Noel Neill, the first actress to ever play Lois Lane in the serialized version of Superman, has died at age 95. Neill died in Tucson, Arizona after battling a lengthy illness, according to People. Biographer Larry Ward, a close friend of Noel Neill, posted a lengthy tribute to the late actress on Facebook, detailing her incredible career, which started with screen legend Bing Crosby’s help in getting her a seven-year contract with Paramount in the 1940s.
Noel Neill had already made dozens of films when she was cast in what would become her most iconic role, the classic character Lois Lane, opposite actor Kirk Alyn in the 1948 film Superman. Noel reprised the role as the Daily Planet reporter in 1950’s Atom Man vs. Superman.
Surprisingly, when it came time for a TV version of the comic book series, actress Phyllis Coates was originally hired to play Lane opposite George Reeves on the television show. But after the first season of the syndicated 1952 show The Adventures of Superman, Noel replaced Coates in the role. Noel Neill appeared in 78 episodes of the superhero TV series from 1953 to 1958. Neill was paid $225 an episode, and in a 2003 interview with fan site the Superman Homepage, Noel Neill said her saddest moment in regards to the TV show was one payday in particular.
“Once, I accidentally got the paycheck for the fellow who swept the set clean every day, and I quickly noticed that he got paid a lot more than I did! I couldn’t believe it!” Neill said. Noel Neill also revealed that she stopped getting residuals for the old Superman TV shows in 1965.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Noel Neill also once said her favorite Superman episode was the 1956 installment “The Wedding of Superman.”
Noel Neill walked away from acting after The Adventures of Superman ended, telling the New York Times in 2006 that she wanted to be a beach bum and live a low-key life.
Interestingly, Noel Neill’s father was an editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and he wanted his daughter to become a reporter, but Noel’s musical talents sent her in another direction. After she got a job singing at a restaurant at the Del Mar racetrack, Noel was spotted by Crosby, who was a shareholder at the California track, and that’s when her career in the entrainment business took off. Turns out she became a reporter by proxy on Superman.
In addition to her legacy as Superman’s sidekick, Noel Neill appeared with pal Bing Crosby in 1944’s Here Come the Waves and had small parts in movies like the Music Man (1948), The Greatest Show on Earth(1950) and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953. Noel Neill starred in dozens of film and TV Westerns helmed by famed directors, including Vincent Minnelli and Cecil B. DeMille and she ultimately received a Golden Boot award for her contributions to the genre.
In an unexpected reunion, Neill briefly turned up as Ella, the mother of Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), in Richard Donner’s 1978 film, Superman. Noel’s first Superman co-star Kirk Alyn played Lois’ father in the hit Christopher Reeve flick. Noel Neill also made cameos in later movies like Superboy (1991) and Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006).
Noel Neill spent decades on the comic-book convention circuit and in 2010, a life-size bronze statue of Lois modeled on Noel Neill was unveiled in Metropolis, Illinois, where the actress briefly lived before moving to Arizona.
Noel Neill is survived by her husband Hal Lierly, and she will always be remembered by Superman fans everywhere.
Take a look at the video below to see Noel Neill is a classic Superman scene.
[Photo by Hulton Archive/Courtesy of Getty Images]