Joanne Siegel: Artist’s model for the original incarnation of Lois Lane

Friday 25 February 2011 01:00

Some time in the mid-1930s, the teenaged Joanne Kovacs placed an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer seeking modelling jobs. The only response she pursued turned out to come from two young men, just out of their teens. Joe Shuster was an artist who wanted her to pose for his drawings of the girlfriend of the superhero he and writer Jerry Siegel were creating. The hero was Superman, the girl was eventually named Lois Lane, and 15 years later, Kovacs, who has died aged 93, became Mrs Jerry Siegel.

Lois Lane was, unusually for the times, a woman reporter whose dynamism contrasted with her "mild-mannered" colleague Clark Kent, who of course was Superman. In creating the comic-book superhero prototype, Shuster and Siegel reshaped borrowings from popular culture; Lois's name came from Lola Lane, who played the fast-talking reporter Torchy Blane in one of the popular series of B-movie adventures. As it happened, Kovacs was a real-life version of their ideal Lois. She threw herself into the role, including the obligatory poses of rescue in Superman's arms, and inspired Siegel to fashion the character in her image.

She was born Jolan Kovacs, in Cleveland, Ohio; her parents were Hungarian immigrants. She became Joanne of necessity, since friends and teachers mangled her name. Soon after modelling as Lois Lane, she left Cleveland for Boston and a modelling career, sometimes under the name Joanne Carter, and was married and divorced. She then moved to California and a "Rosie the Riveter" job in a ship factory. After the war she resettled in New York, and met Siegel again at a ball for the Cartoonists Society, where the costumes were allegedly judged by Marlon Brando. After Siegel's divorce from his first wife, they married in 1948.

Siegel and Shuster had sold all the rights to Superman to DC Comics for $130, but the comic book's success had generated huge profits, particularly from a smash-hit TV show which began in 1952. Siegel and Shuster had already begun a fight which would go on for decades to regain some profits from their creation. Since DC was by far the largest comic company in the 1950s, scripting work became hard for Siegel to find, and he moved to California with Joanne, who worked as, among other things, one of LA's first female car salesmen. The marriage was a true partnership, in which she was both "model and co-writer", but her most important role was in spearheading the legal battle with DC. The fight was originally resolved in 1978, when the blockbuster film was released, with Margot Kidder as Lois. Siegel and Shuster were given an annual $20,000 stipend and credited as creators of Superman.

Siegel died in 1996. Three years later Joanne and her daughter, Laura, filed for termination of their assignment of copyright of the Superman character to Warner Bros. for the movies, and later filed a similar notice, to terminate the assignment of copyright of the Superboy character to Time-Warner, who by now owned DC Comics. The latter have contested rulings in favour of the Siegels, and the issues of compensation are still unresolved. After a ruling in their favour in 2008, Joanne said "we were just stubborn. It was a dream of Jerry's, and we just took up the task." Another of his dreams was to have his ashes returned to his boyhood home in Cleveland. Joanne took up that task too, and last year she attended a ceremony as Siegel's family home was opened as a memorial, with the streets outside renamed Joe Shuster Lane and Lois Lane.

Michael Carlson

Jolan Kovacs (Joanne Siegel), model for Lois Lane: born Cleveland, Ohio 1 December 1917; married and divorced; married secondly 1948 Jerry Siegel (one daughter); died Santa Monica, California 12 February 2011.

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