Catherine Fox Brinker was born and raised in King County, Seattle (Washington) as daughter of Robert Hugh Brinker and Millicent Fox. At a very early age she took up acting becoming a stock player at the age of 12! (Drama gal at KOMO, Seattle).
Kaye is still best known for her "Virginia Dare Tobacco" radio commercials in the 1940s. But she had several jobs (radio writer, director, announcer, monologist, actress) in both Chicago, N.Y. and Hollywood area. She briefly even tried her hand at movies. The only performances known are as (uncredited) guest in Riddle Ranch (1935) and as Cherry Millett in the Western Desert Guns (1936). Mostly playing the other woman she was mostly found in theatre and radio. Reportedly she entered radio playing opposite Don Ameche.
In Chicago, a new adventure serial, "Drums"
made it's debut on Jan 14, 1936. Written by Vera Oldham of "Chandu, The
Magician" fame, the production was described as rapid-moving drama with a
mixture of mystery, human interest and exotic atmosphere. In addition to William
Farnum, veteran star of the stage and screen, the cast included Kaye Brinker,
Myra Marsh, Bill Royal, Cy Kendall, Carlton Kadell, Louise Larabe,... . J.
Donald Wilson was the narrator. Felix Mills provided incidental music.
In May 1937 Kaye Brinker's new program on WBBM for Commonwealth Edison was called "Everywoman."
In 1938 Kaye was the head of the audition committee and in charge of production research. In order to judge the artist without being swayed by their personal appearance, the audition committee often sat in a special lounge, remote from the studio, and the voices are piped over. While the judges relax upon comfortable chairs and couches they make notations on the talent. In order to avoid the criticism that sex appeal is often the deciding factor in audition, WBBM assigns women staff members to talent of the same sex. "It's pathetic," Kaye Brinker commented on the vocalists, "but either they have beautiful voices and they can't express their souls or they know how to put their feelings across perfectly and they haven't the instrument with which to sing. And on the rare occasions when they have both, they're utterly lacking in that certain something that makes for box office appeal."
It was as production research director
at CBS-WBBM in Chicago she started with "Manhattan Mother",
a script show on a five-times-a-week basis (1939) for which both she and
Margaret Hillas were the main protagonists. Kaye played Patricia Locke, who gave
up a career to raise her daughter, Dale, in New York. When the originating point of
the series shifted from Chicago to New York Kaye resumed her part there. In fact Kaye made her last
Chicago appearance over at WGN in "Curtain at Tonight" and starred in the
original drama, "Retake" (September 02, 1938). Kaye was hostess in a show called True to Life which ran from
1939 to 1940.
In March 1940 she had to undergo surgery due to appendicitis.
By then she was known for her work in 'Amanda of Honeymoon Hill" and in the "Johnny Presents" series and she took up a role in the popular Mr. District Attorney The Case Of The Man In Black (Aug 5. 1941).
On Aug 30.1941 Kaye made her Broadway debut with Gladys George in "Distant City". The play was meant to be one of the high lights of the legitimate season.
Manny Lee, author of Ellery Queen, happened to visit the NBC studio during a rehearsal on April 1. 1942 and met Kaye Brinker, who was featured in the week's story. They began dating at once and after only three months of courtship, Kaye Brinker married Manny Lee, on July 4,1942.
During 1943 Manny and Kaye moved to a charming old rented house at 5 Canon St.,Norwalk (Conn.) where they lived with his two daughters by his first wife, Kaye's daughter (Anya) by her first husband and their own newborn daughter Christopher Rebecca.
In May 1943 she played in "Romance" on WABC (New York) and CBS. Each week a popular love story was dramatized on this series. According to critic Wanda Marvin: " ... Altho her delivery is letter-perfect. Kaye Brinker's voice lacks the desired warmth ..."
Another episode in the popular Mr. District Attorney awaited her on December 4. 1946 "The Case Of The Too Rich, Too Long" was a story about wealthy Mrs. Montgomery who tells her daughter Penelope to marry John Middleton or she'll be cut out of the will. Penelope is a Montgomery however, and Grandma Montgomery is soon murdered with a silver candlestick!
During the 1947-48 series Kaye Brinker stepped in to play Nikki Porter in "The Adventures of Ellery Queen". Seems only right since her son Rand B.Lee conveyed: '... many of the femme fatale in the Queen books from the early Forties onward were modeled after my mother...'. The radio series came to an end and the family returned to the East Coast making home in suburban Connecticut, first in Westport later in Roxbury.
In the following years she combined this with several other roles on radio. 1948 had Kaye appearing as Ilse in "Ancient Sorceries" a tale of the supernatural and witchcraft in a small Welsh town with Paul Frees, Ann Morrison and William Conrad. (February 15, 1948). She also played in "The Grove of Ashtaroth" which was adapted for radio by Les Crutchfield. Again it had Paul Frees and William Conrad. Also appearing were Raymond Lawrence and Eric Snowden. (February 29, 1948).
Radio's The Whistler which aired on February 25. 1948 was called "Meeting On Tenth Street" and included Kaye in the cast. As did Escape 's "The Grove Of Ashtaroff" (February 29. 1948).
Escape first presented "The Time Machine" on May 9, 1948.
H.G. Wells' classic story about two adventurers in the year
100,080 in the land of the Morlocks. The story was
adapted for radio by Academy-award nominated screenwriter Irving Ravetch and
was produced/directed by Norman MacDonnell. Eric Rolf starred as Fowler,
Jeff Corey played Dudley and Kaye Brinker played Weena.
Doing a radio play from September 16, 1948, film star Gregory Peck worked with Kaye Brinker on the play, "Hitch-Hike Poker" part of Suspense in a nearly bare studio. They create scenes which can become vivid in the imaginations of the listeners. It was the story of a war veteran hitchhiking home for the weekend who is picked up by a friendly guy in a convertible. ...
In August of 1949 she starred with Jack Webb in an episode of The Whistler (CBS) called 'The Eager Pigeon' (August 8. 1949).
Dick Powell starred in the Richard Diamond, Private Detective radio series as a rather light-hearted detective who often ended the episodes singing to his girlfriend, Helen (Virginia Gregg). The series began airing on NBC on April 24, 1949, and continued until December 6, 1950. The shows were written by Blake Edwards and Kaye appeared once in the excellent episode Clothes Make The Killer 10/22/49 (Jay Novello, Kaye Brinker) .
"Letter from Jason" was adapted for radio by Seelig Lester, Merwin Gerard,
and William N. Robson from the 1926 short story "Sunk" by George F. Worts.
Frank Lovejoy appeared as Jason, Will Geer as Jeff, and Kaye Brinker as
Ellen. William N. Robson produced and directed.
Other regular roles Kaye had where in Our Gal Sunday (as Barbara Hamilton) and in Joyce Jordan, M. D. (as Sheila Brand).
In the late 40s Kaye contracted double lobar
pneumonia, for which she was successfully treated with penicillin.
At some point after 1948 Kaye stopped with acting. She
remained influencing the Queen opus as this testimony by
daughter Christopher Rebecca Lee Tate shows.
Miss Lee said she did not enjoy reading her father's books because he drew
too frequently on family friends. "My mother would use pet words and
mannerisms that would frequently appear in his books." she said. "When
I was a teen-ager it would wreck it for me. I'd be reading about this
glamorous woman and then out would come one of my mother's phrases."
In 1950 Kaye had some health issues (pneumonia-chicken pox).
After the birth of her youngest child, Jeffrey Robert, in 1954, she
underwent a hysterectomy. Following the death of Manfred B. Lee, she and
Jeffrey moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in order to be near Kaye's oldest
daughter, Christopher Rebecca and her husband. From Ft.
Lauderdale Kaye and Jeffrey moved to Key West, Florida, where they were joined by Kaye's son
Rand in the early 1980s.
In the latter part of the 1980's Kaye and Jeffrey
emigrated to the British Isles, living at first in England and later in
Foilnamuck, Ireland, where Jeffrey died of AIDS in 1990. A year later,
having battled with alcoholism and depression for many years, Kaye Brinker
passed away on Nov 5. 1991 in a hospital in Cork, Cork County, Ireland, due
to the consequences of ethylism.
(3) The Montreal Gazette Oct 4. 1973
(4) Thanks to Rand B. Lee for providing details after 1954
Additional video & audio sources
(1) Old Time Radio Downloads
Latest update June 5, 2016
b a c k t o L i s t o f S u s p e c t s