Phyllis Coates, who became television’s first Lois Lane when she was cast in the classic Adventures of Superman series starring George Reeves, died yesterday of natural causes at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills. She was 96.

Her death was announced by daughter Laura Press to our sister publication The Hollywood Reporter.

Born Gypsie Ann Evarts Stell in Wichita Falls, Texas, on January 15, 1927, Coates and her family later moved to Hollywood. Along with some vaudeville-style performances, Coates launched her showbix career as a chorus girl during the 1940s, often touring the the USO. Later in the decade, she landed small roles in such pictures as Smart Girls Don’t Talk (as the Cigarette Girl, 1948) and My Foolish Heart (1949), and appeared in a series of “Joe McDoakes” comedy shorts as Alice MacDoakes.In 1951, Coates was invited to audition for the role of Lois Lane in the low-budget feature film Superman and the Mole Men. Starring Reeves as Superman, the film was a de facto TV pilot, and by the end of the year both Reeves and Coates were asked to join the upcoming TV series.

Coates stayed with the series for only one season – 1952-53 – a decision chalked up to conflicts with producers and other projects waiting. Noel Neill took over the role in the second season, and stayed until the final sixth season (a seventh was planned, but Reeves’ unexpected, and still mysterious, death in 1959 ended the show). Until her death, Coates was the last surviving regular cast member of the classic superhero series.

Though best remembered for Superman, Coates would build an extensive roster of TV and film credits in a career that lasted well into the 1990s. She appeared in the now-classic monster movie I Was A Teenage Frankenstein and on ’50s and ’60s TV shows like The Lone Ranger, Lassie, Leave It To Beaver, Hawaiian Eye, Rawhide, Perry Mason, The Untouchables, The Virginian, and Death Valley Days; in 1970’s TV-movie The Baby Maker with Barbara Hershey: and, during the 1980s, Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and, later, one 1994 episode of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, in which she played the mother of Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane.

Coates was married four times, the first to Richard L. Bare, director of the McDoakes shorts and later of the TV hit Green Acres, and subsequent unions with jazz musician Robert Nelms, Leave It to Beaver director Norman Tokar and medical doctor Howard Press. All four marriages ended in divorce

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