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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015