Lee in Lady of Burlesque, 1943
May 2, 1907
Saint Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||April 3, 1993
Mission Viejo, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Spouse(s)||Bebe Dancis Lee (m. 1932)|
Pincus Leff (May 2, 1907 – April 3, 1993), better known as Pinky Lee, was an American burlesque comic and host of the children's television program The Pinky Lee Show in the early 1950s.
Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Lee worked as a comic of the "baggy pants" variety on stage, becoming an expert at the slapstick, comic dancing and rapid-fire jokes of the burlesque style. During the 1940s, he was heard on Drene Time and other radio programs.
Easily recognized by his trademark lisp and high-energy antics, his signature costume was a loud plaid suit with baggy checkered pants and an undersized hat. During his routines, whenever anybody irritated him (which happened frequently) he would unleash his catchphrase: "Oooooh! You make me so mad!"
In 1950, he had his own 30-minute primetime variety television series on NBC, The Pinky Lee Show, featuring vaudevillians and burlesque comics. In 1951–52 he starred with Vivian Blaine in a 15-minute sitcom, Those Two.
He returned in 1954 with The Pinky Lee Show, sponsored by Tootsie Roll. An Emmy-nominated afternoon children's program that spawned later imitators such as Pee-Wee's Playhouse, it was followed each day by the popular Howdy Doody Show. Lee opened each show with his trademark theme song, "Yoo Hoo, It's Me!":
- Yoo hoo, it's me,
- My name is Pinky Lee.
- I skip and run with lots of fun
- For every he and she.
- It's plain to see
- That you can tell it's me
- With my checkered hat
- And my checkered coat,
- The funny giggle in my throat
- And my silly dance
- Like a billy goat.
- Put 'em all together,
- Put 'em all together,
- And it's whooooo?
Others in the cast: Betty Jane Howarth, Jimmy Brown, Molly Bee, Jack McCoy, Mel Koontz, Cindy Sue, Susabelle, Ken Mayer, Isabel Dwan, Sidney Fields, Margie Lizst, Milton Newberger and Jymme Shore. Adding to the show's bounce and style was master organist Gaylord Carter, who underscored every moment with appropriate accompaniment.
In 1955, Lee collapsed on camera due to an infection. His normal antics were so energetic that apparently the cameraman and the show's director assumed the fall an ad lib part of his performance. The "Peanut Gallery", an audience usually composed almost entirely of pre-adolescent children who were coached by a staff member, continued their enthusiastic cheering and applause from the on-stage bleachers. After as much as ten seconds of writhing by the stricken Lee, the camera abruptly panned to the still-cheering audience. The following afternoons Pinky Lee was not present. This effectively ended his leading role on the show, which continued without him until 1956. Rumors that he had died of a heart attack, prompted by the incident, persisted for decades. Occasionally, newspaper items mentioned the "late" Lee—even though he was performing at a dinner theater in the same city as one of the reporting newspapers. The incident also spawned rumors that Lee had been institutionalized after going insane on live television.
In 1957, Lee hosted The Gumby Show, the original appearance of that claymation character. In 1964, Lee attempted a return to kids' TV, hosting a local children's comedy program on KABC-TV in Los Angeles. This series was nationally syndicated for the 1964–65 TV seasons, but the program fell prey to creative interference from the show's producers and station management. Lee fought the interference, but his efforts were for naught. The Pinky Lee Kids TV Show went off the air after one season. One episode was released on DVD/VHS by Shokus Video, and a DVD with two episodes was released by Alpha Video.
Lee was married to Bebe (née Dancis) with whom he had two children, Patricia Bonnie Lee and Morgan David Lee. Lee's brother-in-law was well-known Tin Pan Alley songwriter Al Sherman. Lee was also the uncle of the Sherman Brothers, Robert and Richard with whom he also worked from time to time in the 1950s.
Later years and death
- In Grease, Rizzo remarks, "To you from me, Pinky Lee!", after she throws Kenickie's milkshake in his face.
- Gene Kelly plays dancing comic Pinky Benson in What a Way to Go! (1964)
- In a third-season episode of The Golden Girls, Sophia Petrillo describes how her friend Lillian thinks "she is Pinky Lee."
- In a first-season episode of Night Court, Dan Fielding remarks that Judge Stone's age is one of the things he never wonders about, "like is Pinky Lee still alive?" Broadcast in 1984, the answer at the time was "yes".
- Lee is referenced in the 2013, posthumously released autobiography of Robert B. Sherman, Moose: Chapters from My Life in the chapters entitled, "Wee Stinky (Part 1)" and "Wee Stinky (Part 2)".
- Lee along with Rosie (Rosemary) Clooney and Red Skelton are mentioned as targets of the Chad Mitchell Trio's satirical "The John Birch Society" song.
- Lee's collapse on stage was spoofed on The Simpsons in the episode where "Krusty Gets Busted". A clip is shown of Krusty the Clown having heart attack while performing. The children watching laugh and cheer while Krusty is writhing and groaning, "I'm dying. I'm dying."
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