Phyllis Coates

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Phyllis Coates
Phyllis Coates in The Incredible Petrified World (1959).jpg
Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell

(1927-01-15) January 15, 1927 (age 96)
Other namesGypsy Stell
Alma materLos Angeles City College
Years active1944–1996
Known forAdventures of Superman
Lois Lane
(m. 1948; div. 1949)

Robert Nelms
(m. 1950; div. 1953)

Norman Tokar
(m. 1955; div. ????)
Dr. Howard Press
(m. 1962; div. 1986)

Phyllis Coates (born Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell; January 15, 1927)[2] is an American former actress, with a career spanning over fifty years. She is 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.[3]

Early life[edit]

Born on January 15, 1927,[4] in Wichita Falls, Texas,[5] Coates is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Stell.[6] After graduating from Odessa High School, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother.[6] Coates attended (as Gypsy Stell) Los Angeles City College.[7]



Originally billed under her birth name as Gypsy Stell, Coates was discovered by vaudeville comedian Ken Murray in a Hollywood and Vine restaurant[1] from whom she learned comic timing.[8] She subsequently appeared as a dancer and a comedienne in skits for ten months in Blackouts, his "racy" (mildly risqué) variety show.[9][8][10][11][6][12] She later performed as one of Earl Carroll's showgirls at his Earl Carroll Theatre. In 1946, she toured with a USO production of Anything Goes.[11]


On July 13, 1944, aged 17, she "began her work with 20th Century Fox ... after receiving a seven year contract with option."[6]

Coates signed a movie contract with Warner Brothers extending from 1948 to 1956,[citation needed] and she co-starred with George O'Hanlon as the title character's wife in the studio's Joe McDoakes short-subject comedies. She acted in film serials, including Jungle Drums of Africa (1953), Gunfighters of the Northwest (1953), and Panther Girl of the Kongo (1955).[13] Her film career also included roles in Girls in Prison (1956), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), Blood Arrow (1958), Cattle Empire (1958), The Incredible Petrified World (1959), The Baby Maker (1970) and Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn (1989).


In 1952, she guest-starred in "How Death Valley Got Its Name", the first episode of the anthology series Death Valley Days. She appeared in the 1954 Death Valley Days episode "The Light On The Mountain". She was cast as the widowed Mary in the 1959 episode, "One in a Hundred." In a 1964 episode, "The Left Hand Is Damned," she portrayed the kind-hearted saloon singer Dora Hand of Dodge City, Kansas.

She was cast in The Lone Ranger in 1953, and in 1955 in "The Woman in the White Mask". Coates was cast in 1955 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. 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, Coates played the mother, Clarissa Holliday, in all thirty-nine episodes of the 1958–1959 situation comedy, This Is Alice. She made guest appearances in three episodes of Perry Mason: murderer Norma Carter in "The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde" in 1958, "The Case of the Cowardly Lion" in 1961, and in "The Case of the Ice-Cold Hands" in 1964. In 1961, she was cast as Elizabeth Gwynn in the episode "The Little Fishes" on CBS's Rawhide. Coates guest-starred as well on three episodes of Gunsmoke between 1958 and 1964.

Lois Lane[edit]

Coates played Lois Lane in the first season of Adventures of Superman. Noel Neill, who had played Lois Lane in two Columbia Superman serials, in 1948 and 1950, replaced Coates, who was not available for the second season. With the death of Noel Neill on July 3, 2016, Coates became the last surviving regular cast member from the Adventures of Superman TV series.[14]

Coates's Superman fame has obscured the fact that she was one of Hollywood's most consistently employed actresses of the 1950s and 1960s. She freelanced steadily, appearing in numerous low-budget features, many of them westerns, as well as serials and a steady stream of TV appearances, both as a regular in several series and as a guest cast member in others. All this was in addition to the "McDoakes" shorts, in which she continued to appear until Warner Brothers discontinued the series in 1956. Arguably, her best-remembered films of the 1950s—perhaps owing to their being those in which she has a substantial role, and being among the few that have been preserved so that they are available today on home video—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.[citation needed]

Later years[edit]

In the 1960s, when it became clear that Adventures of Superman would continue to enjoy great popularity in syndicated reruns, far beyond the end of its production in 1957, Coates—like many of the other supporting cast members such as Jack Larson ("Jimmy Olsen")—tried to distance herself from the Superman series, fearing it might limit her opportunities. By the mid 1960s, however, she had settled into a comfortable semi-retirement as a wife and homemaker after marrying Los Angeles family physician Howard Press in 1962. She resumed her career after their divorce in 1986, but in the period immediately before that divorce, her film and television appearances were infrequent. One notable role was that of the mother of the female lead in the 1970 film The Baby Maker, directed by James Bridges, the lover and production partner of Jack Larson, who had remained Coates's good friend since they worked together on Adventures of Superman.[citation needed]

Despite her stated misgivings about being remembered only as Lois Lane after relaunching her career,[citation needed] Coates agreed to appear as Lois's mother in the first season finale of the 1990s television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.[15] Noel Neill, who also played Lois Lane in film and TV series, had already been Lois's mother in the 1978 film Superman. Since then, it has become a tradition in Superman adaptations for actresses who have previously played Lois Lane to later play Lois's mother.[citation needed] Teri Hatcher, who played Lois in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, made an appearance in the tenth season of the series Smallville as Lois's mother, Ellen Lane.

Personal life[edit]

Coates married director Richard L. Bare in 1948.[16] They divorced in January 1949.[17] She married jazz pianist Robert Nelms in 1950, gave birth to a daughter, and divorced in 1953.[5] Coates married director Norman Tokar in 1955 and gave birth to a son in 1957. She was married to Dr. Howard Press from 1962 to 1986, during which time she gave birth to another daughter.[citation needed]

Filmography and TV work[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Phyllis Coates".
  2. ^ Clothier, Gary (January 8, 2014). "Canadian coined legendary phrase". Texas, Clute. Clute Facts. p. 15. Retrieved January 20, 2016 – via open access
  3. ^ Clothier, Gary (November 27, 2004). "Super-actress had second thoughts". Kansas, Fort Scott. The Fort Scott Tribune. p. 9. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
  4. ^ Rainey, Buck (2005). Serial Film Stars: A Biographical Dictionary, 1912-1956. McFarland. p. 176. ISBN 0-7864-2010-3.
  5. ^ a b Collura, Joe (September 2015). "Phyllis Coates: That Feisty Lois Lane". Classic Images (483): 6–15, 66–67.
  6. ^ a b c d "Odessa Girl Wins a Movie Contract". Texas, Odessa. The Odessa American. July 14, 1944. p. 1. Retrieved January 21, 2016 – via open access
  7. ^ "Acting Alumni Search: S". Los Angeles City College. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Joe McDoakes creator Richard L. Bare & star Phyllis Coates Q&A. September 2, 2012. Event occurs at 9:22. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved December 13, 2016.
  9. ^ "Gypsy Ann Stell Stars". Texas, Odessa. The Odessa American. December 20, 1943. p. 1. Retrieved January 21, 2016 – via open access
  10. ^ Jones, Jack (October 13, 1988). "Ken Murray, 85; Producer of WWII Revue, Actor". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ a b "Odessa Dancer Tours with USO Camp Show". Texas, Odessa. The Odessa American. September 15, 1946. p. 8. Retrieved January 21, 2016 – via open access
  12. ^ Anaheim High School Alumni Association (January 26, 2016). "Katherine Elizabeth "Maybelle" Wilson – a.k.a. Marie Wilson – Class of 1933". Anaheim High School. Anaheim, California: Anaheim Union High School District. Archived from the original on September 23, 2016. Retrieved December 13, 2016.
  13. ^ Mayer, Geoff (2017). Encyclopedia of American Film Serials. McFarland. p. 75. ISBN 9780786477623. Retrieved September 17, 2019.
  14. ^ "R.I.P. Noel Neill Lois Lane from The Adventures of Superman 1920–2016". July 5, 2016.
  15. ^ Dan Levine (writer); Alan J. Levi (director) (May 8, 1994). "The House of Luthor". Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Season 1. Episode 21. ABC.
  16. ^ "Wichita Falls Girl, Director Are Wed". Texas, Lubbock. Lubbock Evening Journal. April 2, 1948. p. 8. Retrieved January 20, 2016 – via open access
  17. ^ "Just a Kiss of Friendship". Indiana, Terre Haute. The Terre Haute Tribune. January 30, 1949. p. 29. Retrieved January 20, 2016 – via open access

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