Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Godspeed Noel Neill

Noel Neill, the first woman to ever play Lois Lane in a live action film and an actress who appeared in many B-Westerns, died July 3 2016 at the age of 95.

Noel Neill was born in Minneapolis on November 25 1920. Her father was father, David Neill, was an editor at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Her mother, LaVere Neill was a former dancer in vaudeville. She started performing while still young. When she was only four she was enrolled in a performing arts school. She was already appearing in local stage productions by the time she was five.  By 1929 she was appearing on radio dramas on local Minneapolis radio stations. As a teenager she toured country fairs singing, dancing, and playing banjo, often with childhood friends The Andrew Sisters. As a teenager she also had a modelling career. In the late Thirties she wrote for Women's Wear Daily, but she would not be following her father into a career in journalism.

Instead, in 1938, following her graduation from high school, Miss Neill and her mother made a road trip to Los Angeles. It was not long after her arrival that she got a job singing with Bob Crosby's band at the Del Mar Racetrack. She made her film debut in an uncredited role in Mad Youth in 1940. It was in 1941 that she signed a seven year contract with Paramount Pictures. She appeared in various uncredited roles until 1942 when she received her first credited role in the "Henry Aldrich" movie Henry and Dizzy. She continued to appear in small, uncredited roles as well as in such films as Salute for Three (1943), Henry Aldrich's Little Secret (1944), Fun Time (1944), Are These Our Parents? (1944), Here Come the Waves (1944), and The Stork Club (1945).

Noel Neill moved from Paramount to Monogram, where she found herself cast in the recurring role of Betty Rogers in producer Sam Katzman's "Teen Agers". In the films Betty was a reporter for the school newspaper. She played Betty in the films Junior Prom (1946), Freddie Steps Out (1946), High School Hero (1946), Vacation Days (1947), Sarge Goes to College (1947), Smart Politics (1948), and Campus Sleuth (1948). She also appeared in other films beyond the "Teen Agers' movies. She made her debut in a Western with Over the Santa Fe Trail in 1947, playing opposite Ken Curtis. She also appeared in the sci-fi serial Brick Bradford (1947), based on the comic strip of the same name. Miss Neill appeared in such films as College Queen (1946), Glamour Girl (1948), and Are You with It? (1948).

When Sam Katzman began casting for the serial Superman, he quite naturally thought of Noel Neill for the role of Lois Lane, her reporter character in the "Teen Agers" films being quite similar. It was then in 1948 that Noel Neill became the first woman to play Lois Lane in a live-action film. She would reprise the role of Lois Lane in the sequel to Superman (1948), Superman vs. Atom Man (1950). In both films Kirk Alyn played Superman. In between Noel Neill appeared in various B-Westerns and other films, including Adventures of Frank and Jesse James (1948), Gun Runner (1949), The Sky Dragon (1949--the last Charlie Chan film), Forgotten Women (1949), and The James Brothers of Missouri (1949). She made her television debut in an episode of The Cisco Kid.

In the Fifties she appeared in such films as Abilene Trail (1951), Whistling Hills (1951), The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), Montana Incident (1952), and The Lawless Rider (1954). She guest starred on The Lone Ranger, Fireside Theatre, and Racket Squad. In the meantime, in 1952, a television series, The Adventures of Superman, debuted in 1952. The series starred George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. For the second season Phyllis Coates was not available, having committed to another project. As a result Noel Neill was once more cast in the role of Lois Lane. She played the role for the remainder of the series. Sadly, the series was unable to continue following the untimely death of George Reeves.

Following The Adventures of Superman Noel Neill more or less retired from acting. She started a career in public relations and worked in the television department at United Artists. She continued to make appearances in various Superman projects, including a brief appearance as Lois Lane's mother in Superman (1978), as well as appearing in an episode of the TV show Superboy, and the movie Superman Returns (2006). She also appeared in the comedy Surge of Power (2004).  She also appeared frequently at conventions and on the lecture circuit.

Noel Neill was the first actress to play Lois Lane in a live-action film. Indeed, for many she was the quintessential Lois Lane. She played the role with a vibrancy lacking in some of the actresses who succeeded her. Miss Neill's Lois Lane was headstrong, assertive, intelligent, and hard working. It was in  many ways a progressive role at a time when most women on television were wives and mothers who did not work outside their homes. It should come as no surprise that in interviews Noel Neill said that she had been told by many young women that they had chosen to pursue a career in journalism because of her portrayal of Lois Lane. Of course, Miss Neill played other roles beyond Lois Lane. She was in the similar role of Betty Rogers in the "Teen Agers" movies, and she played many a feisty cowgirl in B-Westerns.

I never had the opportunity to meet Noel Neill, but I know people who have. All of them have said the same things about her. She was a very nice woman with a great sense of humour. She always had time for her fans, and was always ready with a smile. If Noel Neill's fans loved her, it is probably because she loved them right back. She certainly will not be forgotten.

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