Comic Legends: Was Lois Lane Based on a Classmate of Jerry Siegel?

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and eighty-second week where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.

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Lois Lane was based on one of Jerry Siegel's high school classmates.


I'm Going With False

Well now, probably the most insane thing that I can ever do in these things is to delve into stuff from 80 years ago where almost all of the history is based on stuff people said decades later and there are all sorts of interests wrapped up in certain versions of the story being the "accepted" one. But hey, what the heck, right?

Okay, a couple of things off the bat. Firstly, you can never fully trust anyone when it comes to them explaining why they did stuff decades after the fact. Heck, a lot of times, you can't trust people when they explain stuff at the time, even. Bob Kane had an elaborate back story in place for his creation of Batman back in the day and it was full of beans.

What we CAN do is to just look at what happened in the works, compare it to what the people involved say, try to juggle the various interests involved and come up with our best approximation of what the origins of the character are.

Secondly, whenever we find out a fascinating bit of information about a historical figure, there is probably too much of a desire to say, "Oh hey, then that must explain this!" Things are rarely that simple.

Here's what we know. Lois Lane made her comic book debut in 1938's Action Comics #1. She was awesome right from the start...

We also know that in 1935, Jolan Kovacs (later Joanne Carter and even later, Joanne Siegel) sat for Jerry Siegel as a model for their Superman strip. Here is a sketch of Joanne by Joe Shuster...

We know that years later, Siegel met up with Kovacs/Carter again and they got married and remained married for the rest of Siegel's life, which pretty clearly colored nearly all discussions of her involvement in the creation of Lois Lane (how could it not?).

We know that Jerry Siegel graduated high school in 1934.

We know that Jerry Siegel had a huge crush on a classmate of his in high school named Lois Amster. We know this because of the great work of guys like Brad Ricca, who even found a poem that Siegel wrote about Amster back in the day.

We know that Amster didn't even really know Siegel existed, outside of the fact that he stared at her a lot and weirded her out a bit. She was a senior citizen before she ever learned that he might have based Lois Lane on her.

We know that Amster clearly had an influence on Siegel (which we knew already because of the whole "huge crush on her in high school" deal), since a character named after her appeared in an early Doctor Occult story in 1935...

We know that the first time Siegel discussed Lois Amster in an interview in the mid-70s, he was super weird about it and clearly didn't want to talk about it.

We know that Siegel was a big movie fan and has spoken repeatedly about the influence that movies had upon the development of Superman and Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

We know that in the 1930s, there were a number of popular films starring female reporters, including the Torchy Blane series of films, initially starring Glenda Farrell...

We know that in May 1938, the same time Action Comics #1 came out, Lola Lane replaced Farrell as Torchy Blane...

We know that Siegel, in 1988, wrote the following about Lois Lane's creation, to Time magazine...

Thank you for saying "Happy Birthday" to Superman [SHOW BUSINESS, March 14]. Joe Shuster and I, the co-creators of Superman appreciate it. My wife Joanne was Joe's original art model for Superman's girlfriend Lois Lane back in the 1930s. Our heroine was, of course, a working girl whose priority was grabbing scoops. What inspired me in the creation was Glenda Farrell, the movie star who portrayed Torchy Blane, a gutsy, beautiful headline-hunting reporter, in a series of exciting motion pictures. Because the name of the actress Lola Lane (who also played Torchy) appealed to me, I called my character Lois Lane. Strangely, the characterization of Lois is amazingly like the real-life personality of my lovely wife.

We know that Joe Shuster, like most other comic book artists of the time (heck, for years after), had a pretty generic look for some of his characters. Look at the character of Sally from Detective Comics #13 "Spy" feature, which was published a few months before Action Comics #1...

Sally pretty much looks exactly like Lois, right?

Okay, put it all together, and it seems to me as though you have a guy who had a woman model for him for a new character, then years passed and the artist he was working with no longer drew his women like the lady he did a sketch of three years earlier (in fact, Siegel was growing frustrated with Shuster period around the time of Superman debuting in Action Comics #1 - once the character hit it big, those frustrations went away naturally), you have a guy who based his character a lot on movie characters of the time and you have a guy who probably used the first name of girl he had a crush on in high school for the first name of this new character and didn't want to admit it because he felt embarrassed about his crush (the time frame of Lola Lane's debut being an influence on the naming of Lois Lane doesn't really seem to pan out - I know posters go up before hand, but it seems unlikely that Lois was JUST named right when the comic was ready to go. She almost assuredly was named a good deal earlier).

Does that make Lois Amster the inspiration for Lois Lane?

Not in my book, but certainly at least the inspiration for Lois' first name. Otherwise, we're talking many years and many inspirations later. It's a first name. I don't see it as much more than that. You can work in the whole "Lois ignores Clark like how Lois Amster ignored Jerry Siegel," and heck, maybe there's something there, but I think it's a reach. At best, what you have is an interesting comparison to point out. You know, "Isn't it interesting that Lois treats Clark like Lois Amster treated Jerry Siegel?"

Again, though, we're talking about stuff that went down 80 years ago and is open to interpretation, but I think that unless you have some pretty darn explicit reasons for saying Person X inspired the creation of Character Y, then it's probably mostly coincidence. Now, the name itself? I think there's enough there to say that the name probably came from Lois Amster. And that's certainly something, but it's not "Lois Amster was the inspiration for the creation of Lois Lane." It's "Lois Amster was the inspiration for Lois Lane's first name."

Check out my latest TV Legends Revealed - What surprisingly salacious reason led to Lois Lane being disallowed from appearing in Kellogg's TV commercials in the 1950s?

OK, that's it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week's covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo, which I don't even actually use on the CBR editions of this column, but I do use them when I collect them all on legendsrevealed.com!

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