Phyllis Coates, who portrayed “Superman” Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, has died. She was 96.

Coates, who was the first actor to play the iconic role on the 1950s “Adventures of Superman” television series, died Wednesday of natural causes at the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s retirement community in Woodland Hills.

Her daughter Laura Press confirmed the death, per the New York Times.

Coates was born Gypsie Ann Stell in Wichita Falls, Texas, on Jan. 15, 1927. Her father, William Robert “Rush” Stell, was a farmer and sheet metal worker. Her family later moved to Odessa, Texas, where she attended school. When she was 16, she left Texas for California with her mother, Lorraine “Luzzie” Jack Teel, to attend Los Angeles City College. It was in California where Coates cut her teeth in show business, performing in Ken Murray’s vaudeville show. “That did it; I decided then to become an actress,” she told Western Clippings.

With a career spanning more than half a century, Coates was perhaps best known for her portrayal of Lois Lane in both the 1951 film “Superman and the Mole Men” and in the first season of the television series “Adventures of Superman.” The actor was the first to portray the career-driven reporter and love interest of Superman on the small screen. Actor Noel Neill portrayed Lane first on the big screen in two 15-part movie serials, “Superman” (1948) and “Atom Man vs. Superman” (1950), before Coates took over for the 1951 full-length film. The success of “Superman and the Mole Men” prompted the production of the syndicated television show that starred George Reeves as the Man of Steel.

Coates portrayed Lane for only one season and 26 episodes before moving on from the series. She earned about $350 per episode.

In 1994, Coates told The Times from the Warner Bros. set of “Lois & Clark” that when she portrayed Lane she “had no wardrobe mistress and no hairdresser in those days. Oh boy — I had one suit! One suit, and a double in case I got egg on it! And George’s dresser dressed me. My makeup man was Harry Thomas, who made up every monster in Hollywood.”

In Tom Weaver’s 2006 book, “Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes,” Coates recalled being “nearly blown up, beaten up, exploded, exploited — I guess it was because we were young and dumb, but we put up with a lot of stuff.

“Not too long ago I saw an episode [‘Night of Terror’] where I got knocked out!”

Coates had apparently overstepped her mark and was accidentally punched in the face by actor Frank Richards, knocking her out cold.

Coates told Western Clippings that she ultimately left the “Superman” series because she’d always had the hots to play comedy. “My ‘Superman’ contract expired. I left the series to do a pilot with [fellow actors] Jack Carson and Allen Jenkins. We did the pilot for MCA; shortly thereafter Jack got sick, so it never followed through. That’s why I left, not ’cause I was mad or anything like that. I loved George, I loved the crew. They offered me a large increase in salary to stay, but I really wanted out.”

After “Superman,” Coates dyed her brunette locks platinum to drop her association with Lane and went on to appear in the 1952 Republic serials “Jungle Drums of Africa” opposite Clayton Moore of “The Lone Ranger,” in which she portrayed the daughter of a late medical missionary in Africa who has close encounters with ferocious beasts as she carries on her father’s work. She also starred in the title role of 1954’s “Panther Girl of the Kongo.”

“I had to ride an elephant all day,” she said in “Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes.” “And my legs were raw from the hair on the elephant — I never knew until then that an elephant even had hair!”

Coates also appeared on television shows “Leave It to Beaver,” “Tales of Wells Fargo,” “Rawhide,” “The Untouchables,” “Perry Mason,” “The Patty Duke Show” and “Gunsmoke.” She was known for her B-list westerns such as the 1953 film “Topeka,” 1954’s “Gunfighters of the Northwest,” and 1958 films “Cattle Empire” and “Blood Arrow.”

Despite being a western-film favorite, Coates said she was actually a lousy horseback rider. “I only got on a horse when I had to and got off as soon as I could,” she told Western Clippings. Coates preferred stage acting to screen acting, and although she appeared in dozens of westerns over the years, she most loved working on the television series “The Untouchables.”

“I was not as fortunate as some actors. … I didn’t get rehearsal time,” she told Western Clippings. “We made ‘quickies.’ We made an entire film in six days. There was no second take. If you took a second take, everybody pouted and got mad. They lit the cowboys and lit the cowboy’s hat and the cowboy’s horse. It was that kind of quickie stuff. So, when I got to work with a good director on an ‘Untouchables’ where he took time and went in for some fine points in acting … I loved it!”

Coates married television director Richard L. Bare in 1948, but the two split a year later. In 1950, she married married jazz pianist Robert Nelms and gave birth to a daughter, but she and Nelms divorced in 1953. She was married to “Leave It to Beaver” director Norman Tokar; they divorced in 1965. Then she wed Howard Press, a doctor, who she said “didn’t understand the movie business,” so she gave it up and helped him run his practice. They later divorced.

After her hiatus from acting while married to Press, Coates resumed her career once she was single again. She played Marilyn Monroe’s mentally ill mother, Gladys Baker, in the 1989 film “Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn,” and on a 1994 episode of ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” Coates played the mother of Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane.

Coates said in her 1994 interview with The Times, which followed her return to “Superman” to play Lane’s mother, “My son said this is a gestalt. And it is, it’s kind of something going full circle.” Times contributor Rip Rense described Coates at the time as “a handsome blue-eyed still-petite sexagenarian whose alto voice is unchanged since 1951.”

Coates is survived by her daughters, Laura Press and Zoe Christopher, and granddaughter Olivia. Her son, David Tokar, died in 2011.



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