Lois Lane Actress Was 96 – The Hollywood Reporter

Lois Lane Actress Was 96 – The Hollywood Reporter

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Phyllis Coates, the first actress to play Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane on television, only to leave the Adventures of Superman after just one season, has died. She was 96.

Coates, who also appeared in Republic Pictures serials and in such films as I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, died Wednesday of natural causes at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, her daughter Laura Press told The Hollywood Reporter.

A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Coates first portrayed the headstrong Lois opposite George Reeves as the Man of Steel in the dark sci-fi movie Superman and the Mole Men (1951).

The success of that Lippert Pictures film — the first full-length theatrical feature starring the comic-book hero — led to the quick decision to start production on a syndicated show for television.

Coates segued to the series and got into jams as Lois in all 26 episodes of the first season (the Mole Men picture was turned into a two-parter titled “The Unknown People”). She got paid about $350 for each episode and said four or five were often shot at one time — so she always wore the same hat, suit and earrings.

“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 said in Tom Weaver’s 2006 book, Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes. “Not too long ago I saw an episode [“Night of Terror”] where I got knocked out!”

The show was a sudden and unexpected hit, and Coates was asked to return for season two. However, she had signed to do a pilot for a series that was to star Jack Carson and Allen Jenkins (that show never happened) and took a pass.

“[Producer] Whitney Ellsworth offered me about four or five times what I was getting if I’d come back. But I really wanted to get out of Superman,” she said in the Weaver book.

Noel Neill, who had played Lois in 1948 and 1950 Superman Columbia serials starring Kirk Alyn, was then recruited to replace Coates and stayed with the series through its final five seasons.

The two Lois actresses were in the cast of the Soviet invasion film Invasion USA (1952), though they apparently never met. Reeves introduced them in 1957, but Neill, according to Coates, wanted nothing to do with her.

Born Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell, Coates came to Los Angeles as a teenager. She landed a job as a chorus girl and did skits in comedian Ken Murray’s vaudeville show, then performed in USO tours.

Coates signed a contract with Warner Bros. and stood out as the platinum-blonde wife Alice in several of the studio’s popular Joe McDoakes 10-minute comedy films. (Her husband, the everyman Joe, was played by George O’Hanlon, perhaps best known as the voice of futuristic cartoon leading man George Jetson).

After Superman, Coates appeared wearing a very short skirt in the Republic serials Jungle Drums of Africa (1952), opposite Clayton Moore of Lone Ranger fame, and in the title role of Panther Girl of the Kongo (1954).

“I had to ride an elephant all day,” she said in Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes. “And my legs were raw from the hair on the elephant — I never knew until then that an elephant even had hair!”

Coates picked on a fellow (and innocent) inmate in Girls in Prison (1956) and showed off her comedy chops as the mother of a precocious teenager in the 1958 Desilu sitcom This Is Alice.

In American International Pictures’ I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), Coates played the secretary of a mad scientist (Whit Bissell); when she confronts him about making a monster, the creature (Gary Conway) kills her and feeds her remains to an alligator.

Coates also appeared on such TV shows as The Lone Ranger, Leave It to Beaver, Tales of Wells Fargo, Rawhide, The Untouchables (once in an episode helmed by Ida Lupino), Perry Mason, The Patty Duke Show and Gunsmoke.

She appeared as Barbara Hershey’s mother in James Bridges’ The Baby Maker (1970), produced by Jack Larson, who played Daily Planet cub reporter Jimmy Olsen on Superman.

In Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn (1987) Coates appeared as Marilyn Monroe’s mentally ill mother, Gladys Baker. And on a 1994 episode of ABC’s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Coates was back in the superhero business as the mother of Teri Hatcher’s Lois.

Coates was portrayed by Lorry Ayers in Hollywoodland (2006), about an investigator (Adrien Brody) who looks into the mysterious 1959 death of Reeves (Ben Affleck) that was ruled a suicide.

Coates was married four times: to TV director Richard L. Bare, whom she met on the McDoakes films (he went on to helm 166 episodes of Green Acres), musician Robert Nelms, Leave It to Beaver director Norman Tokar and Howard Press, a doctor. All four marriages ended in divorce.

She is survived by another daughter, Zoe, and granddaughter Olivia.

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