Joanne Siegel (center) at the 1976 Comic Con in San Diego with her husband, Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, and daughter Laura. Joanne was the inspiration for Clark Kent's love interest Lois Lane. She died Feb. 12.
Joanne Siegel (center) at the 1976 Comic Con in San Diego with her husband, Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, and daughter Laura. Joanne was the inspiration for Clark Kent's love interest Lois Lane. She died Feb. 12. Alan Light
Though a number of actresses played her on television and in the movies over the years, Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel always said that his wife, Joanne — who died Feb. 12 at the age of 93 — inspired the character of Lois Lane.
Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
Actor George Reeves as Superman with Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, in a still from TV's Adventures of Superman, circa 1952.
Actor George Reeves as Superman with Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane, in a still from TV's Adventures of Superman, circa 1952. Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
It began with the dreams of a teenage Cleveland girl who wanted to be in show business — a tall order for the daughter of a steelworker in the midst of the Depression. Siegel was ready to go after her dreams, despite the challenges.
"She wanted to be a model, so she put an ad in the paper advertising herself as a model," explains Brad Ricca, a pop-culture historian at Case Western University in Cleveland.
Jerry Siegel and his artist buddy Joe Shuster answered that ad and invited Joanne to come to Shuster's home for a modeling session, under the watchful eye of Shuster's mother. As Shuster sketched some images, the men told her about their dreams for a comic book superhero — and how they wanted to give him a love interest. The three of them became fast friends, and Jerry and Joanne eventually married.
Listen to author Brad Meltzer tell the story of how Jerry Siegel finally got credit for creating Superman.
Ricca says that in later years, Joanne Siegel was a strong advocate for her husband's royalty rights. He got relatively little in the way of monetary compensation, given the millions that the Superman character generated.
"She was this really unique person in the history of American comics," Ricca says, "not only for what she did, but for the fact that she was a woman — she got in there as a model, but stayed through as a businesswoman."
Two years ago, the then-91-year-old Joanne Siegel recalled attending a Superman convention with her husband in Sweden.
"We met people from China, and Germany and Australia and New Zealand — all over. It was amazing," Siegel said in 2009. "Superman is known everywhere."
Thanks in part to Joanne Siegel, so is the man who created him.