Superman: The Animated Series Star Dana Delany on Lois Lane's 75th Birthday

By Andy Khouri / July 8, 2013
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Superman, a character that has resonated with enormous volume in American popular culture, and inspired comics, TV shows, cartoons, books, and movies, including the recent Man of Steel. Part of that 75th birthday celebration is another hero who also made an important debut in Action Comics #1 seventy-five years ago, one whose influence and iconic status are absolutely comparable to that of the Man of Steel, and one whose role is integral to what many have described as a uniquely American mythology: Lois Lane.

Besides Superman himself, the person most impressed by Lois's enduring tenacity, brilliance and beauty might be actress Dana Delany, best known to Superman fans for her definitive performance as the voice of Lois Lane in over fifty episodes Warner Bros. Animation's Superman: The Animated Series. An advocate for women's health, gay rights and the arts, Delany is something of a feminist icon herself, winning awards for roles as self-determined and complicated women like Lieutenant Colleen McMurphy on Vietnam War drama China Beach (for which she won two Emmy Awards), acerbic medical examiner Dr. Megan Hunt on Body of Proof, and most recently Washington, D.C. courtesan Chloe in The Parisian Woman by playwright Beau Williamson (House of Cards).

Delany shared her unique insights into the strength, vulnerability and humor of Lois Lane, and the more-or-less straight line she draws between her career playing complex women and reading the comic book adventures of her own hero when she was a little girl.

Fans of genre fiction are very used to the actors who portray their favorite characters saying that they don't really have a sentimental attachment to those character, but you seem to really care about her. What do you remember about that early connection to Lois?
— Oh, yeah! I was thrilled when they wanted me to play her. I grew up with Lois. She was very present when I was a young girl because of The Adventures of Superman TV show with George Reeves, and I watched that religiously. I saw the two different Lois Lanes that appeared on that show, [Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill]. Then I read the comic books... Back then, at the start of feminism, Lois became this feminist character that represented the changes going on with women in the world. She had her own comic book back then, which was thrilling. After church every Sunday we would go to the drug store and I would get my comics with my allowance. I don't think I was aware of [the feminist angle] at the time. I just liked the fact that she was sassy and that she had a job and that she talked back to everybody. That was the part that I liked [laughs].

What's your favorite moment from Superman: The Animated Series?
— Definitely in the first episode, when she's talking about "the Nietzschean ideal of Superman," which I thought was so sophisticated when I read it. And then when she says, "Nice 'S' [while looking at a photograph of Superman's physique]." I thought that really set the tone for Lois and the series [laughs]. It was kind of risqué and funny. As I said at the time when I was doing it, the scripts for the Superman were so much better than any film script I was getting. Much more sophisticated and smart.

In what sense?
— Really good dialogue and depth. There was a dark tone to it. It just seemed to deal with human emotion and had depth and humor. This is when movies started becoming bigger and bigger blockbusters and the women tended to be more and more marginalized and kind of retro and just becoming "the wife" and "the girlfriend."
Lois Lane admires Superman's "logo"
© Warner Bros.
In the final episode, Superman is brainwashed into committing all sorts of atrocities and is eventually taken down by the military along with Supergirl. Lois asks what became of Superman at a press conference and when they dodge the question she yells, "You didn't answer me!" She later uses her father's connections at the Pentagon to break into a military installation and rescue Superman and Supergirl by herself. It wasn't just out of concern but out of her quest to find the truth.
— [Superman Voice Director] Andrea [Romano] always stressed the strength in Lois Lane. It was all about her being strong. Once in a while she got to be vulnerable. There was a little bit of sadness in there but it was more about the strength that she was going to persevere no matter what. Again, it's a great role model for girls.

— You mentioned her vulnerability, which I think the show deals with a little obliquely but it's there. She doesn't seem to have any friends except Clark, but she bullies him a lot. I think it's because he doesn't crumble or flinch. Maybe she doesn't respect people who aren't strong like her?
— I think that's true. I think she's so much of a career woman that she doesn't have much of a life. There's a few moments where you see her kind of lonely in her apartment and I think she's even called Clark a couple times when she's been by herself. And that's truth, that's the price you pay when you're all about your career.

— Watching the show again as an adult, I'm struck by how realistic Lois is. She reminds me of women I actually know. She's not just a cardboard cutout of the "strong female character" with no flaws and no contradictions. There's actually a whole episode about people who want to kill her for variously understandable reasons.
— She's very much the kind of character I've always liked to play – the kind of person who can drive you crazy but you end up liking her anyway. But she is always true to herself. In the end you admire her for that.

With China Beach finally on DVD now, I can see those qualities in Lieutenant Colleen McMurphy and also in Doctor Hunt on Body of Proof and in some other characters you've played, like Andrea Beaumont in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. The light and the dark at the same time.
— Definitely. There's this horrible thing in American culture where we want everybody to be "likable." It's always the network note: "Is she likable? I don't think she's likable enough." It just drives me crazy because that's not an interesting person. Nice is boring. I'm constantly fighting that in my work because I'm attracted to people who are interesting and complex.

— In the "China Beach" DVD introduction you write about being very personally affected by the character you played and her experience in Vietnam. Are you the kind of performer who takes aboard the qualities of your characters?
— Definitely. At some point the two meld, me and the character. I always want to go deeper and learn from the character and the character will learn from me. That's the fun of it for me, to go as deep as possible into the character. Definitely with Lois. It's funny, I did talkbacks after the play sometimes and people said, "How do you prepare for the character each night?" And I said, "Well, I just think about how much fun I'm going to have!" Because to me that's the fun of acting, just play. It should be play. Lois is just so much fun to play.

Did you know Lois Lane was modeled after Joanne Siegel, the wife of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel? Artist Joe Shuster hired her as a model and she met Jerry and they later fell in love and got married.
— Oh my god, I love that story! That gives me chills. Wow. So they weren't married when she came in to model for the character? That's incredible. I met Noel Neill [who played Lois Lane in the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman] a few years ago. That was a huge thrill – a gigantic thrill. She was the nicest, nicest lady. Like me, she is as excited as anybody to have played Lois. Once you play Lois you just fall in love with her. It's hard to let her go. I love the fact that there's so much celebration of Superman's 75 years and that you're giving Lois her due.

— Well, she appeared in that same comic book on the same day he did.
— Yes, she did.