Actress and Lois Lane in Superman

Born: October 17 1948;

Died: May 13 2018

MARGOT Kidder, who has died aged 69, was an actress best known for her role as Lois Lane in the series of Superman films opposite Christopher Reeve, the first of which appeared in 1978.

Though she had other leading roles, it remained the part with which she was indelibly associated. Despite the fanfare surrounding the film on its release, which centred on its budget (at $55 million, it was then the most expensive movie ever made) and its then-revolutionary special effects (“You will believe that a man can fly!” the posters announced), its main strengths were its witty script and its superb casting.

The former walked a careful line between genres: the director Richard Donner and the writers, who included Mario Puzo, never let one element – science fiction, action, suspense, and wisecracking comedy – dominate, nor allowed the film to lurch into outright parody or camp, though there were self-conscious touches of both.

READ MORE: Tributes pour in for Lois Lane actress Margot Kidder who has died aged 69

As for the acting, Reeves was outstanding in both Superman and Clark Kent guises, and the chemistry between him and Kidder’s Lois Lane was evident. (The pair remained great friends until Reeves’s death.)

Kidder, as the Daily Planet reporter, was more than Kent/Superman’s love interest; sharp, smart, feisty and witty. More than 100 actresses had been considered for the part (it eventually came down to Kidder and Stockard Channing, who was to appear in Grease, the only film to surpass Superman at the box office that year).

Kidder appeared in the film’s three sequels, and took the lead in The Amityville Horror the following year, a box office success though in her view “a piece of s***”, a judgment most critics shared.

But few of her other films achieved comparable notice: a couple are now regarded as cult classics, but several others in which she gave fine performances remain mysteriously little-known.

After her screen career had begun to wane, Kidder returned to public attention for unwelcome reasons. In April 1996 she had a highly public manic episode, and was found dishevelled and distressed in a backyard in Glendale, in the San Fernando Valley just north of Hollywood, dressed in rags and with the caps on her teeth knocked out, after having gone missing for four days.

Many assumed that it would be the end of her career, but after a period of recovery, she began to campaign on mental health, environmental and human rights issues. She worked steadily in her later years, in theatre and television as well as on film, though she admitted that much of it was dross. “I’m not choosy at all,” she told one interviewer. “I’ve done all sorts of things, but you just haven’t seen them because they’re often very bad and shown at four in the morning.”

READ MORE: Tributes pour in for Lois Lane actress Margot Kidder who has died aged 69

Margaret Ruth Kidder was born on October 17 1948 at Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, one of five children. Her father Kendall was an American from New Mexico who was an engineer and explosives specialist whose work for mining and telephone companies moved the family about when Margaret, her sister and three brothers were growing up; her Canadian mother Jill was a history teacher.

She attended a number of schools, including Havergal College, a boarding school in Toronto. Few of the remote towns the family lived in ran to a cinema or theatre, but she had been captivated by acting since seeing the musical Bye Bye Birdie on a trip to New York when she was 12. The first indication of mental problems came with a suicide attempt at 14, but she was encouraged by her parents to soldier on, and seemed to recover.

Her first screen role came in 1968 in a short drama set in a Canadian logging town, and the following year she got a part in Norman Jewison’s comedy Gaily, Gaily, which starred Beau Bridges, George Kennedy and Melina Mercouri. She had a couple of years of regular TV work, mostly in Toronto and Vancouver, with recurring roles in McQueen and then in the Western series Nichols, which starred James Garner, and a guest slot on Banacek, a detective show with George Peppard in the lead role.

She moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and was cast opposite Gene Wilder in the misfiring comedy Quackser Fortune has a Cousin in the Bronx, which was filmed in Ireland. (She returned to Ireland in 1974 to film the drama A Quiet Day in Belfast, actually shot in Dublin.)

She then studied acting in New York for a year, though she toyed with the idea of moving behind the camera to work in film editing. She returned to LA, where she shared a beach house north of Malibu with Jennifer Salt and began a relationship with Brian de Palma. Both actresses appeared in the director’s 1973 psychological horror Blood Sisters (known in America simply as Sisters), with Kidder in the dual lead as (previously) conjoined twins. The film has since acquired a measure of cult status.

Kidder and Salt’s home became a regular hangout for actors, directors and producers who became players in the “New Hollywood” described in Peter Biskind’s book (and later documentary film) Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, which drew its title from two of the key movies of the movement.

They included De Palma, Peter Fonda, Walter Hill, John Landis and Steven Spielberg; other regular visitors were Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader and the producer Julia Phillips (who were to collaborate on Taxi Driver).

The pot-infused hippy vibe many of them shared was later to become a coke-fuelled mania – brilliantly documented in Phillips’s memoir You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again – which mirrored Kidder’s own mental state, though in her case the drugs were employed to self-medicate against instability, rather than the cause of it.

READ MORE: Tributes pour in for Lois Lane actress Margot Kidder who has died aged 69

She began to get leading roles: in 1974 she was also in the slasher movie Black Christmas and opposite Stacey Keach in The Gravy Train (aka The Dion Brothers); the following year she made The Great Waldo Pepper, opposite Robert Redford, and 92 in the Shade, with Peter Fonda, both of which deserve to be better known.

Margot Kidder had a steady stream of admirers; she had relationships with the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the comedian Richard Pryor and Spielberg as well as de Palma.

On the set of 92 in the Shade she began a liaison with Thomas McGuane, whom she married and with whom she had a daughter, Maggie, in 1976. This led to some tension on set, since McGuane was then married to her co-star, Elizabeth Ashley.

She followed Superman and The Amityville Horror with Superman II (1980), but had little screen time in Superman III (1983). That was rectified in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), a mixed blessing, since the film itself was abysmal. Her other work in the early ’80s never quite took off, though Heartaches (1981), Trenchcoat (1983), The Glitter Dome (which reunited her with Garner in 1984) and Little Treasure (1985), opposite Ted Danson, all have their qualities.

After her breakdown, she recovered physically and mentally (crediting vitamin and mineral supplements) and lived in Montana. She popped up in cameo parts in Maverick (1994) and Halloween II (2009) on the big screen, and numerous TV slots, including Law & Order, Boston Common, La Femme Nikita, Earth: Final Conflict, The L Word and in 2004, on the Superman TV show Smallville, with Reeve. She appeared in The Vagina Monologues off-Broadway, and toured the show for two years.

She and McGuane divorced in 1977; in 1979 she and the actor John Heard were married for six drunken days; they divorced in 1980 and he died last year. In 1983 she married the French director Philippe de Broca; they divorced the following year and he died in 2004. Margot Kidder is survived by her daughter.