Jocelyn Lee: From the Chorus to the Courthouse

For all her present obscurity, Jocelyn Lee (Mary Alice Simpson, 1902-1980) appears to have been quite the handful.

The Chicago chorus girl started out in regional productions of Broadway revues like George White’s Scandals and the Ziegfeld Follies. In 1922 she married silent comedy movie mogul Henry “Pathe” Lehrman, although the pair were divorced in 1924, before she made her first films. (H’m maybe the fact that he didn’t cast her in anything caused the rift. It appears to have been quite acrimonious) She played a mannikin (live model) in the 1925 film The Dressmaker from Paris, with Leatrice Joy and Mildred Harris, and this started her on her eight year movie career, in which she was typically cast as chorus girls, models, vamps, floozies and the like. Just about all of her two dozen movies are major releases with top stars, though she’s generally about ten deep in the credits. Notable ones include Broadway Babies (1929) with Alice White and Marion “Peanuts” Byron (directed by Von Sternberg!) and the screen version of No No Nanette (1930). Comedy fans will be especially interested in Madame Q (1929), a Hal Roach short in which she co-starred with Edgar Kennedy, and her last film Her First Mate (1933), with Slim Summerville, Una Merkel, and ZaSu Pitts.

In 1930, she married another important director Luther Reed, whose credits included Kid Boots (1926) with Eddie Cantor; Shanghai Bound (1927), in which Lee had appeared; and the Wheeler and Woolsey comedies Rio Rita (1929) and Dixiana (1930). This liaison only lasted a year. In 1935 she married writer and producer James Seymour, by which point she had retired from pictures — or they had retired from her. She remained married to Seymour until his death in 1976.

To find out more about the history of classic show bizconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, for more on classic comedy film, see Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,