Three cheers and more than a few wolf whistles for Lee Meredith (Judith Lee Sauls, b. 1947)! Classic comedy fans know her well, as she somehow managed to make a mark in vaudeville/burlesque/old style Broadway shtick decades after it had passed from the culture at large. To cut to the chase, she’s that sexy Swedish secretary Ulla in Mel Brooks’ The Producers (1967), and the sexy nurse in the doctor sketch in Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys (1975), a role she created in the original 1972 Broadway production. But there’s a lot more like that in her dossier.
Born and raised in suburban New Jersey, Meredith was only 15 when she entered show business professionally as a member of the dance troupe the Manhattan Rockets. Later she modeled and studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She was 20 when she got the gig in The Producers, and worked pretty steadily for about 15 years after that, and her whole career is pretty magical. She was a Ziegfeld Girl in Funny Girl (1968). In 1969 she was in Jack Arnold’s all-star comedy Hello Down There with Tony Randall and Janet Leigh, appeared in Jackie Mason’s short-lived Broadway show A Teaspoon Every Four Hours, and married actor/singer/producer Bert Stratford. In 1970 she played a character named Dee Body in an obscure comedy called Cauliflower Cupids starring Jane Russell and Jake La Motta. After two more obscurities Welcome to the Club (1971) and the Nixon satire Hail! (1972), she worked with Jackie Mason again in The Stoolie (1972), playing the role of “Suntan Oil Girl”.
Then The Sunshine Boys of course. During this Broadway phase, Meredith also had a showy turn in a 1974 TV version of June Moon by Ring Lardner and George S. Kaufman, and was in a 1978 Broadway revival of Kaufman and Hart’s Once in a Lifetime. She also played in comedy sketches in Jackie Gleason’s 1973 TV special, and was in a popular series of Miller Beer Commercials. In 1980 she was in the cast of a short lived Broadway show called Musical Chairs produced by Stratford.
Roles in a couple of Mike Hammer TV movies starring Stacey Keach in the mid ’80s were Meredith’s last credits for a time. But she returned in 1991 for a Benny Hill tv special because of course she did.
For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.
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