Grrrl on Film-Lois Lane at the Movies: A Brief Herstory Part Two!
In Monday’s post I shared a very condensed herstory of Lois Lane’s appearances on film, as well as some clips of her filmic influences and contemporaries.
I know most people don’t care for Lois, but I think that’s because they haven’t really given her consideration. I mean, here’s a female character who, despite office sexism perseveres with moxie. She’s tough-talking, street smart, and modern. She has her own apartment in the City, is an award-winning reporter, and is dedicated to her profession—all of which sounds admirably progressive, even feminist to me. It reminds me of something I wrote in my book about Gloria Steinem’s comment about rescuing Wonder Woman by putting her on the cover of Ms. magazine. While Wonder Woman serves as a symbol of our highest aspirations, Lois may have more accurately reflected the lives of journalists at Ms., and at the time was certainly in need of as much rescuing as Diana Prince. The act of placing Lois Lane on that famous inaugural cover could have had the potential to make her an icon of feminist ideals that would have been nearly as powerful as the one Wonder Woman became. At the very least, we might be looking at her differently now.
Lois Lane received her own comic book title in 1958 that ran for over 137 issues before ending in 1974. Though this was seemingly a step towards establishing her identity as independent from Superman the title reinforced her “true” position in his story. Rather than being Lois Lane, Reporter (reporter being a title afforded Lois’ pop culture contemporary, Brenda Starr) she was Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane.
The series – a combination of adventure and romance – generally detailed Lois’ schemes to either convince or trick Superman into marrying her and/or revealing his secret identity.
As pop culture must reflect the changing social landscape in order to remain relevant, by the late 1960s and early 1970s the concerns of the women’s movement couldn’t help but find their way into Lois Lane’s comic for better or worse and in 1972, Lois Lane embraced the cultural moment by quitting her job at the Daily Planet in favor of a more autonomous freelance career.
Much of the dialogue was contrived and stereotyped, with talk about “woman power” and “chicks sticking together,” yet it was the most independent Lois had been in years – and certainly as good as the representation of characters in comics of the era would get.
Over several issues, Superman displays his resistance to the zeigeist, telling Lois to stay clear of trouble and that these things are “a MAN’S job!” These lines allow Lois to respond with a new consciousness and say things like:
“What would you like me to do, Superman? Spend my life cooking in the kitchen? Livingonly for my Master . . . Man?
And, one of my favorites:
Again, though Lois of the comics has always been a professional, she has been less recognized as an emblem of feminist ideas than Wonder Woman. Perhaps this is because they were created with different intentions, although their fates have often paralleled each other with each era’s incarnations.
As I’ve mentioned before, film and television are generally friendlier to female characters as they are both media that have more traditionally been marketed to women than comic books (especially TV). Margot Kidder’s embodiment of Lois in 1978’s Superman the Movie allowed audiences see a more nuanced, liberated, and indeed, feminist vision of the character. It was a generosity afforded by era, writing, medium, and Kidder’s innate fire.
The familiar Lois is present in the film: the one who talks to her editor-in-chief as if he were her equal, rather than her boss; and the respected writer, who though established, is still forced to hand over her beat to the new guy on his first day. (She’s a better reporter, but he’s a faster typist and doesn’t sass his boss, hence her demotion.)
But she takes the assignments she can get, her mantra being, “A good reporter doesn’t get great stories. A good reporter makes them great.”
And she’s a good reporter.
Consider this when watching the scene in which Lois interviews Superman on her rooftop garden. She gazes into his eyes, and swoons a little (wouldn’t you?), but she also stays on task, and asks the questions her readers will want answers to.
Additionally, this scene displays a comfort and a flirty innuendo we hadn’t seen between Lois and Superman before. We like pink, indeed.
Kidder’s feisty femme provided a more multi-dimensional version of Lois. One who says that a more traditional path of a woman—kids, cats and a mortgage—would drive her “bananas.” As a woman as notoriously outspoken as Ms. Lane, Kidder played Lois as two distinct characters; one “as an independent career woman” around Clark, and the other as she has said as “Mushy in the middle around Superman.” As a result, Lois gets to be a woman and a journalist. Just as our hero gets to be both Clark Kent and The Man of Steel.
The Richard Donner cut of Superman II – a recreation of the original intended version of the movie – is worth watching because it shows a more sympathetic and sound Lois than the one we got in the 1980 theatrical release.
Donner had been fired after having a falling out with Superman’s producers and was replaced by Richard Lester. Lester took the film in a more comic, and thus less mythic and meaningful, direction. But in Donner’s version (recut in 2006, available on DVD, and totally recommended by the Grrrl on Film) Lois and Clark are shown as having the potential to have a more honest relationship—a partnership of equals, even. And Lois is presented as a reasonable, smart, charming and understanding individual—unlike in the Superman II we may be more familiar with.
Some examples . . .
In the Lester version of Superman II, when Lois complains about having to share her man with the world, Superman takes away her memory of his identity with a “magic kiss.”
Though this isn’t the version that was released—these lines were still written, and spoken—and at least in some way informed the version of Lois Lane we have seen—and are therefore necessary to review when considering her.
Kidder has said the women’s movement informed her characterization of Lois, and that because of the relative paucity of female reporters at that time, “You could not NOT portray [Lois] as a feisty, independent woman.”
By portraying Lois as the feminist she can be—hardworking, talented, and dynamic—Kidder became THE quintessential face of the character, just as Lynda Carter had done for Wonder Woman.
But Kidder had also publically berated the producers of the Superman movies, The Salkinds, for firing Richard Donner and for not paying what they promised when they promised. In retrospect, she wishes she’d handled things differently. But at the time, her outspokenness resulted in her role in the following films being nearly completely erased.
Lois Lane would later be played by Teri Hatcher in the Moonlighting-esque television series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. (The series was originally meant to be called Lois Lane’s Daily Planet.)
The character was then voiced by Dana Delany in Superman: The Animated Series, and is currently played by Erica Durance on Smallville. (And on an intriguing side note, the makers of Smallville had allegedly once pitched a series on Lois Lane that completely ignored Clark Kent.)
Lois Lane was most recently seen on the big screen in 2006’s Superman Returns. Kate Bosworth played the reporter, but with a complete lack of the trademark spice. This Lois was a single mother and Pulitzer prize winner – which would have been interesting if she wasn’t also a quiet, bitter woman (the award was for a thinly-veiled piece on why the world doesn’t need Superman).
So before I leave you with a few shorts of the actresses who have played Lois Lane talking about the character, I ask you to consider Lois in a new light and to remember her importance in the history of women writers and reporters in pop culture. (In fact, as a sex columnist and independent woman who also happens to be looking to bag her larger-than-life man, Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw is arguably a direct descendant of “sob sister” and lovelorn columnist, Lois Lane.)
I wonder, what will the next incarnation of Lois in film look like? Will she be our sassy firecracker? Or will she be devoid of personality? What if the Daily Planet goes the way of real-world newspapers? Will Lois be a world-famous blogger? (Would she be writing for Bitch?) Who else in film & television is a pop culture descendent of the Daily Planet’s star reporter?
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