Noel Neill has spent her life in print and I’m happy to continue the tradition. Even now as a sprightly 83 year old, Noel still appears at many shows and book signings and there have been upwards of twenty articles written about her in the last eighteen months alone. And you have to remember that Noel was born of a newspaperman father and vaudevillian mother and ever since she has enjoyed a lifelong connection to the business. Noel actually worked for a short time as a reporter then played a high school editor on Junior Prom and is, of course, most famous as Lois Lane, a reporter for the Daily Planet.
However, one gets the distinct impression that Noel would have swapped it all to be a full-time athlete or to spend her life on the beaches of California playing volley ball and swimming. Even on the many days when Noel had been slogging away on the movie set you would find her escaping down to the beach to blow away the bright lights with a swim and a run along the sand. And even these many years later, Noel plays golf, works out regularly at a gym and spends a lot of time walking. You might also meet Noel across a bridge table sometime finessing you in a very neat squeeze play. This doesn’t even cover the fact that Noel began her great career as a singer who covered some great songs performing at the Hotel Del Mar where she was discovered Bing Crosby and lured across the road to the Del Mar Turf Club.
Readers will find over one hundred and fifty great shots of Noel dating back to her childhood and covering her many movies in Larry Ward’s grand biography. Noel and Larry have signed copies available at: www.jimnolt.com where you will also find a huge resource of great Superman facts, stories and memorabilia. You will be stunned by some of the fantastic pin up photos of Noel, which is hardly a surprise when you consider that Noel often ran second only to Betty Grable in pin up sales during the 40s. I caught up with Noel recently to ask her a few questions about her long and successful life as an actor and world traveller and there is so much more to this tough but tiny ball of energy than the Lois Lane you may have watched on TV as a child.
David: I believe your father was a successful publisher in Minnesota and that he saw you as a reporter material from quite a young age. Given that you became one of the screen’s most loved “reporters” do you think you would have made a good reporter?
Noel: Dad was firstly a writer for Fairchild Publications in New York and later became News Editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I did write for the Women's Wear Daily. I think I did fine, but I don't think I would have been a great reporter. I was mostly interested in being a professional athlete.
David: Your mother I believe performed in vaudeville. Do you remember much about her career?
Noel: My mother performed on the various stages of the theatre as a dancer. Mother never really talked about how much anyone made, and very little about her career. As a widowed mother with a young child, with no public assistance as we know it today, the child (my brother) was raised by his paternal grandparents in California after her first husband was killed during World War One.
David: You spent a great portion of your childhood acting. What was this like for you?
Noel: We were all so young then that this was the only life that we knew. It seemed everyone in my neighbourhood did this. It was only later that I thought that I'd rather be doing other fun things, like athletics.
David: Can you tell us a little about your half-brother?
Noel: I had no idea I had a half-brother until he called me one day when I was in Hollywood. We met at the Beachcomber's restaurant, which is also in Hollywood. He was in the Merchant Marines at the time. Even afterward, we continued pretty separate lives. As an adult he lived the majority of his life in Alaska until a short time ago. He recently turned 86 years old.
David: In 1938 your mother took you out to California where you managed to land a job at Del Mar Racetrack. Are there any recordings surviving from these early days and what sort of songs were you performing?
Noel: There are no surviving recordings from my days at the race track. I performed mostly big band, swing, and torch songs of the day. Recordings from the films Santa Fe Trail and College Queen have survived and I also sang a bit in Junior Prom.
David: Throughout the early 40s at Paramount you were enjoying steady work both as an actress and as a studio pin up. Do you recall if your very first autograph was from making a film or signing one of the sweater shots that Paramount published? Did you sign many early shots like this?
Noel: After my first film, Henry Aldrich For President in 1941, I went back home after the release and signed my first autograph at an assembly at my old high school, Central High in Minneapolis.
David: In these early roles you often played beautiful teenagers in shows like Monogram’s The Teenagers or films like Henry Aldrich’s Little Secret. What are your favourite memories from these days at the close of World War II?
Noel: Favourite memories: I made so many films in the late 40s - 15 in 1948 alone - that it was so hard to keep track of what you were working on. Often, as a contract player, you have no idea what you're working on, it was often that confusing. You'd run in, say your lines then go on to something else. My favourite memory is of actually surviving it all.
David: Although you were not yet established as a film actor you did get to appear in two fine films of the period in, Lady of Burlesque and, The Blue Dahlia. Do you recall any stories from being on set with actors like Alan Ladd and Barbara Stanwyck?
Noel: Again, as a contract player, Hollywood had a class system which still exists today. Minor contract players like me were not allowed to talk with the stars, so it was so hard to get to know them. You weren't encouraged to stay on the set any longer than you were needed. Later, when my star rose a little, I got to know other stars better and found most of them to be nice, down to earth folks.
David: Who were your favourite actors during your career? And can you name your three all time favourite movies?
Noel: George Reeves, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant. All-Time Favourite Movies: Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, Night of the Iguana and everything Cary Grant ever did.
David: Your breakthrough role came in 1948 even though at the time you would have no idea how famous your role and the whole Superman concept would become for generations to come. How did your casting come about? Do you remember some of the other actors who auditioned for the role of Lois Lane?
Noel: No other actress auditioned for the role of Lois Lane. I was the only candidate for the role. The producer, Sam Katzman, had already used me for several of his other films and serials, so he knew me and knew what he wanted. He was a no-nonsense sort of fellow, so he didn't waste any time looking for something that he knew already had.
David: During the making of this series, Kirk Alyn had to get quite physical in the role and that often meant you were bruised after a day’s shooting. What was the scariest thing that ever happened to you during a shoot?
Noel: Kirk was very careful with me. I was never bruised or injured in any way. He treated me with delicate hands. Not once did I ever feel myself to be in danger on the set.
David: Can you tell us about one of the funniest moments working on the set of Superman?
Noel: Funny story re: working on Superman TV: The special efforts people would build the sets the night prior to shooting. One particular night, the breakaway wall hardened just a little too much, and when George tried to come crashing through that wall the next day, only one hand and one foot came through. Dead silence rang through the set. George was stuck in the wall. Finally the director yelled "cut" and George slowly pulled himself back from the wall and said, "Thank you. It was nice working with you. See you tomorrow". He walked off the set and there was a mad scramble to fill the rest of the day.
David: You are a very keen traveller and have seen a lot of the world. What was one of your funniest or most hair-raising travel stories?
Noel: While on a train travelling across the plains of the Soviet Union, I was standing in my compartment when a bullet hit my double-glass window. Fortunately, the bullet came through only the outside piece of glass before lodging between the two panes. Had that second glass not been there, I wouldn't be here. Train officials said that it probably came from the frequent "banditos" in the area. That's hardly a Russian word, but that's what they said.
David: Did you ever miss a film you would have liked to have made and what were the circumstances?
Noel: Once, I was in a group of actresses being considered for a role in "So Proudly We Hail" with George Reeves & Paulette Goddard. It was pretty likely that I had the role, but as I walked on the set to meet Cecil B. DeMille, someone called out "Phone call for Noel Neill'. DeMille was very unhappy that someone other than himself would be paged. I didn't get that job!
David: Have you signed many photos with other actors?
Noel: With regard to co-signing photos, the only ones I can think of are with the following: with Jack Larson, Tommy Bond, Kirk Alyn, Larry Thomas Ward on both photos, and, of course, the book. I've signed only a few of each.
David: Did you sign many photos during the 1950s and have you done much signing in more recent years? Have you ever seen forged examples of your signature?
Noel: Probably close to none. All my fan mail was sent to New York so I never saw any of it. Occasionally someone would stop me on the street, and during a personal appearance here and there, but that's about it. I have seen forged examples of my signature, and most are pretty bad.
David: Did you enjoy being involved in the epic Superman movie in 1978 especially as your scene as Lois Lane’s mother has been restored to a DVD version?
Noel: It was great being part of this experience. It's nice being remembered.
David: Have you seen and met the other Lois Lane actresses over the years?
Noel: All are very good actresses. I have only met Margot Kidder, whom I like very much. She was wonderful in the role.
David: Do you sign many photos in the course of a year and do you enjoy signing?
Noel: I sign very few autographs annually and the ones I sign are almost always personalized. I truly do enjoy signing. If my signature gives someone a few moments of pleasure, then why not? My favourite moment of signing came when one 55 year old fellow came to a book signing wearing his 50 year old Superman cape that his mother had given him as a child. He asked me to sign it. It was both a wonderful and very emotional moment.
David: For many years you were against the idea of a biography of your life. Who or what changed your mind?
Noel: Larry Thomas Ward presented a very good argument for preserving what he said was an important Hollywood legacy. I have a great respect for him as both a writer and as a friend, so I trusted he would do what he said he would do. And he did. He has been a close and loyal friend for years.
David: Have you ever had any problems with autograph hunters or your fans in general?
Noel: Fame has never been an issue for me. I can honestly say that I have never, ever had any unpleasant encounters with fans or autograph collectors. I guess I just attract the mature, respectful fan.
David: What are some of your other favourite activities Noel?
Noel: Other athletics I have been involved in: golf, bridge (with the late Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller’s wife) and ice-skating as a child. Lately, I've been working out in a local gym, and I walk a lot. Although it's not considered athletics, I do still view 1st run films frequently.
David: Well thank you for the chance to catch up Noel and I am sure fans will be looking out for you at various Superman and Memorabilia shows across America in the coming year...