This past Sunday, Noel Neill, who was the first actress to ever appear onscreen as intrepid investigative reporter Lois Lane, passed away at the age of 95.
She first played Lois Lane in the 15-chapter serial “Superman” for Columbia Pictures in 1948 opposite Kirk Alyn who played the Man Of Steel, and then portrayed her on television in The Adventures Of Superman starting from 1953 to 1958. Noel went on to appear as Lois Lane’s mother in the Richard Donner-directed Superman (1978) and then again in an episode of “Smallville.” She also appeared in Superman Returns (2006) as Gertrude Vanderworth, whose death early in the film resulted in her husband inheriting her wealth and using it in his mission to finally kill Superman. That husband, of course, being none other than Lex Luthor.
Shortly after Noel’s death was announced and made public, legendary comic-book writer Gail Simone (who has written for Birds Of Prey, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, the Wonder Woman animated film, and Red Sonja) shared a story about two women who briefly crossed each other’s paths and whose work influenced so many others who would go on to follow in their footsteps in telling stories about Superman and Lois Lane. Read it for yourself. It’s worth it.
Okay. I am going to tell a short conventions story that haunts me to this day, in which I am a complete jackass. This took place at Comic Con, several years ago, when I was writing Action Comics and Birds of Prey. This was back when DC had long tables at their booth, and creators had seats on the other side, the booth was SLAMMED.
I was still very new to this, and working through my nervousness about these huge crowds and all the attention, the lines were LONG. And because of the set-up, we had to struggle to hear what the people in line were saying, I am sure some others can back me up on that. If you can imagine someone from a very small town, who is very shy, and there’s this huge crowd and noise and it’s overwhelming. Scary. I was doing my best and everyone was lovely, and the DC staffers looked out for me, but it was incredibly intense, had nightmares about it. And I was also the only woman, which also felt a little weird, though again, everyone was lovely and kind …
Second day of signing, I notice that there is a petite, elegant-dressed and lovely older woman waiting in line. Patiently, smiling always. I thought it was cool, she just seemed to have a lot of poise in the madhouse atmosphere, like it didn’t touch her at all. So I thought to myself, “man, I wish I had her grace right now.” But was too busy to dwell on it. Finally, it gets to her turn.
She was dressed very cute and elegant, not a hair out of place, and I’m frazzled and barely keeping up. I said hello, and complimented her outfit. She had this lovely belt with two matching initials. And she shook my hand firmly, and said, “I just had to come and see this for myself.” Big smile. I had no idea what she meant.
So I asked.
And she said, “That a woman is writing Superman.” Big smile, and she leans in, and says, “Good job, you.”
One of those moments where you know something is happening, but you can’t quite grasp it. She leaves, smiling, and I love her forever.
So she’s gone, and one of the other creators, comes over and says, “Holy shit, you know that was Noel Neill, right?” But I didn’t. I did ‘t have tv as a kid, the Superman show wasn’t being shown when we finally had reception. I knew OF her but not the show. So it hit me that the matching initials, in Superman colors no less, were ‘N.N.’ For Noel Neill. And I didn’t recognize her in all the stress and noise. So I jumped up, the staffers asked where I was going…”to find LOIS LANE,” I said. I wanted more than anything just to sit and have a cup of tea and thank her for what she had done for Lois…but I missed my chance.
So this haunts me. Especially today, after hearing that this lovely lady has passed. And I won’t get a chance to make it right. HOWEVER, I later got to watch her as Lois, and she was by far my favorite thing in the show. She WAS Lois, and also Noel. Extraordinary.
And that woman, in her mid-eighties, decided to stand in a long signing line, amid a jam-packed booth crowd just to say a nice thing to a woman lucky enough to write Superman, just to say, “atta girl.”
So, I’ll be honest…it changed the way I try to interact with people, especially new creators. Lois Lane saying she was proud of me, kinda.
Thank you so much, Noel. You have no idea how much that meant to me. Just as your Lois inspired thousands of girls.— GAIL SIMONE (@GailSimone) July 5, 2016
Up and away, miss. <3
So before we saw Lois Lane brought to life onscreen by Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher, Kate Bosworth, Erica Durance, Dana Delany, and Amy Adams … there was Noel Neill.
And for that, we should all be grateful.
May she rest in peace.