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Lois Lane's evolution through decades of Superman comic and movie portrayals

from mercurynews.com:

By Melissa Rayworth
Associated Press

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, she was a career woman ahead of her time, confident and determined to earn front-page bylines. Lois Lane always cut tothe chase: Who else is blunt enough to ask Clark Kent why he's never around when Superman appears?

In a comic-book world where the good guys are flawless and the bad guys are pure evil, Lois has always been a gust of fresh air. She's often a bundle of contradictions -- a basically good person who's not above hiding Clark's press pass to make sure she gets the story first.

But after decades as a trailblazer, has reality caught up with -- or even surpassed -- the Daily Planet's star reporter? Can Lois Lane still be a relevant role model when so many women now routinely juggle challenging careers, thriving love lives and motherhood?

``Well, I wonder nowadays. I used to think so,'' says Noel Neill, 85, who played Lois opposite George Reeves' Superman on the 1950s TV show ``Adventures of Superman'' and makes a cameo appearance in the new movie ``Superman Returns,'' which opened Tuesday.

In the 1960s and 1970s, young women frequently thanked Neill for motivating them. ``I met so many that have come up to me and said, `You know, because of you, Lois Lane, I have gone on to doing work at a newspaper or a radio station or TV station,' '' she says.

From the birth of Superman in 1938's Action Comics No. 1 through World War II and into the 1950s, when strong female role models were rare in American popular culture, Lois Lane was different.

Especially in the comic books, where beautiful young women usually functioned as damsels in distress, Lois was too busy getting the story to worry about being saved. Granted, those same comic books occasionally depicted her daydreaming about marrying Superman or fretting over his attraction to high school sweetheart Lana Lang, especially during the 1950s. But she regained her edge in the 1970s and 1980s, and the image of Lois Lane that dominates Superman lore today is one of strength.

Big- and small-screen incarnations have been more subtle and have varied depending on script and actress. Neill's Lois on ``Adventures of Superman'' was a softened version of the character originated by Phyllis Coates during the show's first season (1952-53) -- spunky but unfailingly polite.

That first season was rife with gangsters and noir plotlines, and Coates had given Lois a flinty, no-nonsense edge. But the show became increasingly kid-friendly during its second season on the instruction of its new sponsor, Kellogg. Neill replaced Coates, and Lois became gentler -- more like the housewives whose cereal-eating children formed the show's audience. In subsequent seasons, she began dreaming of a life with Superman, just like her comic-book doppelganger.

When Margot Kidder stepped into the role in 1978's ``Superman: The Movie,'' things shifted back in Coates' direction. Kidder's Lois was strong, smart and -- despite a sappy flying scene -- increasingly confident in the superhero's presence.

That didn't last. The romantic subplot became more central in the second film, which ended with Lois dissolving at the thought of having to share her hero with the world. By the third and fourth films, Lois was a minor character (supposedly due to disputes between Kidder and the producers).

When Lois returned in the form of Teri Hatcher on ABC's ``Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman'' (1993-97), she was still on top of her journalistic game. But other areas of her life seemed trapped in a time warp.

Frequent jokes during the show's first season pointed out that as a career woman, Lois naturally had no social life. She spent enough time alone on her sofa eating ice cream from the carton that even sweet-natured Clark (Dean Cain) commented. ``You could use some more vacations,'' he told Lois. ``Maybe a semblance of a life.''

In another oddly retro touch, Hatcher's Lois was nearly speechless in the presence of her muscle-bound Man of Steel -- at least until their romantic relationship heated up in later seasons. She also was so intoxicated by the charm and power of Lex Luthor (John Shea) that she nearly married him without noticing he was a scheming villain. Hatcher's Lois seemed in desperate need of some advice from the women of ``Sex and the City,'' who arrived on screen a season after ``Lois & Clark'' departed.

``Showing her as a woman in search of love is perhaps realistic,'' says Melanie Rehak, author of ``Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her.'' But, she says, ``it should be handled in a way that tells girls falling in love with a strong -- literally, in this case -- man isn't an obstacle to remaining strong yourself.''

Dana Delany's take on Lois, done as a voice-over for ``Superman: The Animated Series'' (1996-2000), offered more strength than Hatcher's. But her edge seemed more world-weary than progressive. Cliches still surfaced: The cartoon Lois dashed around covering stories in a white pleated miniskirt and heels -- an outfit you wouldn't see on Christiane Amanpour when she's live from Baghdad.

Most recently, Erica Durance's Lois on ``Smallville'' reaches back again to Coates' edgier performance. Durance's Lois, added to the cast at the start of the show's most recent season, is smart, sexy and gives as good as she gets. Marriage is the last thing on her mind (not surprising, given that the characters are mainly college age).

And what about the newest big-screen Lois Lane, played by Kate Bosworth? Is she representative of 21st-century American women?

Chris Lee, an executive producer of ``Superman Returns,'' says some die-hard fans were worried when they discovered how much the character has changed. As the film begins, Lois has won a Pulitzer, gotten engaged to Perry White's nephew and is the single mother of a 5-year-old boy.

``They were afraid that the fearless reporter Lois Lane had maybe lost some of her edge,'' Lee says. ``But as we know in real life, that's not mutually exclusive.''

Lois, he says, is ``hardly reduced to some speechless character.'' That vehemence suggests what the Superman myth has always postulated, in comics and on screens big and small: that no matter how many decades pass, Lois Lane, ace Daily Planet reporter, will always have something to say.


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