|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (June 2010)|
Phyllis Coates in her most famous role as Lois Lane
|Born||Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell
January 15, 1927
Wichita Falls, Texas, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Norman Tokar (19??-19??; divorced)
Richard L. Bare (1948-1949; divorced)
Robert Nelms (1950-1953) (divorced) 1 child
Dr. Bernard Press (1962-1968; divorced); 3 children
Phyllis Coates (born Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell on January 15, 1927) is an American film and television actress. She is perhaps best known for her portrayal of reporter Lois Lane in the 1951 film Superman and the Mole Men and in the first season of the television series Adventures of Superman.
Early life and career
After graduating from high school in her native Wichita Falls, Texas, Coates went to Los Angeles to study at UCLA. However, a chance meeting with entertainer Ken Murray resulted in her working in his vaudeville show as a chorus girl. She later performed as one of Earl Carroll's showgirls at his Earl Carroll Theatre. She signed a movie contract with Warner Brothers extending from 1948 to 1956, and she co-starred with George O'Hanlon in the studio's popular Joe McDoakes short-subject comedies in what can be considered the "first sitcom." She was married briefly to the series' director, Richard L. Bare, and continued to appear in the films after the couple divorced.
In 1955, Coates was cast as Madge in the CBS sitcom Professional Father. In 1955, she portrayed Medora De More in the two-part episode "King of the Dakotas" of the NBC western anthology series Frontier and in episode 166 of The Lone Ranger entitled Woman in the White Mask. In 1956, she was cast in the episode "God in the Street" of another anthology series, Crossroads, based on the lives of American clergymen. That same year, she appeared in a second religious drama, This Is the Life, as Betty in the episode "I Killed Lieutenant Hartwell." She was also cast in 1956 as Marge in the episode "Web Feet" of the military drama Navy Log. She guest-starred in David Janssen's crime drama Richard Diamond, Private Detective.
In 1958, she played Clarissa Holliday on all 39 episodes of the short-lived sitcom This Is Alice. She made three guest appearances on Perry Mason (in 1958's "The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde"; in 1961's "The Case of the Cowardly Lion", and in 1964's "The Case of the Ice-Cold Hands").
Coates played a strong-willed Lois Lane in the first twenty-six episodes of Adventures of Superman, where she was given equal billing with George Reeves (insisted upon by Reeves), even for episodes in which she did not appear. Her powerful "damsel in distress" scream was used to good effect in several episodes. After shooting for the first season, the Superman producers suspended production until they found a national sponsor. When it came time to film more Superman episodes, Coates had already committed herself elsewhere. Noel Neill, who had played Lois Lane in the 1948 and 1950 serials opposite Kirk Alyn, succeeded her.
Coates tried to distance herself from the Superman series, fearing it might limit her roles. She did however appear as Lois Lane's mother in the first season finale of the 1990s television series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. As was the case when Coates took the role of Lois in 1951, Lois' mother was a character originated by Noel Neill who portrayed her in 1978's Superman. Similarly, Teri Hatcher who played the role of Lois in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman made an appearance in the 10th season of the series Smallville playing Lois Lane's mother, Ella Lane.
Her Superman fame has helped to obscure the fact that Coates was one of Hollywood's most dependable actresses of the period. She freelanced steadily, appearing in low-budget features, westerns, serials, and the "McDoakes" shorts. Her best-remembered films of the 1950s are Blues Busters with The Bowery Boys (in which she has a musical number), Panther Girl of the Kongo, a jungle serial in which she starred, and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. She accepted the role in 1957's The Incredible Petrified World (1957), a science fiction film starring John Carradine, as a favor to its director, Jerry Warren, who was a former boyfriend. The actress originally cast in the lead couldn't do it and Warren couldn't find anyone else in time. He persuaded Coates to do it by telling her that the film would not be shown in California. However, after it was completed, she found out that Warren did indeed release the film in California, and she was told by at least one studio executive at Columbia that the film was so inferior and shoddy that the studio would not be hiring her again. On top of that, Warren never paid her. It was only theatrically released on April 16, 1960, on a double bill with "Teenage Zombies."