Noel Neill’s father wanted her to be a reporter, but she wanted to perform. Perhaps playing one of the most famous fictional female reporters ever was an acceptable compromise.
In her early twenties, Neill was seen singing at the Del Mar racetrack by Bing Crosby, who helped her land a contract with Paramount Pictures. She had numerous bit parts in movies during the late forties and early fifties, but her first big role was as Betty Rogers in Monogram Pictures’ Teen Ager musical series. The character of Rogers was an aggressive teen reporter (though Neill was over 25 during filming), and when it came time to cast Lois Lane for the Superman serial by Columbia Pictures, producer Sam Katzman remembered her.
The Hollywood Reporter says that Neill didn’t know what she was being asked when Katzman approached her, declaring in an interview, “I had never heard of Superman... Back then, comics were read mostly by boys.”
In 1951, the television series Adventures of Superman began, starring George Reeves and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. By the time the show was picked up, Coates had committed to other projects, and Neill was tapped to take up her role as Lois Lane once more. She played Lane for 5 seasons, until the show was cancelled in 1958 following Reeves death.
Neill essentially retired from acting after the show finished, though she made frequent cameos in Superman-related productions and gave talks about her time on the show. She played Ella or Ellen Lane, Lois Lane’s mother, in the 1978 film Superman and an episode of Superboy. She also played Gertrude Vanderworth, the elderly wife of villain Lex Luthor, in the 2006 film Superman Returns.
In the documentary Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, Neill mentioned that the most common question she received from children about Adventures of Superman was, “Why don’t you know that Clark Kent was Superman, just wearing a pair of those darn eyeglasses?”
She always responded, “I don’t want to lose my job!”
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