Noel Neill passed away last Sunday at the age of 95, having lived a long and fascinating life. She wore a number of hats during her time in show business; she was a model, a singer, and an actress in both film and television, but she was best known as Lois Lane. Neill was the first live action Lois, playing the character alongside Kirk Alyn’s Man of Steel in the 1948 serial film Superman and reprising the role in its 1950 sequel, Atom Man vs. Superman. After Phyllis Coates left the Adventures of Superman television series after one season in 1952, the producers immediately reached out to the original Lois, and Neill played Lois next to George Reeves’ Superman for the next five seasons of the program until it ended in 1958.
Neill was Lois Lane during the bulk of the run of the Adventures of Superman, making her the person that an entire generation of fans associated with the character. The show was a hit in its initial run, and remained popular in syndication for a long time as well. Until Margot Kidder took over the role in Superman: The Movie in 1978, Noel Neill WAS Lois Lane.
Neill’s Lois was pleasant and kind-hearted, a stark contrast to the no nonsense brashness that Coates and later Kidder imbued in the character. Neill brought a warmth and friendliness to the role, which fit the part; the program was aimed primarily at children from its second season on, and Neill’s Lois was a good match for its fun, sometimes silly tone. She often found herself in goofy adventures alongside Jimmy Olsen, caught up in a zany plan that required Superman to come save them.
But Neill’s Lois wasn’t all damsel in distress hijinks; in one notable episode, she wrote an editorial that encouraged women to come out and vote in order to get rid of a corrupt politician, leveraging her position at the Daily Planet to try to make a difference. Moreover, she was a constant presence at the newspaper, always chasing down leads and trying to land front page scoops. She was a respected career woman at a time when most of the women on television were homemakers, serving as a role model for young girls in the 1950s and offering them an alternative future to aspire to.
After the Adventures of Superman ended, Neill remained closely associated with Lois Lane and the Superman franchise. She cameoed as Lois’ mother in an early scene in Superman: The Movie, appeared in the Superboy TV show in 1991, and had a small role in Superman Returns in 2006. Neill was also a regular presence at comic book conventions over the decades, representing the show alongside Jack Larson long after most of the original cast had passed. By all accounts, she was delightful, kind, and encouraging to everyone she encountered at conventions, and was a wonderful ambassador for Lois Lane.
I was so sad to hear about her passing yesterday, but wow, what a life. She got to be Lois Lane, TWICE, and seemed to love every minute of it. As a young girl growing up in Minnesota, her father ran a newspaper and she dreamed of being a reporter; she even wrote some articles for Women’s Wear Daily before turning to show business. Then as Lois, she got to live her dream on the big screen and the small screen, and wholeheartedly embraced her association with the character from then on. She will be remembered and missed by legions of fans, young and old.
Finally, here’s a bio of Noel Neill that first appeared in Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #7 in February 1959. When Lois’ new series began, many of the letters from young fans asked about Neill and wanted to know more about her, so DC put together this piece for them. Fans continued to ask about her even after the article ran, so DC reprinted it a few more times throughout the 1960s: