Noel-Neill-George-Reeves-e1467673671641

 

Newspaper ink was in my blood from the time I was just a girl. Even before I could read, Brenda Starr with her flaming red hair and thick eyelashes had captured my heart. Mary Worth gifted me daily with imaginative stories, fodder for when I would one day write my own. Brenda and Mary lived in the folds of my daily newspaper until the day I discovered Lois Lane looming larger than life on the silver screen. That’s when my comic strip idols became yesterday’s news.

Atom Man vs. Superman was the movie that introduced me to my new heroine. The city of Metropolis was in deep do-do, and the editor of The Daily Planet assigned Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Clark Kent to cover the story. It was the first Superman picture that established the super hero as a never-to-be-forgotten icon, but there would be many films after that.

Noel Neill went on to later star in the Superman television series and afterwards recorded commentaries for when the DVD releases were made of the episodes. She said that the question most often asked of her by children was, “Why didn’t you know that Clark Kent was Superman wearing a pair of eyeglasses?” (I often wondered the same thing.) She replied to them (and later to college audiences who asked the same question), “Because I didn’t want to lose my job!”

By the time I met Noel, she had retired from filming her role as Lois Lane but was having a great time touring as a speaker and featured attraction at colleges and universities throughout the country. She often appeared at functions sponsored by the National Entertainment Conference (NEC), an association of colleges, universities and the entertainment industry. In order to introduce artists to the colleges, NEC’s national and regional conferences included showcases where artists would perform. It was at one of the regional showcases that my former husband, who sat on the NEC Board of Directors, introduced me to Superman’s girlfriend.

Since he had worked closely with Noel for several years, I asked him recently if there were any Noel stories he could share with me.

“I thought, since she had ‘flown’ with Superman,” he said, “she would have no qualms about airline travel. I could not have been more wrong. She wouldn’t go near a plane, so I arranged train travel to wherever she was scheduled to appear. She loved riding the rails. I suspect it provided an opportunity for her to be Lois Lane to the unsuspecting passengers. She signed a lot of autographs between whistle stops.”

The last night of a Southeastern Regional showcase, after the performers auditioned for future campus gigs, they were ready to party. It was on one of those nights when Noel and I were invited to join, “The Flaming Hooker Society.”

I asked the obvious question: The Flaming what?
FYI: A Flaming Hooker is a shooter made with peppermint schnapps and brandy. In order to become a member of the Society, Noel and I would be required to gulp one of them down while it was on fire.

Noel smiled a movie star smile while the cameras went click, click, click, and then she downed her flaming drink as though a residual check depended on it. There was loud applause. I, on the other hand, stared at my little shot glass like it was poison while wondering if tongues were in any way fireproof.

Noel Neill grinned at me and said, “Your turn, kiddo.”

Maybe it was that smile of hers that gave me the audacity I had known only as a child. In less than a nanosecond, I was back in the second grade again watching Superman defy gravity while holding Lois Lane securely in his arms. At that moment, while I stared at a shot glass on fire, it was easy for me to imagine Noel playing her alter ego, smiling like the star she would always be.

“Come on, Cappy,” she said. “Gulp the damn thing down.”

Fireproof tongue or not, I did as she said and for the rest of the night managed to match Lois Lane drink for drink, none of which were on fire. Somewhere packed among my bygone memories there is a faded certificate declaring me a full-fledged member in good standing of the Flaming Hooker Society. She probably threw hers away.

Author’s Note:

Noel Neill died today, July 5, 2016. She was ninety-five-years old. For many years she lived in Metropolis, Ohio where, in 2010 the city that calls itself the “official home of Superman” erected a statue of Lois Lane that looks a lot like my childhood idol. The immortalized cub reporter is holding a pad and pencil in her hands, as though writing her final scoop for the Daily Planet.