Phyllis Coates, the first actress to portray the intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane on television, has died at 96.
According to an article on the Hollywood Reporter, the actress’ daughter Laura Press told the publication that the cause of death was natural and it was at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. Coates had passed away on Wednesday.
Coates would make her debut as the firebrand journalist in the 1951 film “Superman and the Mole Men” alongside actor George Reeves, who would portray the titular superhero.
According to the Superman Homepage, a website dedicated to the fandom of Superman. Coates auditioned for the role in the spring of 1951 and she noted that it was not memorable.
“They auditioned a lot of people. I read for it, then was called back a second time. They felt I had the quality. It was that simple,” said Coates. After winning the role, she started filming that same afternoon.
The Superman Homepage also noted that the Coates’ version of Lois was close to the original version from the comics that debuted in 1938. The Coates Lois was “tougher and darker” while “simultaneously beautiful and fiercely determined.” The site also notes that Coates’ Lois was a “trendsetter on behalf of women’s equality in the 1950’s.”
Following “Superman and the Mole Man,” Coates would reprise her role as Lois Lane in the 1952 TV serial “The Adventure of Superman ” which was a critical success. However, she would only portray Lois for only one season. Afterward, actress Noel Neil, who was the first ever actress to portray a live action Lois Lane on the 1948 film serial “Superman” would take over the role.
The actress’ reason for starring in only one season was told in Tom Weaver’s 2006 book, “Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes.” In the book she mentioned being signed on to do another pilot for a show which never happened. And despite being offered “four or five times” what she was paid for the first season of “Adventures of Superman,” she wanted out of the show.
In the book, she also mentioned what it was like behind the scenes on “The Adventure of Superman.”
“We were nearly blown up, beaten up, exploded, exploited – I guess it was because we were young and dumb, but we put up with a lot of stuff,” Coates recalled in Weaver’s book.
Ironically, Coates would star alongside Noel Neil in the 1952 film “Invasion USA” but they never met on set and even after George Reeves introduced the two Lois’ in 1957, Coates said that her floor actress did not want to have anything to do with her.
Before taking up the pen as Lois Lane, Coates was born Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell in Wichita Falls, Texas and got her feet wet in entertainment as a Chrus girl and performed in several USO tours.
After leaving the role of Lois, Cotes would star in several serials including the 1952 film “Jungle Drums of Africa” and the 1954 film “Panther Girl of the Kong.” She also starred in films like, “Girls in Prison” (1956), “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein” (1957) and, “This is Alice (1958). She would also star in several TV shows including “The Lone Ranger” “Leave it to Beaver” and Gunsmoke.
Coates would return to the world of Lois Lane when she portrayed the mother of Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane in the 1990s ABC TV series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.”
The Lois Lane actress was also portrayed by Lorry Ayers in the 2006 film Hollywood Land which is centered around the mysterious 1959 death of George Reeves (portrayed by Ben Affleck). The Superman actor’s death was ruled as a suicide.
According to the Superman Homepage, a fansite dedicated to all things Superman, Coates had expressed reluctance of discussing “The Adventures of Superman” and George Reeves. She also seldom appeared at any conventions.
However, one can argue that Phyliss Coates was the quintessential Lois Lane due to her going at the beat of her own drum. Her version of Lois Lane has lived through many versions of Lois’ like the aforementioned Teri Hatcher, Erica Durrance, Dana Delaney, Amy Adams, Bitsie Tulloch, and Alice Lee. And without a doubt, Quotes Lois will definitely live through Rachel Brosnahan’s version of Lois in the upcoming film “Superman: Legacy.”
Phyllis Coates is survived by her daughters Laura and Zoe and her granddaughter Olivia.