Before Noel Neill became Superman’s love interest, she swam in Minneapolis lakes, entertained on local stages and planned to be a journalist, following in the footsteps of her father, a Twin Cities newspaper editor.
Instead, Neill rose to fame playing the role as the Daily Planet reporter in the 1948 Columbia movie serial, “Superman.” She reprised the part alongside George Reeves as the Man of Steel in the 1950s TV series, “The Adventures of Superman.” Years later, she was cast in a cameo as the mother of a school-age Lois Lane in the Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve.
In that 1978 version, Neill thought Superman and Lois Lane had gotten a little too close, saying they shouldn’t mess with a legend. “Now Lois knows who Clark Kent really is,” she told the San Jose Mercury News. “They’re in love and in the sack.”
In her role as Lois Lane, Neill said she never got to kiss Superman, saying the closest she came was when she dreamed she was about to marry the caped hero. “It was the only time I ever got out of that crummy suit,” she said. “But even then there wasn’t a kiss. Not even a handshake.”
Still, Neill left an impression on women in the 1950s who told her that Lois Lane inspired them to pursue careers.
Neil died Sunday at her home in Tucson, Arizona, following a long illness, according to her biographer Larry Ward. She was 95.
Although she lived in California for most of her life, she grew up in Minneapolis, the daughter of LaVere Neill, a singer and dancer, and David Neill, a writer for Women’s Wear Daily, who took a job as an editor at the Minneapolis Star.
Growing up amid Minneapolis lakes, she fondly remember swimming in Lake Nokomis and sitting alongside her father as he fished. Along the way, she seemed to be on a dual career track, touring fair stages as a singer and banjo player and performing with a “kiddie revue” even before she moved from Bryant Junior High School to Minneapolis Central High School, where she also worked on the school newspaper.
Neill planned to go on to the University of Minnesota, where she would major in journalism. But after she graduated early from high school, she and her mother went to California to fill the time before the start of college and to “get away from the cold.”
There the 17-year-old quickly found a life in the entertainment industry. With her mom’s encouragement, she began singing at the Turf Club in Del Mar, Calif. Bing Crosby, one of the club’s owners took notice and helped propel her into a career as a band singer, World War II pinup model and movie actress.
In 1948 and again in 1950, producer Sam Katzman offered Neill the role of Lois Lane in the first screen adaptations of the “Superman” comic book.
When “The Adventures of Superman” came to television in 1952, Phyllis Coates was cast as Lois, not Neill. The Minneapolis-born actress said she was disappointed but not devastated.
But when Coates left the show after the first season, Neill stepped in as Lois, playing opposite of George Reeves as Superman until the TV series came to a halt in 1957.
Two years later, the Superman series was going to be revived and 26 new scripts were commissioned. The producer called Neill and said, “Come back and see if your suit still fits.”
But Reeves died and plans to revive the TV series ended, along with Neill’s acting career. She was 40 years old.
Neill eventually went to work in public relations in the entertainment industry. She worked her way into the TV department at United Artists, where some nostalgia-minded college students found her in 1974. In the late ‘70s she made more than 50 appearances at colleges and universities nationwide, talking about her experiences.
In 2010, the city of Metropolis, Illinois, unveiled a statue of Lois Lane modeled after Neill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.