When it came to the Hollywood embodiment Superman's girlfriend Lois Lane, while actresses Margot Kidder and Terri Hatcher made their marks in the role, for many Baby Boomer-era fans it was still Noel Neill who epitomized the role. The plucky red-headed actress played the part of the perennial damsel in distress on television in "The Adventures of Superman" in the 1950s, opposite George Reeves as the title character. Although she left acting when the series ended in 1957, she remained such a fixture in the world of the man of steel that she was plucked out of retirement at the age of 85 to appear in director Bryan Singer's opus "Superman Returns" (2006). Noel Neill died in Tucson, Arizona on July 4, 2016. She was 95.
Neill didn't always want to be an actress, but she may have been fated to play the intrepid reporter in one way or another. The daughter of a newspaper man in Minneapolis, her first ambition was to be a journalist herself. The editor of a Minneapolis paper, her father opened the wanted her to write for women's publications, but young Neill was bitten by the bug to perform. Although she didn't make the cut at school auditions, a family trip to Hollywood led to a chance to sing at a supper club, owned by Bing Crosby. There was no turning back, and in no time, she signed with Paramount Pictures in 1941.
After appearing as a Paramount "contract player," Neill was soon "loaned out" to other studios, as was the common practice of the day when it came to prolific and in-demand performers. Her numerous screen appearances led to steady work in the serials of the 1940s - the ongoing theatrical shorts - the forefunners to television series which were around the corner. Among those serials was "Superman," in 1948, although Neill had not heard of the costumed character, whose strip had been published a decade at that point. Soon she was hoisted in the arms of actor Kirk Alyn, who had also played the Son of Krypton in a radio show.
A few years later, when producers decided to continue the exploits of Superman on television, starting with a full-length feature, Alyn dropped out and all-new players were chosen. Cast opposite Reeves was Phyllis Coates, but Neill wasn't out of the picture long; when Coates took a part in another series, Neill reprised her role. Rounding out the cast was Jack Larson as Superman's pal, Jimmy Olsen. While Lois Lane has often been portrayed as being her own worst enemy, continuously getting into scrape after scrape only to be rescued by Superman, Neill's performance suggested a strong, intelligent professional woman, all the more remarkable considering the era. After the death of Reeves, the show was discontinued, and Neill chose to leave acting.
But her role in the ongoing cultural myth of Superman wasn't over. Some 20 years later, she was asked to make a cameo appearance in director Richard Donner's big-budget, big-screen "Superman:The Movie," in 1978. Appearing on screen with former co-star Alyn for only a few seconds, she played the mother of young Lois Lane, who looks out the window of their passenger train to see a teen-age Clark Kent whizzing by on foot.
The success of that film, thanks largely to the public's acceptance and adoration of actor Christopher Reeve and his believable portrayal as the Man of Tomorrow, prompted a resurgence of interest and nostalgia. Neill and Larson made a slew of public appearances, including small parts on the short-lived "Superboy" television series in 1991. Interest was likely to surge again with Singer's take on the four-color wonder. The talented young director promised to deliver a traditional take on the character, after a number of previously interested helmsmen, such as Tim Burton and McG, considered radical re-imaginings. Blond bombshell Kate Bosworth not only dyed her hair darker to play the famous Miss Lane, she shared the screen with the predecessor three generations removed. Following that brief appearance, Neill returned to retirement. Noel Neill died following a lengthy illness in Tucson, Arizona on July 4, 2016. She was 95.