Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder

“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.

Margie understood the political economy of Hollywood. The studios were only shinier versions of the mining companies of the great north, extracting the sweat, vitality and souls of its labor force–of actors, grips, stunt doubles, camera operators, screenwriters, editors, sound technicians and directors–until they drained you empty and left you on the cutting room floor. Hollywood sells illusions, none more grand or insidious than the one about its own true nature, which is just as brutal as any sweatshop operation. 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.

Roaming Charges

+ Body Count Update in “Hamas instigated violence” on Gaza border.

Palestinians killed: 62
Israelis killed: 0
Palestinians injured: 11,000
Israelis injured: 0

+ Darling Nikki Haley: “No country would act with more restraint than Israel has.”

+ Haley stormed out of the UN when Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour began to address the General Assembly. What is she afraid of? The truth? Showing a little restraint?

+ To be born a Palestinian is to be born a target

+ As the death count of Palestinians in Gaza climbed, Avi Dichter, chair of the Knesset defense committee, reassured Israelis that “the IDF has enough bullets for everyone.”

+ Yes, Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah referred to Gaza as “southern Israel.” Sarah, come back!

+ News Flash from Resistance© HQ:

“In a long overdue move, we have moved our embassy to Jerusalem. Every nation should have the right to choose its capital. I sponsored legislation to do this two decades ago, and I applaud President Trump for doing it.” — Sen. Charles Schumer

+ Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shamefully contorted statement on Gaza.

Over to you, Cynthia Nixon, who already owns the high distinction of being slimed by Alan Dershowitz as “anti-Israel“…

+ Bernie Sanders can’t help himself from emphasizing the bogus “Hamas violence” theme. Sanders: “Over 50 killed in Gaza today and 2,000 wounded, on top of the 41 killed and more than 9,000 wounded over the past weeks. This is a staggering toll. Hamas violence does not justify Israel firing on unarmed protesters.”

+ Contrast Bernie’s obsequious statement with this bolt from Bette Middler: “Fifty-two people die in protest over moving American Embassy to Jerusalem. Thanks, asshole! Your uninformed and demented actions have consequences! Don’t you get it? Those people had families too!”

+ Joe Lieberman, the man McCain really wanted as his VP, is crazier than Palin and more dangerous than Trump. Lieberman, the man Barack Obama picked as his mentor in the senate, was the only putative Democrat to attend the opening of the Trump/Schumer embassy in Jerusalem.

+ With the blood still fresh in Gaza, Guatemala moved to open its embassy in Jerusalem. What’s next? The Honduran Death Squad Embassy?

+ Stanley Cohen: “Palestinians do not ‘get off work in Gaza and head off to the demonstrations.’ There is no work. There is no electricity. There is no food. There is no water. There is no medicine. There is dignity. There is resistance. There is our love.”

+ The Daily News strikes again!

+ Lil Marco Rubio: “Israel has the right of any sovereign nation to defend its border and its citizens. Hamas, which is the only one to blame for the ongoing suffering in Gaza, is now attacking the Kerem Shalom crossing where humanitarian aid is brought for those in need.” No wonder the Cubans chased his family off the island.

+ + It’s not the Earth that’s flat, but Friedman’s brain: “I am sorry, when you throw thousands of the flower of your youth against an Israeli fence , it was inevitable that a lot of people were going to get killed  and Hamas knew that.”

+ Coulter and her coven see Israel’s butchery as a model for the US border not an abomination…

+ Three Republicans in the Senate broke ranks in voting (52-47) to restore Net Neutrality.

Susan Collins
John N Kennedy
Lisa Murkowski

Good for them…

+ Here’s a link to Trump’s financial disclosure form. There’s a lot chew on here, including the payment to Michael Cohen for Stormy’s hush money, and there’s probably even more that’s missing…

+ According to his disclosure form, Trump made $40 million in 2017 from his DC hotel. (It doesn’t include the $500 million the Chinese are dumping into the Trump Organization Lido City resort in Indonesia. Can you spell “emolument”? (I hope so, because I can’t…)

+ Coming Soon, the fourth Town Hall with Nancy Pelosi. (Proof that CNN is actually working for the GOP…)

+ If you want to get to the truth, just turn everything Trump says on its head, such as his contention that the nation is being infected by an epidemic of  “dangerous anti-police prejudice”…

+ On Wednesday, the House passed the Trump-backed Blue Lives Matter bill (Protect & Serve Act) on a 382 to 35 vote. 162 Democrats went along for the ride, including Keith Ellison, who is staying true to his boss Bernie’s vote for the Clinton Crime Bill.

+ Average annual income for blacks who can’t make bail and thus linger in prison without trial: men: $11,000; women: $9,000.

+ As thunderstorms shut down Grand Central Station on Tuesday afternoon, Uber and Lyft instituted “surge” pricing to get stranded commuters home…

The sharing economy in real time.

+ One candidate for governor in Georgia is running commercials pointing his shotgun at a high school age boy, while another, Michael Williams, is driving around the state in a “Deportation Bus.” We’re not just going to track them and watch them roam around our state,” Williams boasts. “We’re going to put them on this bus and send ‘em home.” Given the state of nation at this point, deportation is looking more attractive every day.

+ The Democrats’ torture caucus coalesced just in time to secure the confirmation of Bloody Gina Haspel’s nomination to head the CIA.  Among the turncoats: Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Bill Nelson, Jeanne Shaheen and top Russian Witch Hunter, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who had this to say for himself….

+ These co-conspirators in torture should be punished at the polls by Democrats. Most of them are in close races and feel as if they can vote to confirm the most outrageous nominees and the most despicable policies and not lose any votes on their left. History proves them right.

+ What’s up with Mean Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire? She’s in a pretty secure position. Does she feel that Haspel, like Hillary, is “qualified”? Did she vote for Haspel in spite of her record of torture or because of it?

The Mean Jeannie will put you on the rack
The Mean Jeannie loves to whip your back
She’s outrageous, she’ll make you scream & bawl
Mean Jeannie, you gotta go-o-o-whoah….

+ When Iraq war salesman Jeffrey Goldberg became editor of The Atlantic, you knew it was going to be bad. Just how bad now becomes clear, as he force feeds his readers the decrepit prose of Henry Kissinger on how AI presages the “end of the enlightenment.” As a devotee of Michel Foucault, I’m all for putting the “light” out and enlightenment figures like Kissinger in the dock. Bring it on, droids.

+ The press is heaping praise on Rex Tillerson for his covert swipe at Trump during a commencement address before the Virginia Military Academy, where the former Secretary of State decried the decline of honesty and ethics in government. “If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both the public and private sector — and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector — then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years,” Tillerson intoned. It’s important to recall, however, that Rexxon was fired, he didn’t resign in protest after innumerable lies from his boss, even lies about him….

+ Mega-MAGA: Concentration camps for kids….

+ Whatever happened to Rebecca Solnit, whose Russia freakout is reaching pathological proportions…

+ San Franciscans need to earn $333,000 a year to buy a median-priced home.

+ Don’t believe the hype about the unemployment rate falling to 3.9%. According to economist Robert Pollin the real jobless rate is more like 12%.

+ The birth rate fell for nearly every group of women of reproductive age in the U.S. in 2017, reflecting a sharp drop that saw the fewest newborns since 1978. It’s a case of economic infertility. Who can afford to have kids anymore?

+ Nearly 51 million households, that’s 43% of American families, can’t afford the basic necessities of life: rent, food, utilities, phone service, transportation, child care and medical care.

+ The GOP’s ‘Farm Bill’ will strip school lunches from 265,000 kids.

+ Over 20,000 food stamps recipients are active duty military service members. Nearly 1-in-4 children who attend Department of Defense schools are eligible for free meals…Freeloaders, Mr. Trump?

+ In Montana, Natives make up 3.3 percent of the population, but 29 percent of its missing persons.

+ According to data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, 93 percent of the people arrested by the NYPD for marijuana possession in January-March of 2018 were New Yorkers of color. Of the 4,081 arrests for criminal possession of marijuana, only 287 of those arrested were white people, compared to 2,006 black people and 1,621 Latino people.

+ The Salt Lake Tribune, another daily newspaper on death watch…

+ Spike Lee, the Anti-Kanye…

+ According to Pew, 59% of Americans have noticed that climate change is affecting their communities, including to two-thirds of those living in coastal areas.

+ Up in the Arctic, it’s 30 degrees above normal.

+ Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the House Science Committee, put forward his considered opinion that sea level rise is being caused by “rocks falling into the ocean.”

Coal’s gotta smoke
And greens tell lies
Rocks gonna fall
And the seas will rise

+ According to leaked documents from the Paradise Papers, it looks like the purveyors of Panda Porn at the World Wildlife Fund invest a lot of the money you give them to save the planet into fossil fuel stocks….

+ If you really want to stop school shootings, don’t ban guns, ban schools. (DeVos is working on this.)

+ In 1984, the Washington Post interviewed Trump about his desire to negotiate a nuclear weapons treaty with the Soviets. He told the Post it would be a snap: “It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway. You’re talking about just getting updated on a situation. You know who really wants me to do this? Roy [Cohn]. I’d do it in a second.”

+ Keith Richards on Trump: “When we got to Atlantic City, [the concert was prominently advertised as] ‘Donald Trump Presents’… ‘The Rolling Stones’ [was written] in miniature. We never have much to do with promoters usually, but this one got me. That was the last time I got angry — I pulled out my trusty blade, stuck it in the table and said: ‘You’ve got to get rid of this man.'”

+ A Chicago non-profit group called Protect Our Parks is suing to stop the construction of Obama’s grotesque Presidential Center on the Southside, alleging that the Obama Foundation had engaged in a “con shell game, a corrupt scheme to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab.” And if the lawsuits fail, there’s always drones…

+ When it comes to crudity of mind, Trump still has some catching up to do to surpass Reagan…

Of course, when it comes to Qaddafi, Hillary went beyond cruelty to outright sadism.

+ When Trump changed the Obamas’ shower curtains in the White House master bathroom did he replace them with golden ones?

+ Is Mt. Rainier “woke“?

+ When I was at American University in Washington, DC, the classrooms for the Lit and History departments were the equivalent of quonset huts & art students had to take many of their classes off campus. 40 years later, the Lit Dept’s PhD program has been abolished, but the University is landing half of the lamentably shuttered Corcoran Museum’s art collection. Priorities…

+ It’s amusing to scroll through the tributes to Tom Wolfe from mainstream journos, who claim to have loved Wolfe’s writing in their youth, and then promptly walked right into the corporate cages and stylesheets he’d (along with James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Michael Herr, Terry Southern, Gay Talese and Hunter Thompson) freed us from….Looks like they failed the Acid Test.

+ From the fifth season of “The Wire”….

+ “All monarchs I hate, and the thrones they sit on,
From the hector of France to the cully of Britain.”
— John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

Want A Little Drink of Water, You Won’t Give Me None

Sound Grammar

What I’m listening to this week. Still recreating my vinyl collection. Here are last week’s acquisitions…

66.  Immigrés by Youssou N’Dour

67. Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section by Art Pepper

68. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy

69. Shoot Out the Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson

70. Jesus of Cool by Nick Lowe


Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

Hog Wild: the Battle for Worker’s Rights at the World’s Largest Slaughterhouse by Lynn Waltz

Health Care Under the Knife: Moving Beyond Capitalism for Our Health by Howard Waitzkin

The Undocumented Every Day: Migrant Lives and the Politics of Visibility by Rebecca Shreiber

History Cut Up in Slices

+ Tom Wolfe: “The Grateful Dead did not play in sets; no eight numbers to a set, then a twenty-five-minute break, and so on, four or five sets and then the close-out. The Dead might play one number for five minutes or thirty minutes. Who kept time? Who could keep time, with history cut up in slices. The Dead could get just as stoned as anyone else. The non-attuned would look about and here would be all manner of heads, including those running the show, the Pranksters, stroked out against the walls like slices of Jello. Waiting; with nobody looking very likely to start it back up. Those who didn’t care to wait would tend to drift off, stoned or otherwise, and the Test would settle down to the pudding.” (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents (with Alexander Cockburn). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3