Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A personal story about Noel Neill and the 'Lois Lane Debate'

It's great to have those special friends in your life; the ones you can share thrillingly valuable moments with in serious discussion of some of the most trivial and ridiculous topics.

I'm fortunate to have several friends like that, and my old radio pal Johnny Savage is one of them.
We have shared many of the same interests, and conversations are often lengthy and spirited.

We've touched on the old 1950's 'Adventures of Superman' TV series several times over the years.

A while ago Johnny brought up that he'd been watching the first season DVD box set.

He mentioned that he preferred those first black and white episodes from 1952, as they were more serious in tone (He may have even used the word 'gritty'), and he preferred actress Phyllis Coates in the role of Lois Lane, intrepid girl reporter for the Daily Planet.

In his opinion, she was tougher, sexier and brassier than Noel Neill, who played Lois in the series from the second season on.

I was familiar with the debate of Neill versus Coates - - I'd heard it several times before, and understood the reasons why many people were partial to Phyllis' allure and vaguely 'film-noir' looks.

In explaining to my friend Johnny that I would always be partial to Noel Neill, I told him I knew I was pretty much beyond any objective analysis in explaining my preferences.

I know that the later color seasons of the show have achieved sort of a 'comfort food' status for me.

That particular 1950's color process is hypnotic
eye-candy, and there's a definite charm to the manner in which the plotlines got increasingly outlandish as the series wore on.

The affability exuded by George Reeves as Kent/Superman becomes more pronounced too, and it mixes so well with the "Jeepers!" issuing from Jack Larson's Jimmy Olsen and the 'happily helpless' qualities of Noel's Lois.

Noel Neill cast as Lois had of course pre-dated
Phyllis Coates and everyone else on the series - - She'd played the role opposite
Kirk Alyn ⬆ a few years earlier, in the 1948 and 1950 Superman movie serials.

She'd worked as a model in the late 1930's, while still in her teens. Throughout the '40's she appeared in dozens of B-movies, serials and short subjects.

She was often cast as a 'spunky' teen or a damsel-in-distress...

(From a 1949 'Brick Bradford' movie serial) ⬇

Noel with Peggy Castle and a model of a burned-out New York skyscraper, from odd 'cheesecake' photos promoting their 1952 film 'Invasion USA'. ⬇ ➤
(Which coincidentally also starred
Phyllis Coates)
(Via Conelrad)

In talking with my friend Mr. Savage about Noel Neill I had no expectations of changing his mind, but it became clear that he needed a better insight into my attachment to her.
(Well, regardless, he was going to get it.)

So I told him an old story that I'd related at least once before...

For much of the 1980's, the hands-down coolest music publication around was KICKS Magazine.
Founded and edited by musicians Miriam Linna and Billy Miller, it would be a flagship for their empire that eventually would become the Norton Record label.

In KICKS issue #3 (1984), Billy Miller wrote a fiery article that turned the Coates vs. Neill debate into a contest.

Click here to read that article,
"Who Is The Real Broad of Steel?"

(printed in an era prior to the concept of 'P.C.')

The piece requested that readers weigh in with their opinions on the subject, a selection of which were printed in the following issue.

KICKS issue #4 (1985) included my letter in defense of Ms. Neill among the responses. (Yeah, I've been a nerd for a long, long time.)
(Click here to see that letters column.)

What I'd related was my own tale of how Noel Neill in her 'Adventures of Superman' portrayal of
Lois Lane had served as a catalyst in perhaps my earliest recollection of sexual awakening.

Yep, Noel Neill gave me my first erection. (Or at least, the first one I'd noticed in a 'cause-and-effect' scenario.)

I was perhaps 4 or 5 years old when I first saw a TV rerun of the 1958 A.O.S. sixth season episode
'The Magic Secret'. The scene in question appears near the climax of the show.

Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are trapped at the bottom of a deep shaft.
An elaborate criminal ploy lures Superman to fly to their rescue, and once he joins Lois and Jimmy at the bottom of the shaft, a ray gun is engaged which bombards the three of them with Kryptonite radiation.
As Superman drops to the floor weakened and helpless, one wall of the shaft begins to close in, threatening to crush them all.

Powerless and near death, Superman employs heretofore unseen magical abilities to put Lois into a trance. With a wave of his hand he levitates her unconcious form into a horizontal position.
In this manner, Lois' rigid body serves as a brace to temporarily halt the advance of the moving wall.

He intructs Jimmy to climb out of the shaft and divert the raygun.
The walls are now close enough for Jimmy to prop his legs against one side and his hands against the other. With a casually Herculean effort, Olsen slowly climbs the walls in this awkward manner all the way to the surface.

While recovering from the effects of the Kryptonite radiation, Superman brings Lois out of her trance and all is soon put to right.

Watching this as a wee tot, there was something about a floating Lois that triggered something and really turned me on.

At that age I had very little grasp on the nature of 'sex'.

I knew it was something weird that adults did, something that somehow managed to overule what I understood in those days from first-hand experience as the purely natural adversarial state that existed between boys and girls.

I think I had a notion that the 'sex' thing might involve touching, probably kissing, and maybe seeing someone naked. To my toddler mind, this was something that NO girl could possibly allow willingly, so I reasoned that a boy's path to conquest must involve guile, trickery, or better yet - - stealth in catching the lady unawares. (I'm relieved to say that 'force' didn't occur to me.)

So: Superman's 'girlfriend', floating horizontal, unconscious, and away from prying eyes. Boner city.
- - And though the memory may have been jumbled over the many, many years, I never forgot it.

A footnote to my discussion came not too long ago, in yet another vintage TV discussion with Johnny Savage.

He told me that he and his young sons had been enjoying watching some of the goofy color episodes from later seasons of the Superman show.

Then he told me specifically about watching the 5th season episode 'The Tomb of Zaharan' from 1957.

A middle-eastern cult has decided that Lois Lane is the reincarnation of their ancient queen. They capture Lois and (of course) Jimmy, dress them in ceremonial garb, and leave them trapped in a sealed tomb. The tomb chamber is filling with smoke from burning incense designed to suffocate their mortal bodies but reawaken the spirit of the dead queen.

Just before Lois and Jimmy expire, Superman bursts in and rescues them both.

Johnny recalled my thing for Noel Neill as he told his story, and made a point of mentioning how he'd really noticed her in this episode...

"It was kind of weird. Jimmy's shirtless and tied up, Noel's got on this sort of diaphanous see-through outfit, lots of leg and hips - - was she wearing a bra? Seemed like kind of a lot of skin and kink for a fifties kid's adventure show. So, yeah, I guess I see what you mean about Noel. My boys like the show, too..."

Thanks for all the memories Ms. Neill, and it's good to know you're still out there.
(and thanks to you for sharing, Mr. Savage.)


DoktorDark said...

I've met her twice at various retro fests. She is definitely of of the nicer, more engaging, and personable celebrities one can meet with in these venues. She genuinely enjoys the fans, and it shows. Go out of your way to meet her, if you get a chance!

Jackie Gleason said...

Love Noel Neill ! She was THE Lois Lane. I grew up watching all the Superman TV episodes.

I didn't know (as a kid, I didn't look) she was so well endowed. Nice shots! Woo Woo!

Saw her lately on some TV show, and she still looks great. Love her!

CoastConFan said...

I met Noel Neill at CoastCon, a science fiction convention in Biloxi, Mississippi back in March 16-18 2007. She was engaging and vivacious. I never imagined meeting her and so it was a very pleasant surprise. We never know when we might meet someone who is “living history”.

Unknown said...

I don't remember being turned on at age 5 but in the early 60's at age 10+ I had a big "crush" on Phylis.

jimmo said...

Although both Phyllis Coates and Noel Neil were competent in their respective portrayals of reporter "Lois Lane" in television's "The Adventures of Superman," it was certainly Neil's who was the more friendly and spirited portrayal of the character. Plus, now I see from your blog Neil actually predated Coates in the role, having portrayed the character in a big screen feature prior to the TV series.

This "Who is the best 'Lois Lane'?" debate is also ongoing for the actresses who portrayed "Catwoman" in the 20th Century Fox "Batman" TV series, and the film based on that TV version. And, as with the "Lois Lane" portrayals in the TV series, with most fans preferring Noel Neil, most fans of the original TV "Batman" think of only Julie Newmar as the genuine "Catwoman," probably with Eartha Kitt a distant second favorite and Lee Meriwether third-rated.

I recall being somewhat unhappy at the time about the recasting of both the "Catwoman" and "The Riddler" (with John Astin) roles in the TV "Batman." But, eventually, Frank Gorshin and Newmar returned to reclaim their respective roles in the TV series about "Gotham City's" favorite crimefighters. I only wish some way had been found for Newmar to have appeared (instead of Meriwether) in the big screen feature, just to keep all the TV originators of the most famous quartet of "Batman" villains together. I know Newmar had another film commitment at the time. So either the big screen "Batman" could have postponed its shooting or else the other film (to which Newmar was under contract) delayed, in an ideal situation.

I have also often wondered who, among a trio of actors, is the most popular for the portrayal of "Mr. Freeze" in TV's "Batman." Would it be the original "Mr. Freeze" portrayal by George Sanders, the second by actor-director Otto Preminger, or that of Eli Wallach? Perhaps some others reading this post may weigh in on this subject. It has been so long since I have seen many "Batman" episodes, I would have to re-watch those "Mr. Freeze" episodes (six in all, to my recollection) before I could make an informed decision as to which actor gave the better performance. But, making a cold choice (pun very much intended) now, I would have to say I prefer Sanders, always deliciously good at playing evil.

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