Welcome to our Man of Steel Countdown column, a bi-weekly look at the upcoming Superman movie along with an exploration of the character's past, present and future.
I’m in love with Lois Lane. My wife allows it because Lois is fictional, but I still often tell her that she is my “Lois Lane.” In the long history of Superman, Lois has been there to give the Man of Steel a damsel in distress, a love interest, a wife and a powerhouse of a reporting partner to Clark Kent. Different writers of her appearances in comic books, radio, TV and film have had varying takes on the character, and the many actresses who have played her have always had their own distinct Lois Lane personalities.
Amy Adams will be playing the role when Man of Steel hits theaters on June 14, 2013, but which aspects of Lois’ past incarnations will shine through in this version? To answer that, we have to jump into the way-back machine to June, 1938, when she first hit the newsstands in the same pages of Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1. Beyond giving a face for readers to root for when Superman had to save someone, Lois provided the linchpin in a love triangle between Superman and Clark Kent. Clark cared a great deal for her, but he was never upset when she would often compare his apparent cowardice to Superman’s heroics, especially when he had to run away and change into his uniform. That angle is sometimes underplayed depending on the story or the series, and there’s a good chance that it will be for Man of Steel as well. Even though the Comic-Con trailer showed Amy Adams passionately kissing Henry Cavill’s Superman, we still don’t know the context or what her feelings for Clark may be.
The Comics (1938-Present)
Lois was always strong willed, but it was specifically her tenacity from the very beginning that made her as much of a household name as Superman. She was loosely based on real female journalist Nelly Bly and famous fictional “sob sisters” from films like Torchy Blane. In fact, one of the actresses who played Torchy was named Lola Lane. Lois’ look was based on a model named Joanne Carter that Jerry Siegel (cocreator of Superman) eventually married.
By the 1950s she had earned her own title, “Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane.” Notice the use of “Girl… Friend,” as opposed to the more romantically inclined “Girlfriend.” Although males bought and read the series, it was clearly marketed to young female readers who might appreciate the many stories of Lois Lane attempting to marry Superman or at least find out what his secret identity was, even though it was rarely clear that he might have one.
Lois stayed on that course for years, even through the resurgence of the women’s liberation movements of the 1960s. Her series was canceled in 1974 with 139 issues, but not before Superman’s entire line had shifted into a more modern direction with a new and improved feminist Lois Lane. Unfortunately she became more memorable for being unshaken in her irrationality than many readers would care to remember. It became hard to reconcile why Superman would be in love with her.
After yet another comic book relaunch in the 1980s Lois continued to beat up on Clark for “stealing” the first Superman interview, which was how he got his job at the Daily Planet. She was sometimes downright mean, and not in a quirky, lovable way. But all that began to change as the 1990s loomed. Lois and Clark became much closer and then romantically involved. Finally, after nearly 55 years, they became engaged, and soon Clark would have to reveal his dual identity. Although it’s easy to assume that Lois would be happy to marry Superman, her reaction to the truth was less than enthusiastic. She felt lied to and needed time to think about it. Soon she came around to the reality of the life they would lead together and for the first time, became a permanent confidante. Whenever Clark had to run out to turn into Superman, his loving fiancée was there to explain his absence. Let’s just say that Clark picked up a lot of dry cleaning over those years.
They were married in 1996 and mostly enjoyed martial bliss despite the occasional super-villain attack. Lois’ parents also became an important part of the story, especially when her father, General Sam Lane, disapproved of Clark’s bumbling nature. He simply refused to believe that a man like him could protect his daughter. The General died in 2001, not long after seeing paparazzi photos of his married daughter cheating on her husband by kissing Superman.
All of this continuity was dropped again and Sam Lane returned to life for part of a story that will quite possibly be used or adapted in some way for Man of Steel. The General decided that Superman was an alien threat who needed to be stopped. So the might of the U.S. military went up against Superman, and it wasn’t pretty. Sam Lane is not listed in the cast for the film, so this role may be in the hands of a different character, possibly played by Chris Meloni. The trailer at this year’s Comic-Con clearly showed Superman being led in restraints by military personnel in what could be a bunker or a base. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays out, and if Lois will still be a “military brat” who could potentially reach an imprisoned Superman on an Army base.
The new comic book continuity that DC created last year separated Lois and Clark as a married couple. As of this month, Superman seems to be dating Wonder Woman again, although this isn’t the first time that has happened, either. Lois’ story and character in the comics has changed just about as many times as Superman’s has, but it leaves us with as rich and full as history as his. Other than the comics, there are still a number of actresses who have played the role on the radio, TV and film.
Radio Series (1940-1950), Fleischer Studios Animated Shorts (1941-1943) and The New Adventures of Superman (1966-1970)
The first actress to voice Lois Lane on the radio series was respected radio star Rollie Bester, who delivered a disaffected portrayal. Just as in the comics, the character was a career-driven, opinionated spitfire who refused to take guff from anyone regardless of their social station. After mere months, Bester was briefly replaced by Helen Choate until a permanent voice was found in Joan Alexander. She brought a richer humanity to the character. Although all the same traits applied to her take, the tone of her voice simply sounded less belittling. She and Bud Collyer (Clark Kent/Superman) continued the show for the rest of its run.
During the early days of the radio production, Fleischer Studios hired both of them to voice the same parts for a series of theatrically released animated shorts that would play in front of feature films. Over three years, 17 pieces were released. Below is one of the episodes that shows how Superman, Clark Kent and Lois Lane usually interacted. All of them are available on DVD. Both actors returned yet again for The New Adventures of Superman animated television series, which also ran under the titles The Superman/Aquaman Hour and The Superman/Batman Hour from 1966-1970.
A full episode of the Fleischer shorts that showcases Joan Alexander as Lois Lane.
Theatrical Serials (1948, 1950)
There were two 15-part movie serials called Superman and Superman vs. Atom Man in 1948 and 1950 respectively. One episode at a time would run each week in a movie theater. After all, this was before television had taken off. Noel Neill was the first live-action Lois Lane. She was vibrant, friendly and smiled more than previous versions. Lois’ standoffish nature mostly only bubbled to the surface when she encountered criminals or anyone attempting to harm her, which happened often. Even her terse impatience with Clark and Jimmy felt nearly playful thanks to Neill's charm. With a height of merely 5’4”, any Superman would tower over her. Her hairstyle fit perfectly with her comic book and animated counterparts, although she shortened it for the second serial.
A clip showcasing Noell Niell from the first Superman theatrical serial: Episode #3
Superman and the Mole Men (1951) and The Adventures of Superman TV Series (1952-1957)
The George Reeves TV series began as a test theatrical feature called Superman and the Mole Men, which did well at the box office. Phyllis Coates was Lois Lane for the film and first season of the show. She is still my personal favorite actress to play the character in live action. Despite my appreciation of Neill, Coates was a more talented actress for film and television, even though they had equally impressive resumes before starring. I recognize that many fans are split on this subject, but I still maintain that Neill’s high energy style of acting would have lent itself better to theater with a live audience, while Coates was more suited for close up acting on camera.
A clip showcasing Phillis Coates from Superman and the Mole Men.
During an extended break in filming while producers searched for an official sponsor, Coates left the show for a leading role in another series. She was replaced by Noel Neill for seasons two through six until the death of George Reeves during the hiatus before what would have been season seven. The show became colorized in for its third season, which highlighted Neill’s red hair. Despite some fan complaints about Amy Adams sporting her bright red hair instead of a traditionally darker brunette or auburn, Neill was the first to set that precedent. But more on that in our next installment.
Join us in two weeks as we look ahead to other Lois Lanes like Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher, Dana Delaney, Erica Durance and more, plus a discussion of what we can expect from Amy Adams in Man of Steel.
What is your personal favorite version of Lois Lane? Leave a comment below.
Jeffrey Taylor is a staff writer/moderator at The Superman Homepage, cohost of From Crisis to Crisis: A Superman Podcast available at the Superman Homepage, iTunes and The Superman Podcast Network. You can find his new Man of Steel Countdown column here at Movies.com every other Tuesday.