Many actresses have become iconic over the years for their portrayal of Superman’s companion Lois Lane, including Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher, Erica Durance, and Amy Adams. Rachel Brosnahan will have big shoes to fill when she takes on the beloved character in the upcoming DCU movie Superman Legacy. But none of these have the honor of being the first Lois Lane – that goes to Phyllis Coates, who has passed away aged 96.
Long before the days of the DCU, Superman was a popular and loved comics character since his debut in 1938. But it wasn’t until 1951 that Superman first appeared in a movie in theaters – and that was the fabulously-titled Superman and the Mole-Men, which starred George Reeves as Superman and Coates as Lois. It should technically be at the start of any guide putting all the DC movies in order – but that list is long enough as it is.
The Adventures of Superman TV series sprang from this, which ran from 1952-1958 – but Coates ended up leaving after the first season, being replaced by Noel Neill. Reeves would have an important role in shaping Superman as one of the best DC characters.
The brilliant 2006 drama movie Hollywoodland stars Ben Affleck as George Reeves and tells the fascinating but tragic story of one of the first Superman actors.
“We were nearly blown up, beaten up, exploded, exploited [by a roster of some of the best DC villains] — 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 (via THR). “Not too long ago, I saw an episode [Night of Terror] where I got knocked out!”
“[Producer] Whitney Ellsworth offered me about four or five times what I was getting if I’d come back [for the second season]. But I really wanted to get out of Superman.” Superhero movies and comic book characters were very much seen as being for children at the time, with no one taking the series seriously and viewing it as something of a joke. Reeves also struggled with wanting to be seen as a ‘serious’ actor, not someone in a silly spandex outfit. My, how times have changed.
Coates also portrayed the mother of Lois Lane in the 90s TV series Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman, starring Teri Hatcher and Dean Cain. Which, in my opinion, was a fantastic depiction of Lois and Clark as journalists and focused on their romance. Some of Coates’s other roles included I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), and appeared in some of the best TV series of the ’50s and ’60s, such as The Lone Ranger.