|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.
Richard L. Bare (m. 1948–49)
Robert Nelms (m. 1950–53)
Dr. Howard Press (m. 1962–86)
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. She appeared in episode 125 of the TV Series The Lone Ranger in 1953 and again in episode 166, "Woman in the White Mask", in 1955.
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 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 in 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"). In 1961, she essayed the role of Elizabeth Gwynn in the episode "The Little Fishes" on CBS's Rawhide.
Coates played a strong-willed Lois Lane in the first twenty-six episodes of Adventures of Superman, in which 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 wrapped on the first season, the Superman producers suspended production until they found a national sponsor. When in 1953 it was possible to film more Superman episodes, Coates was already committed to another series, so Noel Neill, who had played Lois Lane in two Columbia Superman serials, in 1948 and 1950, replaced Coates.
Coates's Superman fame has obscured the fact that she was one of Hollywood's most consistently employed actresses of the 1950s and '60s. 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.
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 '60s, however, she had settled into a comfortable semi-retirement as a wife and homemaker after wedding Los Angeles family physician Howard Press in 1962. She resumed her career after their divorce in 1986, but in the period immediately prior to that divorce, her film and television appearances were infrequent. One notable role was that of the mother of the female lead in The Baby Maker in 1970 -- a film directed by James Bridges, the lover and production partner of Jack Larson, who had remained a good friend of Coates' since their work together on Adventures of Superman.
Despite her stated misgivings about being remembered only as Lois Lane, after relaunching her career 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. Noel Neill, who played Lois before Coates, 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. 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, Ella Lane.