In an article appearing on The Superman Homepage a statement by her manager, biographer and friend, Larry Thomas Ward has informed us that, Noel Neill has passed at the age of 95. The New York Times has also released an obituary.
I never took advantage of the opportunities to meet Noel Neill that were available when she was still doing comic conventions and The Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois. By the time I made it to Metropolis, she was 94 and no longer attending.
Many years ago our own Jim D. attended a Con out in his neck of the woods and landed a photo of Neill and had her sign it for me. She mistook my name as "Bryan", but that's okay. I always have a little story to tell whenever I show people that picture.
Noel Neill was the first woman to ever portray Superman's girlfriend, Lois Lane, in any live action medium. And before Margot Kidder fell out of a helicopter, she was more or less the definition of Lois Lane to a generation of Americans. She appeared in the first movie serials as early as 1948 - a plucky dame keeping up with Jimmy Olsen and Superman (played here by Kirk Alyn). In the 1950's, she didn't initially wind up with the part of Lois when the TV series The Adventures of Superman headed for TV, but after Phyllis Coated dropped out, in stepped Neill, and as the show was shot in color, after almost twenty years of Lois showing up as a dark brunette, she was suddenly a red-head.
If you've followed this blog for a while, you know I adore Neill's portrayal of Lois Lane. She's honest, spunky, good humored and always ready for action. It's not the Lois of the serial cartoons that might pick up a machinegun, but Neill gives the character so much charm, there's a lot to like even when the writing doesn't give her much to do but get taken hostage (again).
|scratch that. Lois goes armed, people.|
She appeared in a number of other movies, almost always in bit roles, and back in the 40's and 50's, usually as a dishy girl the male characters sort of ogle as they go by. I saw her pop up recently as an elevator girl in The Big Clock, and whenever I watch The Blue Dahlia, I always pause to notice her brief appearance as a hat check girl.
After The Adventures of Superman, her credits on IMDB more or less cease until Dick Donner brought her back in a cameo to play Lois' mother in Superman: The Movie, alongside Kirk Alyn - now playing Lois' father. This would become a noteworthy tradition in DC live-action media, as Jack Larson who played Jimmy Olsen would re-appear in Superman Returns as Bibbo at the Ace of Clubs. Helen Slater appeared both in Smallville and is now a regular in CBS/CW's Supergirl (alongside former Superman Dean Cain). Margot Kidder and Chris Reeve also both made appearances on Smallville. Etc...
Neill would also appear in Superman Returns as Gertude Vanderworth, her one scene with Kevin Spacey early on in the movie.
I'm not entirely clear on what Neill was up to in her intervening years between Superman gigs, but in retirement she became a draw at Comic Cons.
In 2010, Metropolis, Illinois dedicated a statue of Neill near their Town Hall and in the city center. In 2015, Stuart and I visited the town and he took this picture of me alongside the statue.
I'm very sad that Ms. Neill has passed, but like many of her fellow actors who portrayed characters decades ago - I'm glad that for the past few decades, Ms. Neill was able to understand the impact she had on millions of people. It's not everyone who gets a permanent designation as the First Lady of Metropolis.
And, of course, she'll be remembered for years and years to come as the original Lois up there on the big screen and the Lois who appeared on TV screens in homes across the country from the 50's to today.