Obituary: Pinky Lee (CORRECTED)

CORRECTION (PUBLISHED 15 APRIL 1993) INCORPORATED INTO THIS ARTICLE

Pincus Leff (Pinky Lee), actor and comedian: born St Paul, Minnesota 1916; died 3 April 1993.

PINKY LEE was one of the last laughter links with the Golden Age of American burlesque, that slightly off-colour area of twice-nightly vaudeville. His comedic career embraced almost every form of entertainment, from kiddies' shows, variety, nightclubs and movies to early black-and- white television, but he was ever a 'second banana', never quite the star.

Pinky Lee was born Pincus Leff in St Paul, Minnesota, in 1916 but early ambitions to become an attorney were squashed by schoolmate mockery at his natural lisp. It was this handicap that took him into comedy when, exaggerating the impediment into a funny splutter, he passed an audition at the age of 13 for a role in Gus Edwards' famous touring revue School Days. In this show the class of slaphappy schoolboys took turns to show off their specialties, and Lee was quick to demonstrate his prowess as singer, dancer and xylophone-basher.

Growing too old for the schoolboy suits, Lee went out as a solo comic on the still large but beginning-to-wilt vaudeville circuits, but it was not long before he found a more suitable home in burlesque. These shows played in the scruffier theatres, to mostly male audiences, mixing broad, often blue humour with 'bump-and-grind' chorines, fan dancers and striptease specialties who removed everything but their G-strings. One such queen was Gypsy Rose Lee, a sophisticated woman who had been a movie star under her real name of Louise Hovick. She wrote a mystery novel based on her backstage life entitled The G-String Murders, and when it was filmed in 1943 as Lady of Burlesque (British title, Striptease Lady), the supporting cast was filled with burlesque veterans. It was Pinky Lee's first film, virtually playing himself in support of Barbara Stanwyck's stripper star.

The Forties were good years for Lee. Apart from his laughable lisp, now insured with Lloyd's of London - it was said - for a million dollars, he had a catchphrase - 'Oh, you make me tho mad]' - and comedy clothes, an unchanging uniform of checkered pork-pie hat, jacket to match, and outsize, flowing tie. These trademarks, along with the limp- wristed gestures affected by the so-called 'lavender comics', remained with him for life.

Earl Carroll, the famous impresario who had taken over from the late Florenz Ziegfeld with his long-running Vanities, an upper-class version of burlesque mixing low comics with statuesque nudes, now opened his Theater Restaurant in Hollywood. Pinky Lee, a Carroll favourite, was installed as resident funnyman, and when Republic Pictures built an extravagant (for them) movie musical around the show, Lee was leading comedian. Earl Carroll Vanities (1945) starred Dennis O'Keefe with the languorous Constance Moore as Princess Drinia of Turania who becomes the dancing star of Carroll's new show.

Lee was then taken up by Universal and cast as comedy relief in Blonde Ransom (1945), in which he sang 'Hinky Dinky Pinky' and 'You Too Can Be the Life of the Party', formerly the hit song of the late Joe Penner, another burlesque comic with a lisp. Lee's remaining movies were for Republic, beginning with That's My Gal (1946). Although the plot of this picture was virtually identical with Mel Brooks' The Producers, it was an old one even then: conmen get eager bankers to invest in a dud show which is so bad it becomes a success.

Pinky Lee was lured to daytime television by NBC in 1950, where as star of the cheap but cheerful Pinky Lee Show he sang, danced and cracked gags as a stumblebum stagehand called on to fill in for absent entertainers. More successful was a long run as a children's entertainer in a revamped format. This series revived songs and sketches from burlesque and co-starred performers with names like Mel Knootz and the Charlie Couch Trio. Another television success was Those Two (1951), a three-year run in which Lee played a night-club pianist madly in love with the delicious vocalist Vivian Blaine. Pinky's popularity prompted Marvel Comics to bring out a monthly comic book built around his spry escapades. Scripted by none other than Stan Lee (later the Spider-Man scenarist) and drawn by Morris Weiss, the Adventures of Pinky Lee began in July 1955.

Lee's television career was cut short by a serious sinus condition and he was forced to retire to the dry air of Arizona. Eventually cured, he found it difficult to find work, and to an interviewer he said sadly, 'My heart aches to perform again.' Perform again he eventually did, and 1967 saw him touring in a nostalgic show entitled This was Burlesque. His last show was Las Vegas Laugh-In, which toured the night-club circuit in 1974. However, British theatregoers will remember him from his appearance at the London Palladium in the late Fifties, when the spry little comic danced on to the stage singing his signature tune: 'Hello - it's me - my name is Pinky Lee]'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker