She was never a major Hollywood star, but for millions of kids who grew up watching reruns of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, Noel Neill was a true icon. She was the first TV crush for many of us… after all, what kid could resist an attractive, plucky girl reporter who just happened to be a close, personal friend of the mighty Man of Steel?
Noel Neill was born in Minneapolis in 1920, daughter of a journalist, foreshadowing her future screen occupation. Her mother was a dancer, and young Noel had a knack for performing. She got a gig singing with Bob Crosby’s orchestra, and did some modeling. Noel was ranked the #2 pin-up girl by GI’s during World War II, second in popularity to only Betty Grable. Hollywood came calling, and she was signed by Paramount Pictures. But her screen career went nowhere, and eventually Miss Neill moved to Poverty Row Monogram Studios.
While at Monogram, producer Sam Katzman cast her as a (what else?) plucky reporter for a series of pictures called “The Teen Agers”. By 1948, Katzman had moved to Columbia, and was about to start a new serial based on DC’s SUPERMAN. Remembering Noel, he cast her as Lois Lane opposite Kirk Allyn as Clark Kent, aka Superman. The serial was cheaply produced, but comic book-crazed kids rushed to theaters every Saturday to see the Man from Krypton in a live-action movie. The serial proved so popular Katzman followed up with a sequel the next year, ATOM MAN VS SUPERMAN.
A television version was made in 1951, but the leads were George Reeves and Phyllis Coates. The first season was filmed, but when it came time for season #2, Miss Coates already had other committments. Noel Neill was asked to return to the role she originated, and stayed for the next five years, appearing in 78 of the shows 104 episodes, and would’ve returned for another season if not for the untimely death of Reeves. Her Lois is the prototype for the liberated woman, a working girl who’s risen to the top of her profession, and refuses to settle for just any man… she wants a Superman!
Noel Neill took her fame as Lois Lane with good humor, never talking bad about being identified with a comic book (these were different times, before comics took over Hollywood). She appeared at fan conventions and did a cameo as Lois Lane’s mom (with Kirk Allyn s Mr. Lane) in 1978’s SUPERMAN. She also popped up in a 1988 episode of SUPERBOY alongside Jack “Jimmy Olsen” Larson, and as Lex Luthor’s rich, dying wife in 2005’s SUPERMAN RETURNS. Noel Neill passed away on July 3rd at age 95, the last surviving member of the TV cast. Gone but never to be forgotten, as long as there are Superman fans. Rest in peace, Noel. When we look “up in the sky”, it won’t be a bird or a plane; it will be you and George Reeves smiling down on us all.
(Noel with her statue located in Metropolis, Illinois)