1940s Radio Actress Joan Alexander Dies at 94

Cast members of the radio serial
Cast members of the radio serial "The Adventures of Superman," from left, Jackie Kelk (Jimmy Olsen), Joan Alexander (Lois Lane), Jackson Beck (Beany Martin) and Bud Collyer (Superman/Clark Kent), which debuted in 1940. (Courtesy Of The Los Angeles Times)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 23, 2009

Joan Alexander, 94, a leading radio actress of the 1940s best known for playing Lois Lane, the ace reporter who was constantly being rescued from peril by Superman, died of an intestinal ailment May 21 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

After an early modeling and stage career, Ms. Alexander became a versatile performer on dozens of radio serials, notably as the loyal secretary Della Street in "Perry Mason." She played recurring characters on radio soap operas and dramas including "Lone Journey," "Light of the World" and "This Is Nora Drake."

But Ms. Alexander achieved her greatest prominence, and enduring fame among devoted Superman fans, as one of the handful of women to portray Lane, an intrepid reporter for the fictitious Daily Planet. According to many sources, she was the third actress cast as Lane in the serial "The Adventures of Superman," which aired in February 1940 on New York station WOR and reached a broad audience through syndication on the Mutual network.

For the next decade, Ms. Alexander was heard playing opposite actor Bud Collyer as Superman, the Man of Steel from planet Krypton who saves Lane from enemy agents during wartime and from various other foes bent on destroying the American way of life. By day, Superman disguises himself as Lane's nerdy, fumbling newsroom colleague, Clark Kent.

Collyer once told an interviewer, "Joan is one of those rare actresses -- especially in radio where you can't be seen and have to depend entirely on voice -- who can go in on something cold and her instincts are so right as an actress that without even a rehearsal or a read-through, she is right."

In addition to their radio work -- the show aired later on the ABC network -- Ms. Alexander and Collyer provided voice-overs for 17 animated Superman shorts, made by Fleischer and Paramount studios, that played in movie theaters during World War II.

Ms. Alexander and Collyer reunited in the late 1960s to do voice-overs for the Saturday morning cartoon "The New Adventures of Superman" on CBS.

She was a regular panelist on the TV game show "The Name's the Same" in the early 1950s and had a supporting role on Broadway in the Jean Kerr comedy "Poor Richard" (1964), starring Alan Bates and Joanna Pettet.

Ms. Alexander subsequently became a homemaker and hostess, having married for her third and final time to Arthur Stanton, a prominent auto distributor who helped introduce the Volkswagen Beetle to America. She and her husband were known for throwing sumptuous parties at their homes in New York and East Hampton, Long Island.

Leonard Bernstein conducted "Happy Birthday" to celebrate the 21st birthday of Ms. Alexander's daughter, the novelist Jane Stanton Hitchcock.

Ms. Alexander was born Louise Abras in St. Paul, Minn., on April 16, 1915, to parents of Lebanese heritage. She was 3 when her father died, and her stepfather shipped her to a convent school on Long Island.

As a young woman, she turned to modeling and then to acting, taking a new first name that she borrowed from actress Joan Crawford. She was resourceful, once landing a role by convincing a producer that she could use her Garment District connections to get them free costumes. She later studied acting in Europe with Benno Schneider, a director best known for his work in Yiddish theater, and toured widely on the continent during the Nazi rise to power.

"I even got to Casablanca before Roosevelt and Humphrey Bogart put it in on the map," she was quoted as saying, according to Thomas A. DeLong's 1996 book, "Radio Stars."

In 1944, she married John Sylvester White, an actor best known for playing assistant principal Michael Woodman in the TV show "Welcome Back, Kotter." The marriage ended in divorce, as did a later marriage to Robert T. Crowley. She was married to Stanton from 1955 until his death in 1987.

Survivors include Hitchcock, the daughter from her second marriage, whom Stanton adopted and who lives in New York and Washington; a son from her third marriage, Timothy Stanton of New York; a half sister; and a grandson.

A son from her third marriage, Adam Stanton, died in 1993.

After Arthur Stanton's death, he reportedly left Ms. Alexander $70 million. Last year, she filed a lawsuit accusing her financial advisers of fraud, professional malpractice and other crimes for losing or stealing much of that fortune. The case is pending.

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