Friends remember Livingston resident Margot Kidder as an activist

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

At right, Margot Kidder is photographed with her dogs near the Yellowstone River, June 2006. (Enterprise file photos)

Enterprise photo by Nate Howard

Margot Kidder’s bicycle is parked outside her home on Lewis Street in Livingston Tuesday morning. Kidder often rode her bicycle for errands in town.

Margot Kidder jokes with longtime friend Lynn Weaver while enjoying a snow cone at the June 21, 2006, Farmers Market.

Actress Margot Kidder and late actor Christopher Reeve are shown in a publicity photo from “Superman: The Movie” (1978). Kidder and Reeve remained close friends until his death on Oct. 10, 2004.

Kidder gives a young friend, Henry Sullivan, a hug at the June 21, 2006, Farmers Market in Livingston.

Margot Kidder talks about life during an interview with The Livingston Enterprise at the 2nd Street Bistro, in June 2006.

Enterprise file photos

On a Sunday afternoon in mid-May, Linda Konoyer was on the phone with her friend Margie Kidder.

Known to the world as Margot, and known to Livingston as Margie, Kidder had moved to Livingston as a movie star, but she became much more than that to the town.

Kidder and Linda talked about how she had become a staple of Livingston.

“She and I had talked in the last couple days about her being a character in the town of Livingston, and being a really colorful part of the community,” Konoyer said. “She loved a lot of people here, and she would like to be remembered as a part of the community.”

During the call, Kidder was reflective. She hadn’t been feeling well for a long time, but it wasn’t like she was saying goodbye. She was talking about someone coming over to walk her dog.

Just hours later, Kidder died at her home on Lewis Street. She was 69.

Joanie Kresich, a friend of Kidder’s who was present when she died, said it was a very peaceful death.

“It takes a toll to put that massive amount of energy into the world that she did,” Kresich said.

‘Voracious reader’

In the fall of 2016, Margie Kidder loaded up her SUV and a trailer with books to bring to the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters at Standing Rock in North Dakota.

Kidder, who was born on Oct. 17, 1948, in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, grew up with many indigenous people and was passionate about native issues.

The encampment was building a school to ensure children at the protests had the opportunity to get an education, and Kidder wanted to make sure the children had books that gave a broad sense of history.

“She didn’t like the oversimplified narratives that were so common in kids’ books,” said longtime friend Louisa Willcox, who spent time at Standing Rock with Kidder. “She wanted content that was broad-minded and good-spirited.

Willcox said books played a very important role in Kidder’s life, and she could remember only one time when she told Kidder about a book that she had not yet read.

“She read all the time, voraciously, everything she could get her hands on,” said Kresich, who spent time at Standing Rock with Kidder and also was arrested with Kidder protesting the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, D.C. in 2011. “She wanted that joy for kids at Standing Rock.”

Kidder gathered books from her own collection, asked other community members for donations, and writer Sherman Alexie sent a shipment over to her.

Friends said Kidder had been sick on and off since she spent months at Standing Rock to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“Water is life,” Kidder often liked to say, especially when she forgot to drink water for a little bit. Even when respiratory issues made her leave the encampment for awhile, she returned with her dog up until the end of the protests.

Kidder kept in contact with many young people from the protests, who went on to protest elsewhere, and felt they may have helped spark a larger movement, friends said.

Livingston a ‘retreat’

It was 1996, and Margot Kidder had just had her infamous bipolar episode in Los Angeles.

Back in Livingston, tabloids descended on the town, trying to dig up dirt, find some sort of scandal from Kidder’s past.

“The community joined up and gave them the cold shoulder, and they left empty handed,” said Scott McMillion, a longtime friend of Kidder.

Kidder had come to Livingston for a quiet community that treated her just like anyone else, and she found it.

“This is where she came to retreat after that happened,” McMillion said.

But Kidder also used the incident to become a spokeswoman for mental health. She traveled and spoke on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“She made lemonade out of that horribly embarrassing thing and worked to de-stigmify mental illness,” McMillion said.

In the wake of the incident, McMillion said he admired the way she gave interviews to national media organizations and television stations.

“She basically said, ‘If it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,’” McMillion said. “She did a lot to raise awareness for people.”

McMillion was also realistic.

“It could be difficult to be around her at times, but she was harder on herself than on anyone else,” McMillion said.

Passionate activist

It was the end of the George W. Bush administration, and a charismatic senator from Illinois was running on a platform of hope and change to replace him.

After the Iraq War, after the Patriot Act, after pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, after No Child Left Behind, Barack Obama was a breath of fresh air for Kidder.

Kidder knew she had to help get him elected, so she helped found the “Montana Women For” organization. The group’s name shows that Montana women are passionate about various progressive causes, not just one issue.

“Margie didn’t belong to many groups — she actually started them,” Willcox said.

Kidder wanted more women to be politically active, so she bought about 200 Lady Liberty costumes — green dresses with Statue of Liberty hats. In the Livingston Fourth of July parade, as many as 80 women dressed up. Each “liberty belle” wore a sash with an issue written on it that was important to them.

“We were ‘Montana Women For’ all of those issues,” said Konoyer, who is still involved with Montana Women For.

Bonnie Murphy, a longtime friend who was very involved with Montana Women For, said the parade was a very powerful moment in her life. “It was just so much fun to see all of us together,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the 2008 election was very important to Kidder.

“She would want to be remembered as the women who voted for Barack Obama,” Murphy said.

Friends in Miles City

Lois Lane was in the city park at a political protest in Miles City, and a little boy — about 8 years old — couldn’t believe it.

He ran halfway across the park, approaching Kidder out of breath and with big eyes.

“He asked her if she was Lois Lane,” Murphy said. “And when she said she indeed was, I just didn’t know what that little boy would do.”

Kidder always handled fame well, including going to what she called “stalker conventions” like Comic Con, where she would dress up as Lois Lane and talk to fans.

But Lois Lane wasn’t the only superwoman in Miles City.

That title also belonged to Elsie Fox, a 103-year-old woman who has since passed but who dedicated her life to working to further progressive causes, including the Communist and Democratic parties, in eastern Montana for decades.

Kidder and Fox developed a fast friendship, and Kidder worked to make sure Fox came down to Livingston to be involved with Montana Women For and serve as an inspiration.

“She was exactly like Margie,” Murphy said. “When she came to Livingston, they stayed up until 2 a.m. and they talked and talked and drank whiskey.”

Kidder often had people over to her house, no matter their background or social status, and loved to entertain. A few years ago, she cooked two turkeys she had in her freezer and called up everyone she knew to eat them, Murphy said. More than 60 people showed up.

Livingston landmark

There are many stories about Kidder by Livingston residents.

She was seen around town riding her bike. She would stand in her yard and yell for her dog, Hank, who used to like to jump fences. She starred in the “Vagina Monologues” play. She cracked jokes at neighbors walking by and always had a smart retort. She made friends quickly and passionately.

“We were instantaneous friends from the moment we met each other,” Kresich said.

“She was one of those people you don’t remember meeting,” McMillion said. “You sort of just always knew her.”

Over the years, Kidder starred in blockbuster hits, most famously as Lois Lane in the “Superman” movies, starring alongside Christopher Reeve.

The firebrand actress made an impact on the town she called home, and residents will remember her fondly.

“This town is a little smaller without her,” McMillion said.

But Willcox said that Kidder will continue to influence Livingston for a long time.

“It does feel like the heart of Livingston stopped beating for a minute,” Willcox said. “But it ain’t over yet. She’s not over yet. She’s inspired so many of us, and we’ll all keep going.”