Mary Lee (actress)
|Born||Mary Lee Wooters
October 24, 1924
Centralia, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||June 6, 1996
Sacramento, California, U.S.
|Occupation||big band singer, film actress|
|Spouse(s)||Harry J. Banan (1943-1990)|
Mary Lee (born October 24, 1924, Centralia, Illinois – died June 6, 1996, Sacramento, California) was a big band singer and B movie actress from the late 1930s into the 1940s, starring mostly in Westerns. Mary Lee did not make any screen appearances after 1944.
Born Mary Lee Wooters in Centralia, Illinois on October 24, 1924, her mother and father were Lela Myrtle Telford (1898) and Louis Ellis Wooters (1897). They had four daughters, Vera Mae (1920), Dorris Lucille (1923), Mary Lee (1924), and Norma Jean (1929). Dorris Lucille died shortly after birth in 1923. When Mary Lee was four years old the family moved to Ottawa, Illinois, where Louis Wooters opened a barbershop. At age six, Mary Lee began singing with her father and older sister, Vera, who were already performing country and popular songs over a low power radio station and at various events in the LaSalle County, Illinois area.
In mid-June 1938, Mary Lee joined the Ted Weems Orchestra, traveling with the group four months a year, accompanied by either her mother or her older sister as companion and teacher. She recorded five sides with the Weems band including "Back to Smokey Mountain", a duet with Elmo Tanner from an October 5, 1939 session, issued as Decca 2829-B. In the summer of 1942, Mary Lee recorded eight tracks in two sessions with Bob Crosby's Bob Cats, reissued in Australia on Swaggie CD 504 as Bob Crosby's Bob Cats - Volume Four 1941-1942.
Decades later a review of Varèse Sarabande CD VSD-5910 / Gene Autry With His Little Darlin' Mary Lee in the trade publication Billboard described Mary Lee as a "clear-voiced, expressive singer", noting that she was "heralded as Republic's answer to MGM's Judy Garland." The CD, released in 1998, is a compilation of songs from Mary Lee's appearances in Gene Autry films including "Give Out With a Song" from Gaucho Serenade (10 May 1940) and "Sing A Song Of Laughter" from Ridin' on a Rainbow (24 June 1941).
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 her vocal talents in the "Nursery Rhyme Medley". In the fall of 1939, Mary Lee accepted a job at Republic Pictures where she starred alongside Gene Autry and June Storey in South of the Border (15 December 1939). Republic signed her to a five-year contract in June 1940. She starred in a total of nine Autry films, the first five of those with June Storey, always playing the leading lady's younger sister "Patsy" except in Melody Ranch (15 November 1940) where her character's name was "Penny". Mary Lee's last appearance in an Autry film was in The Singing Hill (26 April 1941) with Virginia Dale. She also appeared in nine additional Republic feature films, including Barnyard Follies in 1940 with June Storey and younger sister Norma Jean Wooters and two Roy Rogers films in 1944, plus three of Republic's "Meet the Stars" shorts.
World War II
Gene Autry enlisted in July 1942 in the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he would serve for the duration of the war plus six months. With Autry unavailable, Republic soon billed Mary Lee as "America's Little Sister" and starred her in B musicals Shantytown (20 April 1943), Nobody's Darling (27 August 1943), and Three Little Sisters (31 July 1944) in addition to giving her starring roles in the two Roy Rogers films. In her first Rogers film, Cowboy and the Senorita (13 May 1944), Roy's first picture with Dale Evans, Mary Lee was given second billing above Dale and is featured in the film's elaborate musical productions. There, with the Sons of the Pioneers (Ken Carson, Karl Farr, Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer, and Hugh Farr), Mary Lee sings "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon". In the finale, Dale Evans, Mary Lee, and Roy Rogers sing "Enchilada Man" and "Cowboy and the Senorita" with the Sons of the Pioneers. Then, in Song of Nevada (5 August 1944), Mary Lee's last screen appearance, backed by the Sons of the Pioneers, she sings "The Wigwam Song", written by Glenn Spencer, and reprises it in the Song of Nevada Finale. Compare Mary Lee's height there at age nineteen to that of Dale Evans who was 5′-4″ tall.
Having married in 1943, with a child born in November 1944, and her five-year contract at Republic Pictures running out in February 1945, Mary Lee did not re-sign with Republic Pictures but may have done some further work with Ted Weems.
In Ottawa, Illinois, Mary Lee attended Lincoln Elementary School, graduating from the eighth grade in 1938. In late 1939 or early 1940 the Wooters family moved from Ottawa to Los Angeles. There Mary Lee attended Mar-Ken School, a private school in Hollywood for professional children. As a Junior she was elected Secretary of the Student Body. She graduated from Mar-Ken in 1942. On November 12, 1943, Mary Lee Wooters married Harry J. Banan, First Sergeant, United States Army, who had recently returned from World War II service at Guadalcanal, to whom she would remain married until his death in 1990. Together they had two children, Harry Philip and Laura Lee. In the late 1950s through the 1960s the Banans resided in Pullman, Washington where M.Sgt. Harry J. Banan was an Army ROTC instructor at Washington State University. Later, after they returned to California, Mary Lee was an account teller at Bank of America where she worked for 15 years.
Soundtracks and reissues on CD
- Bob Crosby's Bob Cats - Volume Four 1941-1942, 8 tracks, CD-502, Swaggie Records, Australia
- Gene Autry: The Singing Cowboy - Chapter Two, 2 tracks, VSD-5909 Varèse Sarabande Records, United States, 1998
- Gene Autry: With His Little Darlin' Mary Lee, 17 tracks, VSD-5910, Varèse Sarabande Records, United States, 1998
- FamilySearch, United States Census, 1930, Louis F. Wooters, <https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XSBF-WQZ> (Click on the link to view.)
- FamilySearch, Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, Dorris Lucille Wooters, <https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N3BQ-WJB> (Click on the link to view.)
- "Movie Fans Found Her - Hollywood Hasn't". The Montana Standard. June 15, 1941. p. 30. Retrieved August 22, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Vital Reissues", Billboard, July 18, 1998, p. 20
- Lee, Mary, "Give Out With A Song" from Gaucho Serenade, Republic Pictures, 1940, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HiS9FCOWmME> (Click on the link to listen.)
- Lee, Mary, "Sing A Song Of Laughter" from Ridin' on a Rainbow, Republic Pictures, 1940, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIEaGrZKrI8> (Click on the link to listen.)
- Lee, Mary, "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" from Cowboy and the Senorita, Republic Pictures, 1944, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1aP_r_e_o0> (Click on the link to listen.)
- Entire cast, finale from Cowboy and the Senorita, Republic Pictures, 1944, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwyNm1Wd9Rs> (Click on the link to listen.)
- Lee, Mary, "The Wigwam Song" from Song of Nevada, Republic Pictures, 1944, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysmUX3HXGQ8> (Click on the link to listen.)
- Entire cast, finale from Song of Nevada, Republic Pictures, 1944 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0OeJyFC4OQ> (Click on the link to listen.)
- Goldin, J. David, Ted Weems and His Orchestra, RadioGOLDINdex Database, program 91772
- Eltrevoog, Howard and Mike Murphy, "Time capsule - 1938 Ottawa Lincoln School Graduating Class", The Times Newspaper, Ottawa, Illinois, April 3, 2011, row 2, 2nd from left, Mary Lee Wooters <http://www.mywebtimes.com/news/local/time-capsule/article_a4f26d27-041f-5e63-a70b-6b39c5067e17.html> (Click on the link to view.)
- "Actress Bares Marriage". Alton Evening Telegraph. November 29, 1943. p. 1. Retrieved August 22, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- Family Search, New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957, S.S. Santa Paula, 11 May 1955, Harry Banan, <https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-34005-2118-73?cc=1923888>, lines 18-21 (Click on the link to view image.)
- The 1962 Chinook, Washington State University Yearbook, 1962, p. 115, Army ROTC Instructional Staff photo, row 2, 4th from left, M.Sgt Harry Banan <http://www.e-yearbook.com/yearbooks/Washington_State_University_Chinook_Yearbook/1962/Page_119.html> (Click on the link to view.)
- Anderson, Chuck, The Old Corral, <http://www.b-westerns.com/ladies32.htm> (Click on the link to view.)
- Mary Lee Banan at Find A Grave