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‘Adventures of Superman’s Phyllis Coates, TV’s original Lois Lane, dead at 96

Actress Phyllis Coates has died at the age of 96. 

Coates was known for starring in the first Superman feature film, playing Lois Lane in 1951’s “Superman and the Mole Men.” The next year, she reprised the role in the first Superman TV adaptation, “Adventures of Superman.”

Her daughter Laura Press confirmed the news to the Hollywood Reporter, saying that Coates died of natural causes in a manner that was “very peaceful” at her home outside Los Angeles, in the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Wasserman Campus.

“She gave a lot to the industry,” said Press. “Her career passed through so many genres,” referring to her 50-plus years acting.

She was born Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell in Wichita Falls, Texas, on January 15, 1927. She and her family later moved to Hollywood.

Coates launched her career in show business as a chorus girl during the 1940s. She toured several times with the USO.

Coates was best known for her role as journalist Lois Lane in the series “Adventures of Superman.”
Courtesy Everett Collection
Coates starred opposite Wild Bill Elliott in the 1952 film “The Maverick.”
Courtesy Everett Collection

Her film career included roles in the Western “Panther Girl of the Kongo” (1955), “Girls in Prison” (1956), “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein” (1957), “Blood Arrow” (1958), “Cattle Empire” (1958), “The Incredible Petrified World” (1959), “The Baby Maker” (1970) and “Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn” (1989).

Despite her expansive film career, Coates was best known for her TV role as Clark Kent’s colleague at the Daily Planet. She appeared in 26 episodes of the series and prided herself on the serious stunt work she mastered.

“We were 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,” Coates said in an interview with Tom Weaver for the book “Science Fiction Stars and Horror Heroes.” “Not too long ago I saw [the episode ‘Night of Terror’] where I got knocked out!”

Coates made just $350 an episode starring opposite George Reeves, who played the Man of Steel.
Courtesy Everett Collection

She earned just $350 an episode working opposite star George Reeves, Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen, John Hamilton as Perry White and Robert Shayne as Inspector Henderson.

The stunts may have been too much for Coates. After Season 1 wrapped, she was offered five times her salary to return for Season 2 but declined.

“I really wanted to get out of ‘Superman,’” she confessed in the book. 

In a funny twist, Coates took on the role of Lois’ mother in ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” while Lois was played by “Desperate Housewives” star Teri Hatcher.

According to IMDb, Coates’ final acting gig on the screen was in the 1996 project “Hollywood: The Movie.”

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