Find A Grave Memorial# 122126768 American born actor and singer from Centralia, Illinois- daughter of Lela Myrtle and Louis Wooters who moved to Ottawa, Illinois in order to open his business as a barber.
Mary Lee was four years old at the time, inside the barber shop her father operated a 100-watt radio transmitter. Oldest daughter Vera age eleven along with his second daughter Norma Jean and he would sit down and sing into a microphone sitting on a table. Lee commented, "That she wasn't a very good singer at the time, but she was loud, in part because she had to stand in order to sing into the microphone." Lee herself was 4‘11" tall with a petite figure. The trio appeared at local meetings and lodges for singing engagements singing popular western songs.
Gene Autry and co-actor Smiley Burnette appeared on the WLS Barn Dance program in Chicago on weekends. During the week, Autry and Burnette would appear at the local towns, performing including Ottawa. While Gene Autry was backstage, Mr. Wooters introduced Mary Lee during the meeting; Autry shook Lee's hand and gave her a songbook of his.
Mary Lee in May 1938 appeared at the ballroom of the Starved Rock State Park [www.starvedrockstatepark.org] in Illinois and the manager asked her father if Lee could audition for the Ted Weems Band that was appearing.
Performing three songs [Sissy, Please Be Kind and Dinah] and according to her "scared stiff", she officially joined the band at 3:15 P.M. on June 15, 1938 at the tender age of 14. That same year while on tour, talent scouts for Republic Pictures noticed Lee, signing her to her first movie role "Nancy Drew Reporter" starring Bonita Granville and Dickie Jones who later appeared in Gene Autry's "Range Rider" and "Buffalo Bill Jr." television series.
While making the Movie, "Nancy Drew Reporter" one of Mary Lee's movie songs was "The Nursery Rhyme Melody" sung at the age of 15. Gene Autry after hearing Lee singing one of his songs via remote broadcast, invited Lee to the movie set, Lee never placed any importance to the interview and afterwords continued with the band to the east coast.
Lee accepted a job at Republic Pictures, where she starred alongside Gene Autry in South of the Border. Republic signed her to a five-year contract in 1940. She would star in another six films with Autry. In some of the Autry films actress June Storey would play the heroine, with Lee as the younger sister.
Upon the invasion of Poland by the Nazis, Autry enlisted in the Army Air Corp, becoming a pilot. After the war Autry returned to the states and arranged for an audition for Mary Lee, which resulted in her role in "South of the Border" which later allowed her to become a regular on the Gene Autry Melody Ranch radio show.Autry's logo was "The Flying A". Producing Fuel Stations, Movies, plays and a production company.
Republic Pictures had been looking for a singer to compete against MGM's Judy Garland and Universal's Deanna Durbin. Republic soon billed her as "America's Little Sister," and starred her in B musicals like Shantytown and Nobody's Darling. She retired from pictures in 1945.
Mary Lee made nine movies with Gene Autry and 3 with Roy Rogers including a short [Meet Roy Rogers] during the time, Autry joined the military service as a pilot, thus creating his logo "The Flying A". Mary Lee had some records produced and six other films in the starring role.
Norma Jean continued into making western movies, while Vera worked for Gene Autry Flying "A" Productions.
Mary Lee, retired from her career when she married Master Sergeant U.S. Army Harry J. Banan, November 12, 1943. She would continue to make appearances at western shows, across the country, especially in Arizona.
Many years later around the age of 56, Lee worked as an Account Teller for Bank of America. Mary Lee [Banan] passed away according to writings in Agoura Hills, California. The death certificate list Sacramento, California at the age of 71 on June 24 1996. Harry J. Banan passed away on November 21 1990.
Mary's good friend Helen Hagstrom also known as Carolina Cotton.
Find A Grave Memorial# 122126768
Mary Lee, Devoted in love to her husband and family.
Mary Lee's Movie Credits:
A=Autry R=Rogers H=Herself
1938 Nancy Drew, Reporter ( MUST SEE)
1939 South Of the Border-A
1940 Roy Rogers Cowboy Classics-R
1940 Carolina Moon-A
1940 Sing, Dance, Plenty Hot-H
1940 Rancho Grande-A
1940 Guacho Serenade-A
1940 Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride-A
1940 Barnyard Follies-H
1940 Melody and Moonlight-H
1940 Melody Ranch-A
1941 Ridin' on a Rainbow-A
1941 Back in the Saddle-A
1941 The Singing Hill-A
1941 Angels with Broken Wings-H
1943 Nobody's Darling-H
1944 Cowboy & the Senorita-R
1944 Three Little Sisters-H
1944 Song of Nevada-R
Mary Lee's Songs:
1938 The Nursery Rhyme-Nancy Drew Reporter Movie
1940 Carolina Moon-A
1940 If You're Feeling Kind Of Blue-A
The following is arranged on the CD-
"Gene Autry With His Little Darlin' Mary Lee"
1939 Goodbye Little Darlin'
1940 The Woodpecker Song
1940 A Song At Sunset
1940 Give Out With A Song
1940 Me And My Echo
1940 Swing Of The Range
1940 Torpedo Joe
1941 Patsy's Birthday
1941 What's Your Favorite Holiday
1941 I'm The Only Lonely One
1941 I'm An Old Cowhand
1941 Swinging Sam The Cowboy Man
1941 Sing A Song Of Laughter
1941 Carry Me Back To The Lone Prairie
Information compiled from many sources including "Gene Autry With His Little Darlin' Mary Lee" CD biography information by Robert S. Birchard.
Film editor/Film Historian
And none of this would be possible if not for Chuck Anderson "The Old Corral Webmaster" who provided the lead in tracking Mary Lee
for Mary Lee http://www.b-westerns.com/ladies32.htm
Bob Crosby and His Orchestra (1942) "Where Do We Go From Here" Volume 18 Available at Amazon.com Mary Lee singing on 8 tracks. FANTASTIC
Additional information can be viewed at www.wikipedia.com search "Mary Lee Actor"
Carolina Cotton another of Autry's co-stars at:
Find A Grave Memorial# 122126768
Harry Joseph Banan
Gravesite Details Clicking on the photos will enlarge for reading of messages attached