Noel Neill, who was the first actress to play the character of Lois Lane on screen, has passed away at her home in Tucson, Arizona on July 3rd, aged 95, after suffering with a long-term illness. Her manager and biographer Larry Ward shared a statement on Facebook, saying that she “maintained that bright, perky and engaging personality up until her death.”
Neill was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1920, the daughter of Minneapolis Star Tribune news editor David Neill and the New York vaudeville performer LaVere Neill. Evidently destined for stardom, she enrolled in a school for aspiring performers, aged 4, and started to appear in local productions, showcasing her talents as a singer and dancer, as well as offering dramatic radio performances on local stations.
As a teenager, she became a highly sought-after photographic model and her pin-up was reportedly second only to Betty Grable’s in terms of popularity among American serviceman during World War II. She graduated from high school in 1938 and earned her first wage writing articles for fashion-industry magazine Women’s Wear Daily. In the same year, she moved to Los Angeles and received her first big break when she was hired by Bing Crosby to sing at the racetrack in Del Mar, California. Shortly after, Hollywood came calling and she decided to sign a seven-year contract with Paramount Pictures in 1941.
Mostly appearing in non-speaking roles initially, Neill featured in several short films, but soon gained leading lady status with a starring role in William Nigh’s romance Are These Our Parents? in 1944. She also landed a recurring role as high school newspaper reporter Betty Rogers in The Teenagers musical series, as well as featuring in a series of film and TV westerns for notable directors such as Vincent Minnelli, Cecil B. DeMille and Hal Roach.
In total, Neill made close to 100 films in her long and incredible career, but it was her role as Lois Lane in the 1948 movie serial Superman that showed her talent for humor. Following on from the success of the 15-part film serial, two years later, she appeared in the sequel Atom Man vs Superman, with Kirk Alyn portraying Superman/Clark Kent once more. However, it was the 1950 television series Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves, which cemented her legacy as the intrepid reporter.
She returned several times to appear in Superman films – working alongside Christopher Reeve in a brief cameo appearance, playing Lois Lane’s mother, in the 1978 film Superman; in the 1980s Superboy series with Gerard Christopher, and finally, in Brandon Routh’s 2006 feature film Superman Returns. After learning all about the newspaper business from her father, she later admitted in interviews that she played herself (rather than a character) in her remarkable role as Daily Planet’s award-winning journalist – and being the intelligent, brave and witty individual that we knew her as, she certainly embodied the very best qualities of Lois Lane.
R.I.P. Noel Neill: November 25th, 1920 – July 3rd, 2016