Noel Neill (1920 - 2016)
By: Legacy Staff
2 years ago
Noel Neill, the actress known best as Lois Lane in “Superman” film serials and on TV, died July 3, 2016. She was 95.
Neill first played the intrepid reporter in the film serial “Superman” (1948) and its sequel, “Atom Man vs. Superman” (1950). Produced by Columbia Pictures, these were the first live-action adaptations of the popular comic book character Superman. The serials were financially successful and raised her profile as well as that of her Superman co-star, Kirk Alyn.
In 1953, she resumed the role of Lois Lane on the TV series “Adventures of Superman.” She replaced the original actress, Phyllis Coates, who had left the series after the first season. The syndicated series was a hit, especially with children, and ran for six seasons, until 1958. Plans to continue the series were dashed, however, after George Reeves, who played Superman, died of a gunshot wound in his Los Angeles home in 1959.
Noel Darleen Neill was born Nov. 25, 1920, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her father was a journalist, and her mother was a dancer. Although she began performing at an early age, she also showed an aptitude for journalism with an early job writing articles for the trade publication Women’s Wear Daily. However, her passion lay in performing. She sang, danced, and even toured the Midwestern fair circuit playing the banjo.
While she was living with relatives in California, her singing caught the ear of the crooner Bing Crosby, an owner of the racetrack in Del Mar, who hired her to sing at the track’s Turf Club. She then began performing in various nightclubs in and around Hollywood.
She also began modeling for photographers, and her pinup became popular with GIs during World War II. She signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and appeared in Westerns, serials, and early local Los Angeles television productions. Her role as a teenage reporter in youth serials caught the eye of the producers of “Superman,” beginning her lifelong association with the franchise.
“In fact, I had never even read the comic books,” she told the Daily Gazette in 2004. “In those days, that was entirely a boy’s thing. I just fell into it.”
Unlike some actors who attempted to distance themselves from their most popular characters, Neill embraced her ties with Lois Lane and Superman. She often made personal appearances at conventions and on college campuses.
“I stood up there on that stage and cried,” she recalled about an early personal appearance at Monmouth College in New Jersey in 1974. “I just didn’t know how much it meant to people.”
Her portrayal of the fictional journalist inspired more than just adoration from male fanboys. It also served as an inspiration to young women looking for a female role model in popular culture who did more than cook and clean.
Following the end of the “Superman” TV series, she retired from acting full time. However, she would emerge from retirement three times to appear in Superman projects. In the 1978 film “Superman,” Neill had a cameo as Lois Lane’s mother. She appeared in an episode of the TV series “Superboy” in 1991, and in 2006 she played Gertrude Vanderworth, the dying elderly wife of Lex Luthor, in “Superman Returns.”
A 15-foot bronze statue of Lois Lane, modeled on Neill’s likeness, was erected in 2010 in Metropolis, Illinois, which bills itself as the Official Home of Superman.
She remained lifelong friends with “Adventures of Superman” co-star Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen, until his death in 2015. She commented that the two lived in the same neighborhood and spoke weekly.
Neill married her husband, Harold Lierley, a makeup artist, in 1943.
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