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Kaye Brinker (Mar 29,1914 - Nov 5, 1991)  

Catherine Fox Brinker

(1) Alvan Summerfield, Promotional manager for
      a National magazine (Jun 16. 1938 - Aft. 1940)
     Daughter: Anya Petar, dancer and choreographer.
(2) Manfred B. Lee (Jul 4. 1942 - April 3. 1971, his death)
     Children:  Christopher Rebecca 'Kit', Anthony Joseph 'Tony', 
     Manfred Bennington Jr. 'Man'; Rand Benjamin (Mar 18. 1951- ) 
     Jeffrey Robert (Mar 1.1954 - Jan 5. 1990)
     Stepchildren (Manfred - Betty Miller): Patricia Lee Caldwell,
     Jacqueline Lee.

Sister: Mary Brinker Post (writer, 1907 - 1967)

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 Wine/Tobacco" radio commercials in the 1940s.  At that time she got hundreds of fan letters from servicemen all over the world.  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.
Kaye Brinker, who was claimed as an interesting and promising discovery of William Farnum's certainly was gifted with a charming voice, which added considerable romantic interest to this mystery drama which could be heard four nights a week. According to the papers her performances in the first series of Drums were so successful that she was immediately whisked off  to New York and a big Broadway contract on its completion and so by September 1937 her place on Drums was filled by Sally Creighton. In reality Kaye was working on Broadway since 1936 .

Directed by John Hayden and produced by A. H. Woods, the original Broadway production of the Ayn Rand play Night of January 16 opened September 16th, 1935 and ran for 283 performances until April 4, 1936 at the Ambassador Theatre in New York City. After which it took 'to the road' (Selwyn Theatre,...). By September 1936 it had Kaye Brinker playing "Karen Andre," "the penthouse siren with an emancipated soul".

  Kaye Brinker as "Karen Andre" in "The Night of January 16" (1936).Picture taken for "The Night of January 16" a play from 1936 with Kaye Brinker.Kaye Brinker as "Karen Andre" in "The Night of January 16" (1936).
Above: Kaye Brinker as "Karen Andre" in
The Night of January 16 (1936).

From May to September 1937 Kaye Brinker's did a program on WBBM for Commonwealth Edison which was called Everywoman. Kaye was a monologist, who wrote her own humorous sketches.

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.

The 1940 add below for Russeks Persian Lamb Fur Coats shows Kaye "fighting" the traditional female role pattern. We learn that she not only writes her own script but also directs them and even acts in them... which leaves her "very little time for shopping". An other article which also praises her many activities assured it's readers "She can, however, cook.  'Manfred loved good food,' she related."

1940 Add with Kaye Brinker for Russeks Persian Lamb Fur Coats.
Above: 1940 Add with Kaye Brinker for Russeks Persian Lamb Fur Coats.

In March 1940 she had to undergo surgery due to appendicitis.

In 1940-41 there was a series called We The Abbotts, about an average American family living in Middledale and struggling to remain financially solvent, in
which Kaye  appeared as Isabel Kenyon next to John McIntire, Betty Garde,...

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.

    CBS Radio actresses left to right, Kaye Brinker (plays Sheila Brand), Ethel Owen (portrays Dr. Molly Hedgerow) and Ann Shepherd (portrays Joyce Jordan, MD), knitting for the war effort. New York, NY. December 18, 1941.
Above: CBS Radio actresses left to right, Kaye Brinker (plays Sheila Brand), Ethel Owen (portrays Dr. Molly Hedgerow) and Ann Shepherd (portrays Joyce Jordan, MD), knitting for the war effort. New York, NY. December 18, 1941. The Show ran on CBS from 1938 to 1945.

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.

Photo announcing "Romance" with Kaye Brinker (1943).


In May 1943 she played in Romance on WABC (New York) and CBS (picture right). 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 Escape's "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.

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.

Another Escape presentation "She" was a well-done version of the classic about the beautiful woman who lives forever. The author was H. Rider Haggard and it was adapted for radio by Les Crutchfield with editorial supervision by John Dunkel. Norman MacDonnell produced and directed. Featured in the cast were Berry Kroeger, Lawrence Dobkin, Kaye Brinker, Ben Wright and Wilms Herbert
(July 11. 1948).

     Kaye Brinker (detail) see full picture on the right. Gregory Peck at microphone with Kaye Brinker in radio's "Hitch-Hike Poker" (1948).
Above left: Kaye Brinker (detail) see full picture on the right.
Above right:  Gregory Peck at microphone with Kaye Brinker in radio's "Hitch-Hike Poker" (1948).

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. (November 29, 1949).

Kaye also had a regular role in  Our Gal Sunday (as Barbara Hamilton).

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 an article in The Tragedy of Errors Rand B. Lee described his mother as "... Juno: passionately nurturing and vengefully possessive by turns. ..."
She loved children "I’ve seen moistly gleams in Kaye’s eyes which Kaye Brinker in a 1953 ABC promotional photo.experience tells me usually precede a campaign to get me to agree to another kid." (Manfred B. Lee).
She also had a great love for plants and gardening which seems to be inherited by her son Rand. "...Of her many memories of those early days, Mother could always recall the plants that grew so luxuriantly in Seattle's cool, mild, moist climate. There were the usual things: roses and forget-me-nots, foxgloves and cowslips, pansies and daisies. There were calla lilies, which Mother loathed. There was a glossy-leaved madrone tree she adored, and there was Heliotrope. Mother spoke of it as a huge bush cascading with masses of purple flowers scented of vanilla and almond. The idea of it haunted me for years, but I never thought to grow some myself."

Above right: Kaye Brinker in a 1953 ABC promotional photo.

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.

     Lee and Kaye playing with the kids (1955).
Above: Lee and Kaye playing with the kids (1955).

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. 

Click if you think you can help out...!

(1) Radiogoldindex
(2) OTRRpedia
(3) The Montreal Gazette Oct 4. 1973
(4) Thanks to Rand B. Lee for providing details after 1954
(5) IMDb

Additional video & audio sources
(1) Old Time Radio Downloads

This actor profile is a part of the Ellery Queen a website on deduction. The actor above played Nikki Porter in an Ellery Queen radio series.

Page first published on Jan 24. 201 
Latest update November 12, 2018

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