Noel Neill, first ‘live-action’ Lois Lane, dies at 95

Noel Neill and Kirk Allyn from a 1940s Superman serial.

Noel Neill and Kirk Allyn from a 1940s Superman serial.

Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in two Superman serials as well as most of the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman, has died at 95.

Her death was first posted by a friend on Facebook by a friend, Larry Ward. The news was put out on Twitter by Warner Archive, part of Warner Bros.

Superman was first adapted on radio (with Joan Alexander in the role) and in theatrical cartoons released by Paramount. Neill became the first live-action Lois in two serials, Superman (1948) and Atom Man Vs. Superman (1950), with Kirk Allyn as the Man of Steel.

In the 1950s, Neill got the call to replace Phyllis Coates as Lois in The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves in the title role for the show’s second season.

For Baby Boomers, the television version resonated, thanks in part to syndicated reruns in the 1960s shown on local television stations in the United States. The Neill version of Lois had a bit less of an edge compared with the Coates version.

Neill’s association with Superman extended to 1978’s Superman The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve, where she and Allyn had a cameo as the parents of Lois Lane. It was a “blink or you’ll miss it moment.” ABC showed an expanded version in the early 1980s that included the full scene.

In her later years, Neill appeared in numerous fan conventions and collectible shows. Those who saw her at such events came away charmed and impressed. She and Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen in the 1950s series, both had cameos in 2006’s Superman Returns.

UPDATE (6:45 p.m. ET): The Hollywood Reporter has now published A MORE DETAILED OBITUARY.

Fidelity-Bravery-Integrity: The FBI’s 50th anniversary

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a first-season episode of The FBI

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a first-season episode of The FBI

The FBI, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Sept. 19, was an idealized version of the real-life U.S. agency that symbolized the motto “fidelity, bravery, integrity.”

The series would go on to be the longest-running show for producer Quinn Martin. To do so, it would face challenges not faced by most television series.

According to the 2003 book Quinn Martin, Producer, the QM FBI endured a lot of scrutiny by its real-life counterpart.

Among those who underwent FBI background checks were star Efrem Zimbalist Jr.; William A. Graham, director of its first episodes (who served in U.S. Naval intelligence in World War II); Hank Simms, another World War II veteran and announcer for the show’s main titles; and Howard Alston, a production manager for the series.

What’s more, the bureau had veto power over guest stars, which cost The FBI the services of Bette Davis, a fan of the show.

Initially, the show emphasized the personal side of Zimbalist’s Inspector Lewis Erskine. He was a widower (his wife perished during an attack intended for Erskine) with a daughter in college. That fell off, in part because of audience reaction.

Quinn Martin & Co. quickly shifted to providing more detailed back stories for villains and other characters (not subject to the same scrutiny from the bureau), giving guest stars the chance to well-rounded characters.

It also helped that Martin paid about twice the going rate at the time for guest star roles ($5,000  versus the normal $2,500 for an one-hour episode).  Actors such as Charles Bronson (primarily a movie actor by 1966), Louis Jourdan, Gene Tierney and Karin Dor (a one-time James Bond actress) signed up to play guest stars on The FBI.

The show’s producer for the first four seasons, Charles Larson, frequently rewrote scripts (usually without credit), keeping the show on more than an even keel. Larson exited after the fourth season, with the slack picked up by Philip Saltzman for another four seasons and Anthony Spinner for the series’ final ninth season.

The FBI heavily featured espionage stories, especially in its second and third seasons, as Erskine and his colleagues tracked down foreign agents. That trailed off over time, with three espionage stories (out of 26 total) in the seventh season and only one in the eighth. There were no spy stories in the final season.

The show never had a big following in U.S. syndication. Still, the series had a fan base. Warner Archive began offering The FBI on a “manufactured on demand” basis in 2011. There was enough demand the entire series was made available by the end of 2014. The last two seasons came out after the May 2014 death of star Zimbalist at age 95.

For more information, CLICK HERE to view The FBI episode guide. The site is still under construction but reviews have been completed for the first five seasons.

The FBI season 8: time of transition at QM Productions

"Sorry, Arthur, no time to talk right now. I'm ordering season eight of The FBI."

“Sorry, Arthur, no time to talk right now. I’m ordering season eight of The FBI.”

The eighth, and next-to-last, season of The FBI is now available from Warner Archive The 1972-73 season marked a time of transition at QM Productions.

From the fall of 1967 (when The Fugitive ended a four-year run) to the fall of 1971 (When Cannon began the first of five seasons), The FBI kept producer Quinn Martin in business.

Some of Martin’s series, such as The Invaders, were cult hits but didn’t last that long. The Invaders, about an architect’s one-man battle against invading aliens, ran 43 episodes over two seasons. Banyon, a 1930s detective show, and Dan August, a contemporary police show, had short runs.

By the fall of 1972, things had begun to change. Cannon’s second season was starting and QM’s The Streets of San Francisco, was beginning a five-year run. In early 1973, QM added Barnaby Jones to the mix, which would run eight seasons.

Meanwhile, for its eighth season, The FBI continued to cruise along. It was the fourth season under producer Philip Saltzman. It would be his last work on the series. He’d be shifted to Barnaby Jones starting during that show’s second season. Eventually, Saltzman became executive producer of all of QM’s shows after Quinn Martin sold his company in the late 1970s.

Season 8 would also be the last as a regular for William Reynolds, who played sidekick Tom Colby to Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s Inspector Lewis Erskine. Reynolds had been around The FBI even longer than Saltzman, joining the series as a regular in the third season and had been a guest star in the first and second seasons.

Season 8 hasn’t been included in previous syndication packages for The FBI. For information about ordering, you can CLICK HERE.

The FBI season 7: end of an era

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

The seventh season of The FBI is now available from Warner Archive arm of Warner Bros. It would be the last season produced while J. Edgar Hoover, the long-time FBI director, was still alive.

Hoover never appeared on camera per se, but he still had a presence in the series. It might be in the form of an anxious secretary holding a telephone (“It’s MISTER HOOVER!”). It might be in the form of a cocky chess champion who has been persuaded to help out the bureau after emerging from what’s supposed to be Hoover’s office (“That quite a man in there.”). It might be in the form of the seeming omnipresent Hoover portraits in FBI offices or photographs on the desks of FBI agents.

Hoover had been instrumental in the series coming together, seeing it as a chance to promote the bureau’s image. He had an annual meeting with series star Efrem Zimbalist Jr. The bureau reportedly had veto power over casting of guest stars. Hoover was also thanked, by name, in the end titles.

There was occasional tension between the bureau and executive producer Quinn Martin (you can CLICK HERE to read an excerpt from the book Quinn Martin, producer to read more). But overall, Hoover had little reason to be displeased.

The seventh season of The FBI ran from Sept. 12, 1971, through March 19, 1972. Less than two months later, Hoover died at the age of 77. The show would run another two years but it wouldn’t quite be the same.

After Hoover’s death, FBI activity such as domestic spying and amassing large files on politicians came to light. There have been periodic attempts to take his name off FBI headquarters in Washington, but they haven’t been successful.

As for as the seventh season, it would be the final one to have a two-part episode. It would include familiar faces from previous seasons as guest stars (Bradford Dillman, Steve Ihnat, Robert Drivas and Ralph Meeker) as well as actors who wouldn’t become famous until years later (Mark Hamill). It costs $49.95 and only ships in the U.S. For more information about ordering, CLICK HERE.

Search now available on home video

Search's main title logo

Search’s main title logo

Search, a spy-ish series that lasted only one season on NBC, is now available on home video in the U.S. through Warner Archive, Warner Bros.’s manufactured on demand arm.

The show ran during the 1972-73 season and featured the exploits of operatives of the World Securities Corp. Here’s an excerpt of the series description:

Hugh O’Brian, Doug McClure and Tony Franciosa rotate leads as elite high tech espionage operatives for Probe Division of World Securities Corporation in this spy-sensational SF-flavored actioner… Each agent, dubbed a “Probe”, is wired up for worldwide surveillance thanks to their Scanners (miniature video cams) and dental/ ear implants. Tracking their telemetry and giving real-time mission advice is the team of specialists gathered together at Probe Control under the direction of the brilliant, irascible V.C.R. Cameron (Burgess Meredith). O’Brian plays Lockwood, Probe One, ex-astronaut and lead agent, McClure plays CR Grover, Standby Probe, brilliant beachcomber goofball and Franciosa plays Nick Bianco, Omega Probe, street savvy ex-NYC cop tasked with organized crime capers.

The series was created by Leslie Stevens, who had created The Outer Limits. The pilot was a television movie called Probe, but either Warner Bros. (which made the series) or NBC decided Search was a more appealing name.

Members of the production team had previously worked on the original Star Trek series and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert H. Justman, who had been associate producer on Trek (and had worked on The Outer Limits as well) was producer of the first half of the series. Anthony Spinner, the fourth-season U.N.C.L.E. producer was initially the story editor and took over as producer.

The price is $49.95 and you can find more information on ordering by CLICKING HERE.

The FBI season 6: Erskine takes on the ’70s

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

The sixth season of The FBI is now available on DVD. The sales pitch from Warner Archive, which markets manufactured-on-demand home video products for Warner Bros., reflects the changing era for the show.

At the dawn of the Seventies the Culture War captured as much attention as the Cold War, and the storylines seen in this sixth season of The FBI (drawn from real Bureau files) reflected this. While still on the watch for saboteurs and spies acting as agents for foreign powers, the dedicated crimebusters of the Bureau, as personified by Inspector Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), Special Agent Colby (William Reynolds), and Assistant Director Ward (Philip Abbott) were just as likely to be tasked with tracking down psychotic Vietnam veterans or stopping college kids with a terrorist bent.

The series still was coming up with some espionage stories such as The Target, an episode featuring one-time James Bond actress Karin Dor.

The sixth season also has a mix of actors who’d gain fame later, including Martin Sheen (who had already done a guest shot back in the third season), Michael Douglas (shortly before being employed by producer Quinn Martin) and Diane Keaton (a year before doing The Godfather). Also, the roster of guest stars includes William Shatner being, well, William Shatner.

For Quinn Martin, The FBI was now his flagship show. The creative team led by producer Philip Saltzman remained in tact from the previous season. For QM Productions, it was steady as she goes amid the changes in society that were affecting storylines.

For information about ordering the season 6 set, you can CLICK HERE. There’s a sample clip from The Condemned, the first episode of the season.

UPDATE (Oct. 18): Here’s the preview clip from The Condemned:

Funeral in Berlin gets new U.S. DVD release

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Funeral in Berlin, the second Harry Saltzman-produced film based on Len Deighton’s spy novels and starring Michael Caine, is now available in a new DVD release in the U.S. through Warner Bros.’s Warner Archives.

Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions, producer of the James Bond film series, had ambitions beyond the 007 movies. At the same time, Saltzman summoned 007 film veterans to work on his Deighton-based films.

With 1966’s Funeral in Berlin, Saltzman hired Guy Hamilton, who helmed Goldfinger, as director. Also on board was Ken Adam as production designer and Peter Murton as art director. Other films in the series employed John Barry, Peter Hunt and Maurice Binder.

Warner Archive specializes in “manufactured on demand” (or MOD); the DVDs are made as they’re ordered and the sets aren’t available in stores. Warner Bros. has used Warner Archive for home video releases of properties in the vast WB library, including THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. and THE FBI television series.

The price for Funeral in Berlin is $18.95 plus shipping and handling. For more information on ordering, CLICK HERE.

For more information, you can view the IMDB.COM pages for:

1965’S THE IPCRESS FILES

1966’s FUNERAL IN BERLIN

1967’s BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN