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Phyllis Coates in her most famous role as Lois Lane
|Born||Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell|
(1927-01-15) January 15, 1927
Wichita Falls, Texas, USA
|Spouse(s)||Norman Tokar (?-?)|
Richard L. Bare (1948-1949) (divorced)
Robert Nelms (1950-1953) (divorced) 1 child
Dr. Bernard Press (1962-1968) (divorced) 3 children
Early life and careerAfter graduating from high school in Wichita Falls, Texas, Coates went to Los Angeles, intending to study at UCLA. However, a chance meeting with entertainer Ken Murray resulted in her working in his vaudeville show as a chorus girl. She later performed as one of Earl Carroll's showgirls at his Earl Carroll Theatre.
She signed a movie contract with Warner Brothers from 1948 to 1956, and she co-starred with George O'Hanlon in the studio's popular Joe McDoakes short-subject comedies in what can be considered the "first sitcom." She married the series' director, Richard L. Bare, and continued to appear in the films after their divorce.
In 1955, Coates played Madge, a neighbor of child psychologist Dr. Tom Wilson, played by Stephen Dunne, in the CBS sitcom Professional Father. Joseph Kearns (1907–1962), later the first Mr. Wilson on CBS's Dennis the Menace, played Coates's television husband, Fred. Barbara Billingsley and Beverly Washburn also starred in Professional Father.
Lois LaneCoates played a strong-willed Lois Lane in the first 26 episodes of Adventures of Superman, where she was given equal billing with George Reeves (insisted on by Reeves), even for episodes in which she did not appear. Her powerful "damsel in distress" scream was used to good effect in several episodes.
After shooting for the first season, the Superman producers suspended production until they found a national sponsor. When it came time to film more Superman episodes, Coates had already committed herself elsewhere. Noel Neill, who had played Lois Lane in the 1948-1950 serials opposite Kirk Alyn, succeeded her and became far more identified with the role.
Later yearsCoates generally tried to distance herself from the Superman series, fearing it might limit her roles. She did make a guest appearance as Lois Lane's mother in the first season finale of the 1990s TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
Her Superman fame has obscured the fact that Coates was one of Hollywood's most dependable actresses of the period. She freelanced steadily, appearing in low-budget features, westerns, serials, and the "McDoakes" shorts. Her best-remembered films of the 1950s are Blues Busters with The Bowery Boys (in which she has a musical number), Panther Girl of the Kongo, a jungle serial in which she starred, and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein.
She accepted the role in 1957's The Incredible Petrified World (1957), a science fiction film starring John Carradine, as a favor to its director, Jerry Warren, who was a former boyfriend. The actress originally cast in the lead couldn't do it and Warren couldn't find anyone else in time. He persuaded Coates to do it by telling her that the film would not be shown in California. However, after it was completed, she found out that Warren did indeed release the film in California, and she was told by at least one studio executive at Columbia that the film was so inferior and shoddy that the studio would not be hiring her again. On top of that, Warren never paid her. It was only theatrically released on April 16, 1960, on a double bill with "Teenage Zombies".
Her other television appearances included three appearances on the Perry Mason episodes, "The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde," (1958) "The Case of the Cowardly Lion" (1961), and "The Case of the Ice-Cold Hands" (1964). She also appeared on The Cisco Kid, The Adventures of Kit Carson (twice as June Sanders), It's a Great Life, Frontier, The Abbott and Costello Show, The DuPont Show with June Allyson (as Penny in the 1960 episode "The Trench Coat", along with David Niven and Lyle Talbot), Leave It to Beaver, Gunsmoke (as a duplicitous villainess trying to have her husband murdered), Rawhide (Season 1/20 as Nora Sage), General Electric Theater, The Lone Ranger, The Untouchables (in Season 1 as a two-timing showgirl playing opposite Cameron Mitchell), and The Patty Duke Show.
In 1951, Phyllis Coates was cast as "Lois Lane" in SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN.
"This is a job for - PHYLLIS COATES!"
And stuck with the part through the first season of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. The credits gave her costar billing, but the series tended to put more emphasis on Jack Larsen as "Jimmy Olsen", a character and a format taken from the old radio show. Frequently "Lois Lane" would appear only briefly. Even when she was important in one of the stories, such as "The Human Bomb" or "Night Of Terror", sooner or later the emphasis would usually shift away from her again to Jack Larsen.
Phyllis Coates didn't seem to think too highly of the whole thing ( she described SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN as "crock of crap" ) and left for a part in another series. She was replaced by Noel Neill, who had played Lois Lane in the serials. Although Lois Lane became more important in the program and began to actually resemble the character in the comics, the emphasis on Jimmy Olsen remained and eventually Jack Larsen was even billed over Noel Neill in the end credits.
The program Phyllis Coates had pinned her hopes on failed. She worked in different things, frequently with boyfriend John Hart on THE LONE RANGER ( a teaming of "the other Lone Ranger" with "the other Lois Lane" ),
She too wore a mask on a Clayton Moore episode
and made the serial PANTHER GIRL OF THE CONGO.
Looks like she's had another run-in with the octopus.
This part required her to wear a costume like Francis Gifford's in the old serial JUNGLE GIRL so they could match stock footage.
Looks like her friend there is using another costume from the earlier serial.
That might be the same elephant, too.
The fearsome monster on the poster is actually one of the "claw monsters" or giant crayfish featured in the story, played by ordinary crayfish made to appear gigantic through special effects. But the serials were on the way out ( this was the second to last one released by Republic ), and working in a serial did nothing to enhance her image.
Being in TEENAGE FRANKENSTIEN didn't help, either.
Being associated with a Jerry Warren production looked bad. And Phyllis Coates said that she wasn't even paid what she was owed for working on it.
Of course, all these things have their fans today. Even Jerry Warren films.
I always liked BLUES BUSTERS.
And the Bowery Boys films still have their fans.
But after all these years and after many different roles, Phyllis Coates is still best remembered for having played Lois Lane. And also remembered for having been one of the glamour girls.
And for being one of the "Sweater Girls."
She may not have been one of the most outstanding ( matter of fact, she wore falsies, as Grossman documents in his book SUPERMAN, FROM SERIAL TO CERIAL ), but she was in there trying. So why make any kind of argument about any one of the sweater girls in that period being to blame for something that was a widespread phenomena of the time?
One more thing:
Remember the way they used to tie up Noel Neill when she played Lois Lane? They tied Jane Adams up that way, too.
As well as some of the other girls. Including Phyllis Coates.
"Night Of Terror", THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, 1951.
Which just goes to show you.
INCREDIBLE PETRIFIED WORLD:
PANTHER GIRL OF THE CONGO:
Hey, I've got an idea. I'm going to end this just like THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY.