's 11."
As if to show the child that Hollywood values are all wet, Kidder refuses to have a swimming pool (she uses a lawn sprinkler on Maggie instead). She also bought a farm in upstate New York last year, but sold it recently when "I realized I didn't want to be Annie Oakley alone on a farm with my daughter for the rest of my life." A more nagging problem is her own celebrity. A recent trip to Disneyland was a nightmare. At her daughter's request, Margot disguised herself with a hat and sunglasses. But a dip in the pool blew it. "Kids started screaming," Margot reports. "Maggie said: 'Can't you just be a mother?' "
Being a lover seems even trickier. For once in her life she's alone. "I've gotten to the point where sex has to do with love, which means you get a lot more selective and a lot more lonely. It doesn't work for me anymore just to have a fling." She's not proud of her marital record. "I got divorced on both Superman I and II from two different people," she says. She's finally buried the hatchet with McGuane. "I said a lot of things out of pain which I'm ashamed of. We're now trying to share the upbringing of Maggie." Margot's second marriage, in 1979, to actor John (Cutter's Way) Heard, 36, lasted only a few weeks. "The Niagara Falls segment of Superman II was our honeymoon," she reflects sadly. There they both decided "it had been a mistake and we'd rather be best friends."
Margot's new self-awareness enables her to shrug off romantic setbacks. "Life might have been a little easier for me if I had been a lesbian," she theorizes, "but I'm not. It's just very natural for me to have a man. I am not in love. I do not have a steady man in my life and I miss it."
Kidder concedes that her stymied search for a mate may stem from the frequent absence of her mining engineer father when she was a child—the second of five born in the town of Yellowknife, near the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. Her father and history teacher mother later divorced. At 17, Margot quit college, left home with a boyfriend and started modeling and acting in Toronto. Odd jobs included "stuffing fat ladies into Slenderella machines" before her 1969 film debut as a teen hooker in Gaily, Gaily. (Briefly shaking her prostitute type-casting, she stars next as a tough-talking outcast in the Canadian Heartaches, which premieres in Toronto next month.) She found herself especially attracted to directors, like Brian DePalma, who cast her in his 1973 Sisters (as both psychotic Siamese twins). After they broke up she continued to be drawn to men who, says Margot, "can't be typed, except they're all a bit out of the mainstream, the way my friends are."
These days those friends and Maggie occupy the center of her life. The extended family includes writer Rosie Shuster, actors Jennifer Salt and Stuart Margolin and assorted "unemployed human beings. They're on a very solid nonbetrayal level forever," enthuses Margot. Director-turned-actress sister Annie, 28, is currently staying in Malibu trying out for a TV pilot. Since her parents have remained friends, Margot likes returning home to Canada for holidays to have "my family remove any inflated ideas I might have." Still, fame has allowed her to purchase 245 choice acres near Ashcroft, B.C. as a Kidder compound. "Given my family, it'll be more raucous than Petticoat Junction," she promises.
In Malibu Margot keeps active riding horses and going to dance and exercise classes. She also supports political candidates (she campaigned for John Anderson) as an ardent feminist who's angered by racism, the Moral Majority and not being able to live up to her own artistic and moral standards. Analysis, she says, is currently helping her to cope. "I have a hard time watching myself onscreen without wanting to vomit," she says. Her idols are Liv Ullmann and Maggie Smith. "Those being my standards, I feel like a fake. My challenge as an actress is to learn how to act."
As a woman, the challenge is casting an offscreen husband. "My daughter told me that if I get married again she'll leave home," Margot reveals. "But I'm dying to be married again—to have someone to have more children with, grow old with, shuffle around in slippers with, watch TV with, wake up at 4 in the morning with and just chat with about your fears. Of course," she adds wistfully, "I don't know how good I am at it." That hardly slows her down. "I think that one of my strengths is my vulnerability to love," she says of an excess to which she's still happily addicted. "I'll keep trying till I drop."