Noel Neill in February 2008
November 25, 1920 |
Noel Neill (born November 25, 1920) is an American actress in motion pictures and television. She is best known for her portrayal of Lois Lane in the film serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950), as well as the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman.
Early life and career
Neill was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota; her father was a journalist, and her mother a dancer on the stage.
In her teens, Noel was a popular photographic model. While Betty Grable's pin-up was #1 among GIs during World War II, Noel Neill ranked next. Noel also worked as a professional singer and dancer, signed up by Bing Crosby.
Signing a contract with Paramount Pictures led to appearances in many of the studio's feature films and short subjects. In the mid-1940s Noel had a leading role in one of Monogram Pictures' wayward-youth melodramas, and she became a familiar face in Monogram features for the next several years, especially in the recurring role of Betty Rogers.
In 1945 producer Sam Katzman gave Noel Neill the recurring role of Betty Rogers, aggressive reporter for a high-school newspaper, in his series of "Teen Agers" musical comedies, beginning with Junior Prom in 1946. When Katzman was casting his Superman serial for Columbia Pictures, he remembered Noel Neill's newshawk portrayals and signed her to play Lois Lane. She played the role in the film serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950), with Kirk Alyn portraying Superman/Clark Kent.
When Adventures of Superman came to television in 1951, veteran movie actors George Reeves and Phyllis Coates took the leading roles for the first season. By the time the series found a sponsor and a network time slot, Coates had committed herself to another production, so the producers called on Noel Neill, who had played Lois Lane in the movies. She continued in the role for five seasons until the series went off the air in 1958. She was scheduled to appear in the seventh season with co-star Jack Larson in 1960, but after the tragic and sudden death of Superman actor George Reeves, the seventh season was cancelled, officially ending the show.
While Phyllis Coates generally distanced herself from the role, Noel Neill embraced her association with Lois Lane, giving frequent talks on college campuses during the 1970s, when interest in the series was revived, endearing herself to audiences with her warmth and humor.
Noel Neill has continued to appear in Superman related productions. She played Lois Lane's mother in a cameo for the 1978 film Superman, with Kirk Alyn as Lois' father -- as was the case with Lois in 1951, Phyllis Coates would later succeed Neill in this role in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman; Lois & Clark star Teri Hatcher continued the tradition when she made a guest appearance on Smallville as the elder Lane. In an episode of the TV series Superboy she appeared alongside her former cast-mate Jack Larson, who had played Jimmy Olsen on TV. Her personal appearance at the Metropolis, Illinois, Superman Festival was featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. As "Aunt Lois" she has a guest appearance in the independent superhero film Surge of Power: The Stuff of Heroes, and she plays the role of Gertrude Vanderworth (the dying elderly wife of Lex Luthor) in Superman Returns (2006).
In 2003, an authorized biography of Neill was published. It was entitled Truth, Justice, & The American Way: The Life And Times Of Noel Neill, The Original Lois Lane by Larry Thomas Ward (Nicholas Lawrence Books, softcover, ISBN 0-9729466-0-8). A limited-edition, expanded version of the book was released in 2006. Ward later wrote another book, Beyond Lois Lane (Nicholas Lawrence Books, hardcover, ISBN 978-09729466-1-2) in 2007 which focused on Neill's other acting work and modeling work presented in an array of rare publicity stills, studio press releases, film reviews, newspaper commentaries, and candid photographs.
Noel Neill and Jack Larson donated their time to record commentaries for the DVD releases of the Superman TV episodes. Noel remarked on the documentary Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman that a frequent question she would get from children at the time was, "Why don't you know that Clark Kent was Superman, just wearing a pair of those darn eyeglasses?" And Neill replied to the children (and later to college audiences), "I don't want to lose my job!"
On June 15, 2010, the southern Illinois city of Metropolis, Illinois (the city that calls itself the "official home of Superman"), unveiled a statue of Lois Lane. The Lois Lane statue is modelled on Noel Neill. Neill stated that she was honored to be memorialized with the statue.
On July 23, 2010, Neill fell in her home in Tucson, Arizona, and broke her hip. She was hospitalized for surgery at Tucson Medical Center. "I'm honestly not sure Noel will be able to survive the after-effects of the surgery and the fall," Neill's friend and biographer, Larry Ward said. "At this point, all we can do is keep her comfortable and hope the pain subsides soon."
- Rainbow Island (1944) (*uncredited)
- Here Come the Waves (1944)
- Bring on the Girls (1945)
- Duffy's Tavern (1945) (*uncredited)
- The Stork Club (1945) (*uncredited)
- Gun Runner (1949)
- Son of a Badman (1949)
- The Sky Dragon (1949)
- Forgotten Women (1949)
- Abilene Trail (1951)
- An American in Paris (1951) (*uncredited)
- Whistling Hills (1951)
- Submarine Command (1951) (*uncredited)
- Attack U.S.A. (1952) (*with Phyliss Coates)
- In the 1956 episode "Tomb of Zaharan", Lois Lane was stated to be 26 years old, exactly 10 years younger than Neill was at the time.
- It's a staple of Hollywood history that Betty Grable's pin-up was #1 among G.I.s during World War II, but rumor had it that the #2 poster girl was Noel Neill.
- In a 1951 episode of "The Lone Ranger", Noel appeared in the episode "Letter of the Law".
- Larry Thomas, Ward (2003). Truth, Justice, and the American Way: The Life and Times of Noel Neill. Nicholas Lawrence Books. ISBN 978-0-9729466-0-5.
- Dan Levine (writer); Alan J. Levi (director) (1994-05-08). "The House of Luthor". Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Season 1. Episode 21. ABC.
- ABC Local - Metropolis unveils statue of Superman's Lois Lane June 15, 2010