by Jeffrey St. Clair - CounterPunch
May 18, 2018
Never, Margot. It’s Margaret. Margie to my friends.”
Thus was I admonished early in our penpal relationship.
She signed that note back in Bush-time, “Margie.” But there would be moments, years later, when she’d call up well after midnight (she was a creature of the night) and speak sternly into the answering machine (I’m a creature of the morning),
“Jeffrey, this is Margaret. Call me, damnit.”
And I’d know by the steely timbre of her voice that I’d made some transgression, written something that had struck a sour note, probably slandered Canada or ripped the antics of some Hollywood nymphet or passed along some ribald piece of gossip from a tabloid.
She hated the tabloids, especially the British scandal sheets which had libeled her so savagely, and she had sympathy for anyone else they skewered. Margaret Kidder had her standards and she rarely bent them and she never hesitated to let you know when you’d crossed a line. That’s one of the things I loved about her. She was fiercely loyal to her ideals and friends. And she had an intolerance for bullshit.
When you became friends with Margie, you stayed friends, even through the rough passages, which could be long, rim-bending and infuriating. But she possessed a brilliant magnetism that always drew you back into her madcap orbit.
I was stunned at the news that Margie had died on Sunday in her house in Livingston, Montana. It’s not that she hadn’t had close calls with the Reaper before. Indeed, she’d had several narrow escapes in the last few years. But I’d come to think of her as indestructible. Margie had taken some of the vilest shit the world could throw at anyone and she had remained standing, a little wobbly from time-to-time, but still upright.
Margie had a great capacity to endure pain and because she was so compassionate and empathetic, she also tended to absorb the pain of others, human and canine. This placed a heavy burden on her frail frame. Heavier physically and psychically than many of us knew. To my eyes, Margie hadn’t been the same since she traveled to Standing Rock, during the coldest and most intense days of the encampment. After she returned, she told me that she wanted to move back to Canada, that she was sick of the inadequacies and injustices in the US, especially of its health care system which she said “is eager to profit from people’s pain until they run out of money.” Margie made the personal political in a way that allowed many of her friends to hear the political point and miss the personal distress underneath. That’s the way she wanted it. She was stubborn and wary of asking for help.
Alas, she couldn’t get to Canada. Some bureaucratic intransigence with the immigration police kept her from moving to Vancouver. And we were selfishly glad to have her in Montana, sharing a parallel of latitude with Oregon. It was her desire for home that we missed, a desire to return to a more humane place, one that seemed, at least to her in the wake of her experience at Standing Rock, still worth fighting for.
Margaret Kidder was born in Yellowknife, way up in the bright white region of the Northwest Territories, on the frigid shores of Great Slave Lake. It’s a long way, geographically and culturally, from Yellowknife to Hollywood and the movie industry image-making machine did its worst to scrub the roots of her heritage from her, to reshape and transform her into yet another anodyne starlet for the last days of the studio system. Margie resisted at every turn and the more she resisted, the more the moguls of Hollywood tried to break her down. But she refused to play the demure part of the star. She was nobody’s angel. Margie was a working actress with a working-class sensibility, as hard-nosed as any gold or tungsten miner up in the Yellowknife country. She was a born agitator, an agitator who’d read her Marx.
Even “Superman”, the role that she could never escape, was just a job, a difficult, tedious and at times even dangerous one. “It’s work,” she wrote me once. “There’s not a damn thing glamorous about it. It’s just what we do.” The “we” there is revealing. She saw herself as part of a work-force, a collective. It’s one reason why she maintained a life-long affection for so many of her co-workers, cast and crew, on films, big and small, across the decades. She had the same feeling of solidarity with them you’d find among longshore workers on the docks of Oakland. For Margie, the essential experience was in collective process of making a film and not the film itself.
One day I made a churlish quip about Richard Donner, forgetting that he’d directed “Superman.” Margie stomped right on me. “You just don’t know much about movie-making,” Margie snapped. “Donner’s one of the very best. Much better than your hero, Herzog the drama queen.” She then proceeded to shoot down every one of my critiques of his films. “Most importantly, Richard treated his crew and his actors with dignity,” she said. “I loved working with him.” I surrendered to her judgment, but remain quietly skeptical about the aesthetic merits of “Maverick” and “Lethal Weapon 3.”
Margie could be pissed off at you one minute and rush to your rescue the next. A few years ago, when Alexander Cockburn was being treated for cancer and CounterPunch’s financial state was dire (more dire than our normal dire), we decided to have an online auction as a last ditch attempt to keep us afloat until the fall fund drive. Margie rang up. “Sorry to hear that you’re in such bad shape that you’ve got to sell all your good stuff,” she said. “I’ve been there and I’m willing to help. What if I send you and Becky a pair of my panties to auction off to the highest bidder? There’s got to be some Lois Lane-obsessed pervert out there that would pay good money to sniff them.”
I’ve been struggling all week with the image of Margie lying helplessly on the floor of her house, wondering where her dogs were and what they must have felt. I’d been in that house several times. I have a clear image of it in my head. It’s not the house of a celebrity. Architecturally, it’s about as far from LA modernism as you could get in the lower-48 states. The house is old, rambling, and not precisely immaculate. Margie’s house was a home and showed the traces of being lived in. It wasn’t adorned by film posters and glamour shots, though I recall a couple of intimate black-and-white photos from the sets of “92 in the Shade” and “Rancho Deluxe,” both by her ex Thomas McGuane. Mainly, I remember the books, hard and paperback. There were volumes in every corner, on every table, books spilling from shelves, stacked on desks, piled on the floor. These weren’t coffee table books for show. They’d been read and re-read until their spines were broken. They were dog-eared, post-it noted and annotated. Margie was a voracious reader. Many of her calls to me were to demand new reading material. One night I gave her a list of five relatively recent titles. She replied: “Fuck, I’ve read all of those” and hung up.
Margie was one of the great beauties of our time, but her house, with its books and dogs and scribbled notes, revealed her true character: an eccentric genius who could hang out and more than hold her own with some of the most heavyweight politicians of our time, including Pierre Trudeau, George McGovern and Bernie Sanders. Eccentric? Here’s a story. Months had gone by and I hadn’t heard from her. I sent emails and got no reply. Then emails started to bounce back. So I called her a few times and finally she picked up.
“Margie, where have you been?”
“Here in Livingston, where else?”
“You haven’t responded to my emails. I was a little worried that I’d permanently offended you.”
“Oh, hell no. I couldn’t stand that fucking machine anymore and threw damn thing into the river.” (This is something I wish I had the courage to do at least once a week.)
The river was none other than the Yellowstone and for the next few nights I kept picturing her submerged Macbook, wedged against a boulder, serving as structural habitat for cutthroat trout.
Over the years, Margie kept inviting us to stay with her in Livingston. Finally, we took her up on the offer, hoping to use her place as a jumping off point to the Yellowstone country and the high wilderness trails of the Beartooth Range. Plans were made, dates were set and we hit the road from Oregon City to Montana. After a couple of days on the road, we arrived in Livingston around four in the afternoon. I called her number. No one picked up. We ate dinner. I called again and tried to leave a message, but the box was full. I drove by the house. It was dark inside. I rang the bell. No one came to the door. Stumped, we got a room in the Livingston Super 8 and I opened my computer, rechecked the dates and that she was expecting us tonight. Everything seemed right, but Margie was AWOL.
It turned out that Margie had been in DC to attend a protest against the Keystone Pipeline, gotten arrested in front of the White House and missed her flight back to Montana, which is the best excuse I’ve ever had for being stood up. When she got back to Livingston, the electricity to her house had been shut off. Like any hardcore activist, she had decided to buy airline tickets instead of paying her bill. So we took her to dinner and laughed all night at the stories she told about life on and off the set with McGuane, John Heard, and Brian DePalma, road trips and acid trips with Hunter Thompson, hiding out in LA with Richard Pryor, trekking in griz country with Doug Peacock and how the painter Russell Chatham learned that if he daubed a moon on his landscapes they’d sell for a lot more money.
Margie was an erudite speaker and storyteller, who could erupt into a geyser of profanities that would shame a wildcatter. I told her that she needed to write her memoir. She chuckled. “I’m working on it and I’ve got the perfect title: ‘I’ve Slept with Everyone on TV.’”
Unfortunately, we didn’t get the chance to publish Kidder’s autobiography, but we did run her journalism. She wrote excellent pieces on health care, pipelines, war resistance (she was one of the very few public figures to oppose Bush’s war on Afghanistan, the true measure of an anti-war activist), and progressive political movements. Her exposé of a tawdry kickback scheme engineered by the Hillary Clinton campaign to help rig the 2016 primaries laid bare the corruption of the DNC machine. It rocketed around the web. Many people were shocked that it was written by “that” Margot Kidder. (The Clintonoids, feminists to the core, urged people to dismiss the damning disclosures as the fabulations of a “crazy actress.”) But it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knew “Margie.”
My most vivid memory of Margie is from the afternoon we finally met, after having corresponded and talked on the phone for more than a decade. Josh Frank and I were visiting Doug and Andrea Peacock at their cabin in the Paradise Valley a few miles south of Livingston. Margie had promised to stop by. We were sitting on a picnic table eating a delicious lunch that Andrea had prepared and admiring the view of the rugged Absaroka Range, when Margie pulled up in her big white SUV crammed with wildly barking dogs. Doug and Andrea are cat people. Margie was welcome, but the dogs had to stay inside the truck. We chatted for a while and Margie said, “Hey, let’s go walk the dogs at Pine Creek Falls.”
“Lead the way,” I said.
Margie got in her SUV, backed out of the driveway and pulled slowly down the gravel road toward the valley. Josh and I followed in my Subaru. Margie hadn’t gone more than a few hundred yards when one the dogs jumped out of the window and loped into the pasture of hip-high grass next to the Peacock’s place. Margie slammed on the brakes and yelled, “Hank!”
Hank, who seemed to be a cross between a Labrador and an antelope, bounded across the field, paying no attention to Margie’s frantic pleas. But Hank, it seems, was Margie’s current favorite and she needed to bring him back home. She opened the door and started after him, leaving the truck running. Josh and I watched as Margie scrambled into the field. She made it about ten strides and then fell and stayed down. I sprinted after her. She’d stepped into a gopher hole, twisting an ankle and wrenching an already fragile hip. I reached down to pick her up and she brushed my arms away. “Forget about me, Jeffrey. You’ve got to find Hank!”
Forget about you, Margie? Impossible.
Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: email@example.com or on Twitter @JSCCounterPunch
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