Noel Neill 1920 – 2016

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Larson (left) and Neill in the mid-’80s at the Disneyland event

You don’t expect to run into Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen at Disneyland but that’s exactly where I found them in 1985.

That was 30 years ago, then 30 years after The Adventures of Superman wrapped. Noel Neill played scoop-happy reporter Lane opposite George Reeves as Superman/Clark Kent and Jack Larson as cub reporter Jimmy Olsen. She died earlier this week at 95.

The two of them were cute as buttons at the Disney event, looking neat and pretty and ready to get on with the show. My friend Lorraine Santoli, who ran Disneyland publicity at the time (and went on to write books about The Mouseketeers), had organized a ’50s-style sock hop event. (Disneyland opened in ’55 and was celebrating its 30th anniversary.) Other guests working the room that day included various Lennon Sisters, Buddy Ebsen (he was in Disney’s Davy Crockett before his Beverly Hillbillies days), Don Grady (Robbie from My Three Sons), Clayton Moore (who still believed he was The Lone Ranger) and Hollywood DJ and former Newlywed Game host Bob Eubanks.

Moore, still in his power blue cowboy costume, was a little intimidating. “Are ya grindin’?” he growled when I approached with my tape recorder. “Turn it off.”

image-42946Neill and Larson were much friendlier. She explained how she’d played Lois on the original theatrical Superman serials in the ’40s. She was replaced by Phyllis Coates on the first season of The Adventures of Superman (Coates left Superman for Joe McDoakes??) but returned as Miss Lane for the remainder of the series.

Neill and Larson milked their Super fame, showing up at autograph shows, shooting the occasional commercial and even grabbing some face time in the later Christopher Reeve remakes. Both had theories on George Reeves’ death they were happy to share. Larson used to say he thought the Superman lead was murdered but changed his take in later years.

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Reeves (left) died of a gunshot wound in 1959. He was 45

There were a lot of “gosh gollies” in their acting style in the series, which shifted heavily towards kiddie entertainment beyond the first season. For young me, that was exactly the right tone to take. I grew up watching The Adventures of Superman as part of the Buffalo, N.Y. local afternoon kiddie classic Commander Tom. When Tom Jolls would cue the series, the vibe went from harmless puppet fun to serious television. The “look–up in the sky!” intro was all business. The cast all played each script 100% straight. The bad guys were seldom super villains, more small time crooks who posed no threat to the Man of Steel. Really, you only ever worried about Jimmy; it was pretty clear Lois could look after herself.

Neill was the last remaining survivor among the principal cast, dying less than a year after Larson passed away at 87. They made a warm and sunny impression in person, great ambassadors for the whole Super franchise.

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