Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Katherine and Jane Lee

Jane and Katherine Lee

Well, I covered Frankie and Davey Lee in my last entry, so it seemed like the next best step was to cover Katherine and Jane Lee, another set of acting siblings during the silent film era. 

Katherine and Jane

Katherine Lee was born February 6, 1909 in Berlin, Germany. 

Her father, Thomas Banahan, was a juggler whose troupe once shared the same bill as the Three Keatons (Joe, Myra, and young Buster Keaton). Katherine's mother, Irene Kinaird, was a well known Irish dancer who toured as "The Girl in Trousers with her Kandy Kids" around 1906. Her stage name was Irene Lee. Jane, the second and youngest child born to Thomas and Irene was born in 1912. 

Shortly after Jane's birth, the couple split up. Irene had full custody of the girls and their father was never mentioned in interviews or in articles. I don't really know what became of Thomas Banahan after the divorce. He may have remarried before his death in 1929 but I am not sure. The girls adopted their mother's stage name of 'Lee' for the screen.

Show business was already in the Lee daughters genes so it isn't a stretch to see how or why they ended up making films. Katherine made her screen debut in the 1913 short, None But the Brave Deserve the -- ? (yeah, weird title, I know). The film was shown with a documentary short about a dairy farm in Seattle which I'm sure was just FANtastic!

Jane and Katherine

Her most prominent screen roles were with Annette Kellerman in Neptune's Daughter (1914) and Daughter of the Gods (1916). She also appeared with Theda Bara in Her Double Life and Romeo and Juliet (both 1916). She also seemed to be paired with King Baggott and Violet Mersereau quite a bit. 

Katherine appeared with her younger sister Jane in over 15 films, and later appeared with her in ten Fox Studio shorts that were created specifically to showcase the Lee sisters. 

In 1921, Irene Lee published a letter in multiple fan magazines addressed to film distributors across the United States. In the letter, she claimed that Louis T. Rogers and his company, Rogers Film Company, were using outtakes and clips from earlier films featuring her daughters to create an entirely new picture. A picture that she never agreed to make. She said that the girls had appeared in one picture with the company and that she had to loan Rogers money (to the tune of $1700) in order for them to even finish the second picture. It was only when she began seeing advertisements for a proposed third picture that she knew something was going on. She claimed that she had contacted her lawyer about the situation and wanted it made clear that neither she or her daughters had anything to do with this upcoming picture and that if film distributors were genuine fans of the Lee girls, they would not purchase this picture for viewing. 

Katherine and Jane

Her last film was 1924's The Side Show of Life. In 1936, she was on the screen again playing herself in a Vitaphone short along with her sister and other child stars of the silent era talking about having to grow up.

After retiring from acting, Katherine and her sister toured on vaudeville and were just as popular on stage as they were on screen. They traveled with a governess who helped ensure that the girls continued their education. 

Jane and Katherine

Katherine Lee passed away on October 22, 1968 in Flushing, New York. I don't know where she is buried.

Like the Lee brothers in the last entry, I don't have much to go on when it comes to Katherine's personal life. I believe she was married to a man named Ray Miller, but I am not sure of the dates. 

According to fan magazines, the girls had quite the menagerie growing up. The girls counted a dog, a parrot, and a pony among their pets. 

Katherine and Jane

"Jane and Katherine Lee come nearer to being true 'Baby Bernhardts' than any other child players of the American cinemas. Their work on the screen is magnificent." ~~ Le Petit Parisian, August 1917


Katherine and Jane

Jane Grant Lee was born February 15, 1912 in Dublin, Ireland. 

Jane made her film debut in 1914's The Old Rag Doll, which also featured her sister and her mother (in her only credited film role). 

Jane and Katherine with (I think) Pat Hartigan in Swat the Spy (1918)

Jane too, like her sister, acted alongside Theda Bara in a couple of films. She appeared with Theda in The Clemenceau Case, The Devil's Daughter, and The Galley Slave (all 1915) and Her Double Life in 1916. Unfortunately, all four films are considered lost. Jane appeared with vamps Virginia Pearson and Valeska Suratt as well. All of Valeska's films are considered lost, but I am not sure about the film Jane appeared in with Virginia Pearson, 1917's Sister Against Sister.

After acting on screen, Jane toured vaudeville with her sister where they found even more success. It wasn't until 20 years after she made her last film that she decided to give movie work another shot. Her last few movie roles were in small parts like "teacher" in 1950's Cheaper by the Dozen or "Fat woman in cafe" in Abbott and Costello's 1951 film, Comin' Round the Mountain. Her prestigious role as "Fat woman in cafe" would also be her last. 

Jane and Katherine

Jane Lee passed away on March 17, 1957 in New York City. I do not know where she is buried.

I would really like to know the causes of death for both Lee sisters considering they both died fairly young. I would also like know where they are buried, or even if they are buried.

As far as Jane's personal life, all I could find was that she was married to a man with the surname of "St. John" and that they were still married at the time of her death. 

Jane and Katherine with John McGraw of the New York Giants

"We can't be forced to stay away from a picture which contains Jane and Katherine. They make us happy as a Barrie play." ~~ Detroit Free Press, August 1917.


  1. It's funny that the sweet girls were in "Vamp" movies. I had never heard of them but if one knew where they were living later on, then one has an idea where they were buried.

  2. Hi Jessica, It's your little research lady,Theresa. Hope you are okay after your fall in the cemetery . I found out that Jane Lee married named Burton Marvin St. John on May 9,1950 in Pacific Grove, California

  3. I'm certain that no one appreciated this article as much as I did. Although I've known all my life that the Lee sisters were my father's first cousins, I've never been able to find any articles or information mentioning Tom Banahan being their father. Tom was my grandfather's brother. You've succeeded where I've failed.

    1. Hi Dennis! I am so glad I was able to help gather more information for you in regards to your family members. Unfortunately, it seems like Tom was kinda pushed under the rug and mama took over. I wish I could find more info about him and his vaudeville career. If only we could time travel!