Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Frankie and Davey Lee

Our next pair of siblings are the Lee brothers, Frankie and Davey. I wanted to cover them next because I went and visited the grave of Frankie Lee a couple of weeks ago and so I felt the need to share a bit more about these two brothers.

Davey and Frankie

I should also note that while trying to locate his grave I stepped into an overgrown flower holder, fell, and sprained my ankle. Needless to say, that cut my grave hunting expedition short. I should also say thank you to the family who saw me fall and just stared at me without asking if I was okay. Thank you!!

Anyway, on to the Lee boys!

Frankie Lee was born Frank H. Lea on December 31, 1911 in Gunnison, Colorado. He was the first born of Frank Dennison (I have also read 'Denny') Lea and his wife, Ella Mary. Younger brother, Davey was born in 1924. 

I think the boys got into show business via their father who worked as a Linotype operator. All those dialogue slides you see in silent film? It was Frank Lea's job to write those out for various films. 

Frankie made his debut in the 1916 short, Her Greatest Story, which starred Myrtle Gonzalez. Later that year he appeared in an adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, but this adaptation was titled The Right to be Happy. Rupert Julian played the part of Ebeneezer Scrooge while Frankie played the role of Tiny Tim. 

Some of Frankie's other films of note include 1919's The Miracle Man, starring Lon Chaney. This film was voted the top film in a 1920 Photoplay reader survey. Sadly, this is one of Chaney's lost films, with I think only a scene snippet still in existence. 

A popular trend at the time was to create film adaptations of famous stories and books but have children playing all of the roles. Frankie appeared in one such film in 1923 called Robin Hood, Jr. Frankie played the role of a young Robin Hood and Peggy Cartwright played the role of a young Maid Marian. 

Frankie made his last film appearance in 1925's The Golden Strain which starred Hobart Bosworth and Madge Bellamy. 

According to a March 1929 article in Picture-Play Magazine, Frankie went and did the unthinkable...he grew up! He started growing facial hair and his mother realized that his cute, scrappy childhood days were over and that he needed to go back to school and concentrate on his education instead of acting. "I want you to have an education, so that when you get older all your fans will be proud of you. I want them to say, 'Why, there's Frankie Lee again!' and be glad. So get ready for books!" Ella Lea was quoted as saying. 

He did have aspirations after graduating high school to get back into acting, but whenever he was called in for a role, the producers would see how much older he was and they would have to pass. In one such instance, the role was given to his younger brother who was brought along to the audition by Ella Lea, but more on that story when we get to Davey. 

Frankie Lee passed away on July 29, 1970 in Los Angeles. 

He was buried at Forest Lawn in Hollywood Hills.

I can't find any information that Frankie was ever married or had children. If you have information on this, I would love to know!

According to a fan magazine at the time, Frankie was unable to make himself cry on cue for the camera. Which, if you have ever seen a baby or a child in a silent film, they will end up crying sometime during that film. Anyway, to achieve the tears necessary for a scene, Frankie would stick his fist into a cup of water and sprinkle the droplets on his face to create tears. 

"He is a human, winsome, laugh-getting youngster...His name is Frankie Lee." ~~ The Moving PIcture World - June 29, 1919


Davey Lee was born David Dennison Lea on December 29, 1924 in Hollywood. 

When he was still a baby, Ella Lea would take him with her when she accompanied her oldest son, Frankie to his various auditions and even while he was filming his scenes. She didn't just do this because she didn't have anyone to watch the baby mind you. Rather, Ella touted little Davey around the studios in hopes that a producer would see the cute little baby and want to put him in pictures. It was on one such occasion that Ella finally got what she was looking for...

The call came in to the Lea home that the studio wanted to test Frankie for a part in a new Al Jolson picture. However, for some reason the studio failed to realize that kids will eventually grow up, so the little Frankie Lee they were used to seeing on screen was not who showed up for the audition. Instead, a tall, lanky young man of sixteen showed up with his mother and baby brother in tow. The producers (for some reason) were shocked at how much 'little' Frankie Lee had grown and quickly turned their attention to his brother, Davey. The casting director asked Mrs. Lea if Davey had ever acted before or if he could take direction well. Mrs. Lea told him no, but that didn't seem to matter much because Davey was lead over to the star of the upcoming picture, Al Jolson, to see how the two interacted. Jolson held his arms out to the little boy and invited him to sit on his lap. Apparently the two sat there for quite awhile just laughing and smiling at each other and Jolson told Davey that he could call him "Uncle Al." It was obvious that little Davey Lee had won the role. 

The film in which Davey made his debut opposite Al Jolson was 1928's The Singing Fool. Davey played the part of "Sonny Boy," the little boy who climbs up on Jolson's lap while he is singing the song "Sonny Boy." 

Davey, Jolson, and the film were all a big success and everyone seemed to want to know more about little Sonny Boy. So, a lot of promotional items were made with Davey's face printed on them. He also recorded a narrative album called "Sonny Boy's Bear Story" which had Davey telling a bedtime story with music playing in the background. And in 1929 he appeared in a film called Sonny Boy, without Uncle Al. However, the two appeared together again in a film that same year called Say It with Songs.

The year 1929 was quite busy for Davey career wise. On top of his Sonny Boy/Jolson pictures, he also appeared alongside Rin Tin Tin in Frozen River. Dogs and a cute little boy, how can you go wrong there?

Davey's last film appearance was in 1930's The Squealer featuring Jack Holt and Dorothy Revier as his parents. 

At the age of only six years old, Davey Lee's movie career was over. Like his brother before him, his mother pulled him out of show business in order for him to focus on getting an education. He would later return to acting but only in community theater productions. Davey also served in the army during World War II.

Davey Lee passed away on June 17, 2008 in Los Angeles. I do not know where he is buried. 

Like his brother, I cannot find information on whether or not Davey was ever married.

Sadly, of the six films he made (from 1928-1930) only two survive. 

According to a fan magazine at the time, Davey enjoyed eating candy, playing golf, and riding around on his scooter and pedal car, which was a gift to him from the studio. 

There was a rumor spread during the Sonny Boy craze that Davey had actually died shortly after the movie was released. Apparently some wires got crossed and the real death was a man named Sunny Boyce, a member of the Los Angeles orchestra. 

Since his fame was due in large part to appearing in an Al Jolson picture, Davey frequently attended events held by the International Al Jolson Society to discuss the man he knew as Uncle Al.

"Davey Lee clicks! He is a movie find!" ~~ Evening Graphic, 1929.

"Davey Lee is a swell little boy. Hundreds and thousands of people will like to see the little fellow." ~~ New York Evening Post, 1929.


  1. Congrats to the mother who took her kids out and decided an education was better. I hope they lived rich lives. I have to admit Davey looks a little like a girl I think because of the Louise Brooks haircut

    1. Amen! It's refreshing to see a change from the usual stage mothers we hear about.

  2. Hi this is Eugene.Davy was profiled in the book "Whatever Became Of Volume Ten" written by Richard Lamparski.

    1. Hi Eugene! Your post actually got me to dig out my Whatever Became Of (Volume 9) and reread it. I need to get my hands on the other volumes. It's funny to think that when I first got the book when I was a kid, I really had no idea who these people were. Now, I recognize most of them!