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Fast Lane Lois

updated 05/09/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/09/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

ON THE SET OF ABC'S LOIS & CLARK, Teri Hatcher's Lois Lane is pondering her future when suddenly an eerily familiar face appears at her side. Great Caesar's ghost!?! Could it be? Yes, it's Phyllis Coates. the original Lois in the 1950s TV series The Adventures of Superman. On May 8, she is debuting on Lois and Clark as Lois's mother. "It's like riding a bicycle," laughs Coates, 67. "I didn't forget a thing."

Some things have changed, though, in the 40 years since Coates and her Superman, the late George Reeves, roamed Metropolis. "I saw Teri in this beautiful dress with her boobs pushed up and thought, 'That's Lois Lane!' " says Coates. "I had a suit up to my collarbone. I felt like a horse with a bit in its mouth."

Not that Coates ever let herself be reined in. A whiskey-voiced Texan who got her start in vaudeville in the 1940s, Coates had a sexy chemistry with Reeves in the 1951 film Superman and the Mole Men and the syndicated TV series (which ran from 1952 to 1957). She left Superman after the first 26 episodes (she was replaced by Noel Neill) to work on other television pilots, before retiring from acting in 1961 to raise her family.

A mother of three (Chris, 43, David, 35, and Laura, 30), Coates shares a small Victorian home in Monterey, Calif., with David and her dog, Lucky. She keeps busy with volunteer work (including teaching drama to high schoolers) and says she enjoys being single. "What do I want to put up with some old fart for?" she asks. "I like the fact that I can sit in bed with my dog at 3 a.m. and eat popcorn and watch movies." As for her revived acting career, she's taking each episode as it comes. "For the first time in my life, I've found out who I am," she says. "I'm taking the time to enjoy all of it."

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