Superman on Television
Noel NeillReal name: Noel Neill
Character: Lois Lane in Superman (1948), Superman and the Atom Man (1949) and the Adventures of Superman TV Show (1953-57)
Birth Date: November 25, 1920
Birth Place: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Marital Status: Married twice; divorced; no children
Noel Neill (1920-)
The Red-Headed Lois Lane
Noel Neill was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1920 to David and LaVere Neill. While her father, a respected Minneapolis newspaperman and editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune during the 1940s and 50s, named her Noel, it had nothing to do with Christmas. Her father had wanted Noel to become a reporter, and had even gotten her the opportunity to write for Women's Wear Daily, but she had other ideas. She wanted to perform. In High School, she tried out for several plays but, as she recalls, always failed the audition. That did not prevent her from dreaming.
During several interviews, Noel Neill has called her life and career a "hometown-girl-makes-good" story that was straight out of the movies. The story began with a trip that took place right after Neill finished high school in Minneapolis, in 1938. Noel and her mother drove from Minnesota to California, visiting relatives along the way, until they finally reached Hollywood. They stayed with a friend of a Minneapolis neighbor who happened to be a musician. Finding that Noel was a singer, he arranged for her to audition for a job singing at the Del Mar racetrack. She was hired and started immediately.
During the two years that followed, Noel sang at the restaurant at Del Mar, which gave her the opportunity to meet a number of agents and talent scouts. But, her big break came when she met Bing Crosby, who was one of the big stockholders of the racetrack. Crosby took an interest in Noel and introduced her to his brother, Larry who was an agent. That move was a big help for her career and soon she found herself as a contract player at Paramount.
Like many other young contract actresses of the day, Noel Neill, was used as a pin-up model, doing "sweater girl" and "leg-art" photos to promote herself, movies and the studio. Also like other contract players, Neill was often loaned to other studios when a role demanded a particular "type" of character. Fortunately for Neill, the 5' 2" girl with dark red hair and blue-gray eyes, found herself much in demand.
In a short span of time, Neill did work for MGM, RKO, Warner Brothers, Republic, and Monogram. Her first significant role was in one of the Henry Aldrich series, which starred Mickey Rooney. Neill played Jean, the best friend of Henry's girlfriend, in Henry and Dizzy (1941). Over the next several years, Neill had a number of small parts in Salute for Three (playing Gracie, 1943), Lady Of Burlesque (1943) with Barbara Stanwyck, Standing Room Only (a secretary, 1944), and Lona's companion in Rainbow Island.
In 1944, Noel had the opportunity to work with Bing Crosby in Here Come the Waves. But, after that she was back to Henry Aldrich films doing Henry Aldrich's Little Secret and performing bit parts for a number of studios. Noel played a cigarette girl in Bring on the Girls (1945), Jacqueline Billingsley in The Stork Club, (1946), a WAVE in The Well Groomed Bride (1946) and Velda, the hatcheck girl, in The Blue Dahlia (1946).
During the late 1940's, Sam Katzman, who had pioneered the Bowery Boys, was developing a series called "The Teenagers", for Monogram. Katzman saw Noel in several films and decided that she was exactly what he wanted and arranged to have Neill on loan from Paramount. Even though Noel was now 26, she became a regular in the series playing a teenager named Betty Rogers. She appeared in a number of these films including Junior Prom (1946), Freddie Steps Out (1946), High School Hero (1946), Vacation Days (1947), Sarge Goes To College (1947), Campus Sleuth (1948) and Smart Politics (1948). When the "Teenager" films ended, Neill continued with Monogram appearing in The Gun Runner (1949), and The Forgotten Woman (1949) acting with Robert Shayne, who would later play Inspector Henderson in the Adventures of Superman .
In 1947, Brick Bradford followed a number of newspaper strips to the screen. Brick Bradford was an adventure strip with strong science fiction ties and in this serial, Brick was asked to protect an anti-missile device from an evil scientist. After the madman stole the device, Brick traveled to the Moon, by way of a Crystal Door, rescued his friends, and recovered the device, then traveled back into the 18th century to recover parts of the formula. Noel Neill played Lula, a pretty native girl in a sarong, beginning her appearances in serials.
In late 1947, the same Sam Katzman that had produced the "Teenager" series, was also working on a serial for Columbia entitled Superman. Neill's agent told her about the serial, starring Kirk Alyn and she recalled that she had never read the comics and had to ask her agent, "What is Superman?" At the time, Noel Neill could not have imagined that getting the part of Lois Lane would have the impact on her life that it would. Without a doubt, it was the largest and most significant role she had up until that time, yet she admitted that she saw it as nothing more than "a month's work". Perhaps because Katzman knew her, Noel Neill got the role of Lois Lane after a very quick audition, and in a very roundabout way, Noel's father finally got his wish that she become a reporter.
Kirk Alyn recalled that, "When Noel Neill and I worked together on the Superman serials, she must have had an awful lot of faith in me. I carried this girl so many times through fire, through smoke, through all kinds of danger - and she'd dangle under one arm while I did these things. But she didn't mind, she didn't wince, she didn't even say a word. She just believed that I was Superman - and so I was."
Noel Neill's schedule remained full as she was loaned to Republic for two serials first playing Judy Powell in The Adventures of Frank and Jesse James (1948), which also starred Clayton Moore who would later become the Lone Ranger. She then appeared as Peg Royer in another western serial, The James Brothers of Missouri (1950). Neill would say in an interview that, "In the old days, you could get a job. It was, 'well, maybe we need a brunette or a blonde for the part'---it was simple. If you had a break in shooting, you could always do a couple of days in a western." Between these films, Noel Neil also appeared as Jane Marshall in the last Charlie Chan film, The Sky Dragon (1949).
Following the success of Superman, National decided to produce a second serial in 1949. They wanted every actor to return, and Columbia arranged to have Noel Neill on loan to reprise her role as Lois Lane. Superman and the Atom Man appeared in theaters in 1950.
The success of the two Superman serials made National decide to expand the character with the hopes of entering the fledgling area of television. For whatever reason, when National made the decision to make a new Superman movie, Superman and the Mole Men, and then proceed on with the Adventures of Superman television show, they omitted Noel Neill. It is not clear who made this decision. Perhaps, since Kirk Alyn had rejected the role of Superman, the producers opted for an entirely new cast of actors since not one of the stars of the Superman serials returned for the television show.
Noel Neill found out about the television show in 1952, and must have felt slighted. Still, she had remained busy appearing in several movies including Abilene Trail (1951), the American student in the classic American in Paris (1951), and appeared as an airline ticket agent in Invasion USA (1952), which also featured Phyllis Coates, the "other" Lois Lane. During those years Neill was also appearing on television in The Cisco Kid ("Chain Lightning" (episode #1.7; aired 10/14/1950) and with Clayton Moore in The Lone Ranger (played Molly Niles in "Letter of the Law" (episode #2.17; aired 1/4/1951).
But fate has a funny way of coming full circle. When Phyllis Coates decided not to return for the second season of The Adventures of Superman, producer Whitney Ellsworth quickly called Noel Neill and she was given the role with no audition.
The filming schedule for the show was such that it did not keep the actors completely busy throughout the year. When National decided to produce another group of episodes, the cast came together and filmed them at a hectic pace, basically completing two episodes per week, thirteen episodes in less than two months. Scenes were filmed in groups. That is, all of the scenes at the Daily Planet offices were filmed at once, all of the laboratory scenes were filmed at the same time, and so on. Sometimes the actors had no idea where the scene went in the story, or even what episode they were doing. Noel Neill also remembers that there was no way to "get rich" doing Superman. Basically, she received $225 per episode from 1954-1957.
Still, Noel Neill defined the role of Lois Lane over the last 76 episodes of the series and was easily one of the most beloved women of 1950's television. Neill's version of Lois was more vivacious and less serious than Phyllis Coates. In fact, sometimes, she and Jack Larson (as Jimmy Olsen) were simply comic. But, in an time where women were usually portrayed in the kitchen or vacuuming in high heels and pearls, Lois Lane was an independent woman who worked for a living, side-by-side as an equal, if not more, with her male counterparts.
Noel recalls the cast of the show as, "wonderful people. We were like a family," she said. "George (Reeves) was a gentle, kind-spirited guy. That was his charm. That was him. He was like a southern gentleman on the set." And, she continued, "John (Hamilton), who was in so many movies, was quite a storyteller."
The salary Neill received made it impossible for the actress to survive solely on this series, and she frequently appeared in other movies during the mid-1950's including Siege at Red River (1954) and The Lawless Rider (1954).
Following George Reeves' death in 1959, Noel Neill was devastated. At the time, there were rumors that she and Reeves were having a relationship, but those rumors were unfounded.
After Reeves' death, Noel Neill quit acting and began doing public relations work. She and Larson (who went on to become a highly respected producer, and writer of plays and opera librettos) have since become the flag bearers for the beloved series. Both actors have spent time lecturing at colleges extensively in the 1970's and 80's as well as making personal appearances at a number of the more prestigious comic conventions. Neill also made an appearance at a celebration of the Superman television show at Metropolis Illinois.
However, Noel Neill's contribution to Superman did not end there. In 1977, Warner Brothers began production of Superman: The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve. Margot Kidder was signed to play the role of Lois Lane, but the producers were also careful to try to include members of the old cast. There is a scene, the majority of which ended up on the cutting room floor, which showed a young girl staring out the window to watch a young Clark Kent race the speeding train she was riding in. This was supposed to be a young Lois Lane witnessing her first super-feat. Noel Neill and Kirk Alyn played the parents of the young Lois who scold her for exaggeration. In the final cut of the movie, we see the young girl watching the speeding Clark, and get a glimpse of Neill and Alyn, but none of this is explained nor is either actor credited for their parts.
Continuing their contribution to the Superman legend, both Neill and Larsen appeared in an episode of the syndicated Adventures of Superboy starring Gerrard Christopher entitled Paranoia (aired 11/4/91).
Since leaving the series, she has gone to the Galapagos to watch the giant turtles, visited Komodo Island get a first hand look at the dragons, and trekked Tibet.
Continuing her involvement in the world of Superman, Noel Neill was cast in the role of Gertrude Vanderworth, the rich elderly woman whom Lex Luthor befriended, in the 2006 blockbuster film "Superman Returns".
In 2012 Noel Neill moved from her home in the Santa Monica Canyon, and relocated to the town of Metropolis, Illinois, where she's affectionately known as the First Lady of Metropolis.