Mary Lee (actress)
|Born||Mary Lee Wooters
October 24, 1924
Centralia, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||June 6, 1996
Sacramento, California, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Harry J. Banan (1945-1990)|
Mary Lee (born October 24, 1924, Centralia, Illinois – died June 6, 1996, Sacramento, California) was a B-movie actress and singer from the late 1930s well into the 1940s, starring mostly in westerns.
Born Mary Lee Wooters, she maintained a youthful look well into her thirties. She sang with the Ted Weems Orchestra in the late 1930s, coming to the attention of Republic Pictures. In 1942 she recorded 8 tracks in 2 sessions with Bob Crosby's Bob Cats, reissued on a Swaggie CD (CD504) in Australia.
Mary Lee's first screen appearance was with Warner Bros. in Nancy Drew... Reporter (released 18 February 1939) where she portrayed Mary Nickerson, the younger sister of Nancy Drew's (Bonita Granville) boyfriend Ted Nickerson (Frank Thomas Jr.). The film utilized Lee's vocal talents in the song "Nursery Rhyme Melody". Later, in 1939, Lee accepted a job at Republic Pictures where she first appeared with June Storey alongside Gene Autry in South of the Border (15 December 1939) where she sang "Goodbye Little Darlin' Goodbye" in a duet with Gene Autry. During the next twelve months Mary Lee would appear in five Autry films plus Sing, Dance, Plenty Hot (10 August 1940), Barnyard Follies (6 October 1940), and Melody and Moonlight (11 October 1940). Without having any dramatic training she had a natural talent for acting and Republic signed her to a five-year contract in June of 1940. Mary Lee was featured in nine of Autry's films at Republic, five of those along with leading lady June Storey in which she played the part of the younger sister Patsy. Except for the film Melody Ranch (15 November 1940) in which her character's name was "Penny", she was always "Patsy" in the Autry films. In addition to her work at Republic Pictures, Mary Lee appeared on Gene Autry's Melody Ranch CBS radio program as a cast member and featured vocalist from September of 1940 through March of 1941 and narrated a recreation of the Republic motion picture Melody Ranch on a special Melody Ranch program which aired over CBS on December 29th, 1940 to promote the film. The radio program normally originated from one of the network's KNX Playhouse studios in Hollywood or Los Angeles. However, from October 13 through November 17, 1940 the program originated from New York City, Boston, and Chicago and Mary Lee was not on those shows. Many of Mary Lee's songs from the Gene Autry movies can be found issued on CD as Varese Sarabande VSD-5910 - Gene Autry with His Little Darlin' Mary Lee. Also, included with this CD is booklet with photos and a biography of Mary Lee.
World War II
Mary Lee's last appearance in an Autry feature film was in The Singing Hill (26 April 1941). Her next film was Angels with Broken Wings (27 May 1941). During this period in 1941 she also appeared in three Republic Meet the Stars shorts, #5, #7, and #8. After Gene Autry enlisted in the U.S. Army in July of 1942 to serve during World War II, Republic billed Mary Lee as "America's Little Sister" and starred her in B musicals like Shantytown (20 April 1943), Nobody's Darling (27 August 1943), and Three Little Sisters (31 July 1944). In 1944, Mary Lee co-starred in two of Roy Rogers feature films, first singing "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" in Cowboy and the Senorita (13 May 1944), a musical extravaganza with Dale Evans making her first appearance in a Roy Rogers film, and then three months later in Song of Nevada (5 August 1944) where she sings "The Wigwam Song", written by Glenn Spencer, and reprises it in the musical finale. With her five year contract at Republic Pictures running out in February of 1945, Mary Lee then settled in to private life and raised a family of two children.
Mary Lee, after moving to Los Angeles with her parents and sisters, attended the Mar-Ken Private School for professional children in Hollywood. As a Junior she was elected Secretary of the Student Body Council in November of 1940. She graduated in 1942. At Mar-Ken it was said that Mary Lee enjoyed horseback riding and dancing. And, the Republic Pictures publicity departmernt reported the she could speak French, Spanish and could often be found at the Autry's home practicing diving in their swimming pool. In November of 1943, Mary Lee Wooters married Harry J. Banan, Master Sergeant, United States Army, returning from World War II, to whom she would remain married until his death in 1990. Mary Lee (Wooters) Banan passed away in Sacramento, California on June 6, 1996, at age 71 and is interred alongside her husband at Sacramento's East Lawn Sierra Hills Cemetery.
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