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Grrrl on Film-Lois Lane, A Brief Herstory of the Daily Planet’s Star Reporter in Film: Part One!

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The newspaperman, and newspaperwoman, have long captured the American imagination – and reporters, anchors, and even photojournalists have served as the protagonists in comics, animation, television and film.

As a woman writer and pop culture herstorian I can't help but be drawn to places in pop culture where women and journalism intersect – and that means I absolutely adore Lois Lane.

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She is not the first woman reporter in popular culture, but Lois is likely the most recognizable – and certainly the longest lasting in the American cultural consciousness, having debuted alongside Superman and Clark Kent in 1938.

Like many real-life women reporters of her day, Lois Lane began her career writing romance columns and covering other "women's news." Rather than spend her career as a "sob sister", she was anxious to tackle more challenging material, but her editor assigned the hard-hitting stories to Lois' journalistic rival, Clark Kent, and insisted the work was too important for "a girl."

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Many dismiss Lois Lane as a secondary character, and indeed, as audience we are supposed to privilege the Man of Steel's perspective.

BUT, Lois is the most important character in Superman's mythos other than himself and, as such, deserves better attention, particularly as she has always reflected conflicting attitudes toward women, especially talented, independent women. In fact, though Wonder Woman is rightly recognized as an icon of female empowerment, Lois Lane serves as a much better representative of changing ideas about women's roles than the Amazon Princess.

Additionally, Lois may be the love interest, and is often in need of rescuing, but she's no damsel in distress. Rather it's her attempts at proving herself to her sexist male co-workers that lead her to the trouble she's so famous for getting into.

Superman's writer Jerry Siegel, who co-created Lois with illustrator Joe Shuster, had modeled her feistiness on the film character, Torchy Blane.

(Torchy herself had apparently evolved out of a male character in a pulp comic. )

Glenda Farrell defined the character with her fast-talk and confidence, though in the series of nine B movies, two other women, Lola Lane and Jane Wyman each starred as the title character. (Quite obviously, Lola Lane provided inspiration too.)

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"You're wrong, boys. Hold-ups and murder are my meat. Here's the open sesame that swings wide all portals - my press pass. Torchy Blane of the Star." - Torchy Blane in Panama

 

 

The Original Trailer for Blondes At Work (1938) featuring Glenda Farrell as Torchy.

 

 

The image of the female reporter was inspirational and exciting. It provided meaty roles for actresses, who enjoyed the opportunity to play aggressive, independent, and ambitious professionals rather than simply love interests or femme fatales (even if the women were usually softened by romance at the film's end).

Even Bonita Granville's Nancy Drew got into the game with in 1939's Nancy Drew, Reporter.

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"A reporter has the right to do things an ordinary person shouldn't." – Nancy Drew

 

 

One of the most famous woman reporters in film, is of course, Rosalind Russell's Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday (1940) – a remake of The Front Page (1931) with the role of Hildy changed from a male character to a female one.

 

Dale Messick's comic strip protagonist, Brenda Starr also featured in a 1945 serial. 

 

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Lois Lane appeared in a series of animated cartoons in the early 1940s, most commonly referred to as the Fleischer cartoons.

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Lois was voiced by Joan Alexander – who had also voiced the character on the Superman Radio show.

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With the end of the Second World War came decreased interest in superheroes. Other comics genres, such as romance and adventure, took the place of superheroes on newsstands. And, as we know, the 1950s were generally a terrible time for representations of women in pop culture so it should come as no surprise that Lois Lane was stifled in the comics of that era and lost some of her exciting autonomy.

But she did fare better in film serials and on television.

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Noel Neill was the first woman to play Lois Lane on screen, and starred opposite Kirk Alyn's Superman in the movie serials. In the first season of the television series Adventures of Superman (1952-1958), as well as the movie Superman and the Mole Men (1951), she was played by Phyllis Coates.

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While Neill was cute as a button, Coates presented a savvy, no-nonsense woman you did not want to mess with.

 

 

 

During an extended break in shooting, Coates was offered another job and when the television series returned Noel Neill was asked to reprise the role. She starred as Lois until the series's cancellation in 1958.

 

 

 

Are you hooked on Lois? I hope so! Stay tuned for Part Two coming at ya this Wednesday!

 

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Comments

4 comments have been made. Post a comment.

If only Superman would stop

If only Superman would stop killing her/doing horrible things to her to teach her a lesson every other week.

It was more of a golden

It was more of a golden age/silver age kind of thing I think. It is documented pretty well over at Superdickery.com Back when it seemed basically there were three women Lois Lane, Lana Lang, and a mermaid woman with an L.L. initials too, and seemingly their only purpose in life was getting Superman to marry them.

Superman is a Dick

is a hilarious website. And yes, most of the Silver Age issues - particularly of Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane - did feature Lana and Lois battling over Supe's affections. But just to be clear, what was on those covers was a ploy to get readers to buy copies and more often than not had little to do with what was inside the issues. You know, "Why would Superman disconnect Lois's oxygen supply from her spacesuit!?!?! Is he trying to murder her for leaving him?" And then in the issue you find out he was actually reconnecting it. Or it was an alien in Superman's body - that kind of thing.

I'm certainly not saying he was always a gentleman - and he was much kinder in film and television than in the comics - but I didn't want people to be misinformed. Being a dick is one thing, "killing her every other week" would be another.

Jennifer K. Stuller
[email protected]
http://www.ink-stainedamazon.com/