Pinky Lee (born this day in 1907) was one of those baggy pants burlesque comics who brought that aesthetic all the way to within spitting distance of today in the form of children’s television. I first became aware of him in the 1943 film Lady of Burlesque, which I watched with the Countess. The film is based on Gypsy Rose Lee’s mystery novel The G String Murders. Pinky’s antics in it are suitably obnoxious, leading me to investigate!
Lee started out in vaudeville in one of Gus Edwards’ kiddie acts. In the mid-20s he was with the trio “Port, Lee & Dotty”. As vaudeville wound down, he went into Minsky’s burlesque for about a decade, and then night clubs and occasional films. He actually had his own NBC variety show in 1950. The following season, he co-starred with State Fair’s Vivian Blaine in a sit com called Those Two.
In 1954, Lee began his children’s show, which was nominated for an Emmy, and which points the way toward the antics of Soupy Sales, Uncle Floyd, Pee-Wee Herman and countless others. Lee’s hyperactive energy reminds me above all of Sponge Bob Squarepants, a level of obnoxiousness so high that parents actually complained to the network that they were having trouble controlling their children. His tv career petered out by the mid 1960s, although in his last years he did have roles in various stage revivals and bus & truck tours. He passed away in 1993.
To learn more about vaudeville, please see my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on early film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube. And stay tuned for my next book Vaudeville in Your Living Room: A Century of Radio and TV Variety, coming November 2023.
Pinky would come to an office I worked in out in Hollywood, and he was nothing like his stage persona.
I love your list of vaudeville performers and have regularly tracked it since discovering this site a couple of months ago. I’ve already compiled a short list of names I anticipate seeing covered some day. I’m curious why Pinkie Lee isn’t a part of the regular list, though, since he did appear in vaudeville at one time, along with others on the list who didn’t become prominent until later. Just wondering. Thanks for all this info.
Thanks for the kind words! well I admit there’s no hard and fast science to it, but my guiding principle has always emphasized “stars” over “vaudeville”. That is, I more interested in an obscure acrobat who later turns out to be Cary Grant, than I am in an acrobat was somewhat more prominent in vaudeville. However — thanks for catching that. Pinky was in those Gus Edwards acts so he merits inclusion in the Stars of Vaudeville series. I’ll fix it forthwith. Thanks again