Phyllis Coates, TV’s 1st Lois Lane, Dies @ 96

Phyllis Coates, the first to play Lois Lane in a feature and the first to play her on TV, died Wednesday, October 11, at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, ExtraTV reports.

One of the first, one of the best! (Image via ABC)

She was 96. Her death is attributed to natural causes, according to her daughter.

Coates made her TV debut in 1946 — nearly 80 years ago — in The Faraway Hill. That project came after several years in vaudeville, where she worked with Ken Murray (1903-1988) after he discovered her, coaching her in the fine art of comic timing.

She first played Lois in the Lippert Pictures film Superman and the Mole Men (1951), the first Superman feature, and such a hit it gave birth to the TV series Adventures of Superman.

Coates was drafted to play Lois in the first season, but left after 1953 in spite of the show's status as a pop cultural phenomenon, because she was committed to shoot a pilot. She wanted to get off the show, which she recalled as being physically strenuous — she was once knocked unconscious — for low pay.

"We worked six days a week, and George had open bar in his dressing room," she said in 2012. "We worked from 6:30 or 7 in the morning till 6:30 or 7 at night — and nobody batted an eye."

Born on January 15, 1927, in Wichita Falls, Texas, Coates worked in vaudeville as a showgirl.

On film, she was Alice McDoakes from 1948-1953 and again in 1956 in a series of shorts starring George O'Hanlon (1912-1989) as Joe McDoakes, a comical everyman. They were directed by the prolific Richard L. Bare (1913-2015), to whom she was briefly wed — for a matter of a month or two!

Along with appearing in the serials Jungle Drums of Africa (1953) and Panther Girl of the Kongo (1955), she acted in such films as Blues Busters (1950), Girls in Prison (1956), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957), Blood Arrow (1958), The Baby Maker (1970) and Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn (1989).

On TV, she was on the inaugural episode of Death Valley Days (1952), The Lone Ranger (1953), was a regular on the early sitcom This Is Alice (1958-1959) and was on three Perry Mason episodes (1958, 1961 & 1964).

She was most excited about having worked with director Ida Lupino (1918-1995) on the "A Fist of Five" episode of The Untouchables in 1962.

Coates played Lois Lane's mom on the season finale of Season 1 of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in 1994, even though she had come to view latter-day incarnations of Lois and Clark as "syrupy." After that, she made two appearances on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1994) and popped up in Hollywood: The Movie (1996) before retirement.

She was married and divorced four times, and is survived by her three children. In 2012, Bare and Coates reunited at the Cinecon fest in L.A., at which he surprised her with photos from their honeymoon. "It allll comes back to me!" she joked, referring to him as the "keeper of evidence."

That lively encounter was her final public appearance.

Me with Phyllis in 2012 — it was her final public appearance. (Image by Matthew Rettenmund)

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