Thursday, January 22, 2009

Episode #56: A Double Feature: Happy Birthday, Phyllis Coates! / The Superman Comic Strip!

Phyllis Coates was born Gypsy Ann Evarts Stell on January 15, 1927 in Wichita Falls, Texas. After graduating from high school she moved to Los Angeles to study at UCLA. She met entertainer Ken Murray in a Hollywood restaurant, who hired her to be a chorus girl in his vaudville show. She also worked as a showgirl at the Earl Carroll Theatre. She was signed by Warner Brothers Studio in 1948.
She co-starred with George O'Hanlon in the Joe McDoakes short subject comedies. She was briefly married to series director Richard Bare and continued with the series after their divorce. Her most famous role was as Lois Lane in the first season of the Adventures of Superman TV show, for 26 episodes. After filming was done, production was suspended while the series producers searched for a national sponsor. When production resumed Phyllis was already committed to another production. She was replaced by Noel Neill, who was reprising her role as Lois Lane from the two movie serials of the 1940's. Noel remained as part of the cast for the remainder of the series run. Phyllis renewed her connection decades later when she played Lois Lane's mother in the wedding episode of the 1990's series Lois & Clark.
Phyllis Coates had a prolific career in the 1950's and 1960's in low budget features, westerns and serials. She had some musical talent, performing a musical number in the movie Blues Busters with the Bowery Boys. She starred in the jungle serial Panther Girl of The Kongo and the film I Was A Teenage Frankenstein. Phyllis was also busy in 1950's TV, with roles in The Abbott and Costello Show, Leave It To Beaver, GE Theater, Lone Ranger and Cisco Kid.
She seems to have retired in the mid-1960's. Phyllis had one credit in the 1970's, according to Her career picked up again in the mid-1980's - mid 1990's. Along with her role in Lois & Clark she also had one of her last roles in the TV show Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. Her last credited movie role was in the film Hollywood The Movie.
Noel Neill played a great Lois Lane, but Phyllis Coates had more of an edge to her role as Lois Lane. She was agressive in pursuing a story, more competetive with Clark, and was not afraid to stand up to the mob. In one episode she is questioned, offscreen, by a henchman, who is shown approaching another mobster as he holds his hand against the side of his face. Lois had slapped him when she didn't care for his treatment.
Phyllis Coates disputes how she was portrayed in the movie Hollywoodland, which is about the career and death of George Reeves, starring Ben Affleck. In the movie, she leaves the series after George's lover Toni Mannix sees the two actors flirting on the set. In reality, Phyllis was friends with both George and Toni, even after she was no longer on the show, as well as after the end of their affair.
Phyllis Coates is still alive at the age of 82.

The Superman Comic Strip began on January 6, 1939, months after his first appearance in Action Comics #1. Color Sunday strips began on November 9, 1939. The strip ran until May 1966. It was distributed by the McClure Syndicate, and distribution peaked at 300 daily newspapers, 90 Sunday papers, for a peak circulation of 20 million. The McClure Syndicate played a role in the eventual publication of Superman in the comic books. Siegel and Shuster had sent Superman to the McClure Syndicate, hoping it would be picked up as a comic strip, which had more prestige than comic books at this time. Sheldon Mayer and Charles Gaines picked up Superman from the syndicate to fill the front of the new Action Comics.
The comic strip reappeared in 1978 as The World's Greatest Superheroes, including Batman and Wonder Woman, and ran until 1985.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were the original creative team on the comic strip. Superman's Kryptonian origin was expanded in the comic strip. Kryptonians were portrayed as super-powered beings. Samples of these earliest strips can be found in Les Daniels' book Superman: The Complete History. Their workload increased to the point that all of the artists of their Cleveland studio, which I discussed back in episode #17, contributed to the comic strip.
There were several Superman firsts in the comic strip. A bald Lex Luthor first appeared in the strip, as well as Mr. Mxyzptlk and Superman's first telephone booth costume exchange. Several stories that stand out in the strip are Superman saving Santa Claus from the Nazi's, and Clark and Lois marry. Lois doesn't discover Clark's secret identity for many years.
Just about every Superman artist of the golden and silver ages drew the comic strip. Curt Swan drew the strip from 1956-1960. Wayne Boring had the longest tenure on the comic strip. Stories which ran in the comics would be changed and adapted for the comic strip. A Brainiac story was changed for the strip, substituting another villain in his place.
Jerry Siegel wrote the comic strip until hew was drafted in 1943. Alvin Schwartz began contributing stories in 1944 and was the solo writer from 1947-1951. He continued to contribute stories until 1958. In 1959 uncredited Batman co-creator Bill Finger wrote the comic strip until its end. Jerry Siegel would contribute stories for the comic strip when he returned to write for DC Comics in the late 1950's.
An archive of the comic strip can be found at The first story, Superman Comes To Earth is complete, and the rest of the stories has only samples. The founders of the web site are adding strips to the web site.
There are two collections of the comic strip, Superman: The Dailies 1939-1942 and Superman: Sunday Classics 1939-1943.
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Thanks for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Sueprman and all related characters is copyright DC Comics.

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