Elaine Lee (actress)

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Elaine Joyce Knoesen (23 December 1939[1] – 17 September 2014[2]) better known professionally as Elaine Lee, was a South African-born Australian-based theatre and television actress and entertainer best known for her role of dress designer Vera Collins in the 1970s television soap opera, and its feature film version Number 96.


Lee was born in 1939 in Springs, Transvaal Province (present-day Gauteng), and grew up on a gold mine until her father, an electrician, died when she was nine. She was brought up by her mother and had a sister Barbara. A former waitress, her acting career began in the 1960s in Johannesburg where she became a stage manager for a theatrical company and acted extensively in the theatre and on radio, starring in productions throughout South Africa, as well as Zimbabwe and Zambia. Lee emigrated to Australia where she became well known as a sex symbol and played the perpetually unlucky-in-love, fashionista and clairvoyant Vera Collins in Number 96, starting in 1972.[3] Lee was an original cast member of the series. She was raped three times, including by her onscreen husband Harry Collins (Norman Yemm), with the sophisticated Vera emerging as a key figure in many of its story lines. Lee remained in the role of Vera for four and a half years, finally leaving in mid-1976 of her own volition. She appeared in the feature film version, in 1974, in which she was raped by a group of bikers in the opening scene, Number 96 producer David Sale, said that Number 96 was always going to be controversial and shocking, especially for its time, so we thought, "start the film version with a rape sequence and get it over with".[citation needed] A scheduled spinoff from Number 96 called Fair Game, featuring Lee and Abigail, did not eventuate.[citation needed]

Lee subsequently appeared in several productions of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in TV movies and panel shows, and made guest appearances in drama series such as A Country Practice. She also continued her stage work, including the challenging one-woman show Turn on the Heat, loosely based on the last two hours of Marilyn Monroe's life.[3]

Lee made sporadic appearances in Australian feature films during the 1990s. In 1997, she landed a regular role on the critically panned situation comedy Bullpitt!. She had a recurring role on Heartbreak High. In the 2000s Lee continued to make occasional guest appearances in Australian films and drama series, and opened an acting school in Sydney with Judi Farr. In 2001 she appeared in the medical drama All Saints and in 2005 appeared in the soap opera Home and Away. She also presented a commentary on the 2006 DVD release of the Number 96 feature film.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Lee married South African-born Australian actor and comedian Garth Meade, with whom she had emigrated to Australia, in 1970. The marriage ended in divorce in 1976. Meade died of cancer in 2002, aged 77. A spiritual woman, Lee took up tarot card reading like her Number 96 character, and had a strong belief in reincarnation and the occult. Lee was a heavy smoker and suffered from related health issues including emphysema and subsequently had to use an oxygen tank. In her later years she fractured her hip, she died, aged 74, on 17 September 2014 in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, of unspecified causes[5]


List of acting performances in film and television
Year Title Role Note
1968 Dr. Kalie Marge Film debut
1971 Diamantendetektiv Dick Donald Marion Kingsley TV series (Season 1, Episode 7)
1973 The Evil Touch Marion Field TV series (Season, Episode 13)
1972-1975 Number 96 Vera Collins TV series (39 episodes)
1974 Number 96 Vera Collins Film
1977 Gone to Ground Grace Ferguson Film
1977-1978 Glenview High Margaret Gibson TV series (39 episodes)
1985 Anzacs Madame Mini-series
1982-1993 A Country Practice Lillian Saunders
Laurel Davies
April Patterson
TV series (12 episodes)
1994 The Sum of Us Woman on Train Film
Dallas Doll Mrs Winthrop Film
1997-1998 Heartbreak High Maria Costello TV series (5 episodes)
Bullpitt! Joan Collins TV series (26 episodes)
1999 Bondi Banquet Drusilla Owens
2000 Dogwoman Freda Bell Film
2001 All Saints Phyllis Martin TV series (Season 4, Episode 11)
2005 Home and Away Joy Foxton TV series (9 episodes)
BlackJack: In The Money Astrologer Film


  1. ^ Idato, Michael (19 September 2014). "Elaine Lee, the 'charming, funny and delightfully sexy' Number 96 star, has died aged 75". smh.com.au. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  2. ^ "Elaine Lee". heavenaddress.com. Retrieved 21 September 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Atterton, Margot (ed.) The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Australian Showbiz, Sunshine Books, 1984; ISBN 0-86777-057-0, p 230
  4. ^ Elaine Lee at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Andrew Mercado (1 November 2014). "Elaine Lee: Heartbreak to fame on television". The Sydney Morning Herald.