Michele Lee

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Michele Lee
Michele Lee.JPG
Publicity photo of Michele Lee (1974)
BornMichele Lee Dusick
(1942-06-24) June 24, 1942 (age 72)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActress, singer, dancer, producer, director, game show panelist
Years active1960–present
Spouse(s)James Farentino (1966–1983)
Fred A. Rappoport (1987–present)
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For other people named Michelle Lee, see Michelle Lee (disambiguation).
Michele Lee
Michele Lee.JPG
Publicity photo of Michele Lee (1974)
BornMichele Lee Dusick
(1942-06-24) June 24, 1942 (age 72)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
OccupationActress, singer, dancer, producer, director, game show panelist
Years active1960–present
Spouse(s)James Farentino (1966–1983)
Fred A. Rappoport (1987–present)

Michele Lee (born June 24, 1942) is an American actress, singer, dancer, producer, director and frequent game show panelist of the 1970s. She is best known for her Emmy Award nominated role as Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie on the 1980s prime-time soap opera, Knots Landing. She is also a two-time Tony Award nominee.

Lee began her career on Broadway, appearing in Vintage 60 (1960) and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961). She made her movie debut in the film version of the latter in 1967. She co-starred with Dean Jones in the 1969 Disney film, The Love Bug.[1] and also starred that year opposite Dick Van Dyke in The Comic. She received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical in 1974 for Seesaw.[2]

She starred in Knots Landing for all fourteen seasons from 1979-1993 and was the only cast member to appear in every episode. The role earned her an Emmy nomination in 1982 and three Soap Opera Digest Awards for Best Actress, in 1988, 1991 and 1992. Her roles since then have included the title role in the 1998 TV movie Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story and a return to Broadway in the play The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, for which she received a second Tony nomination in 2001. She also appeared in the 2004 film Along Came Polly.

Early life[edit]

Lee was born Michele Lee Dusick in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Sylvia Helen (née Silverstein) and Jack Dusick, a make-up artist.[3] She is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, her ancestors being from Poland and Russia.[4] She began her career on television in an episode of the late 1950s sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. She attended Alexander Hamilton High School where she became popular with her class.


Early years[edit]

When she was 18, after graduation from high school, she auditioned for the Broadway play, Vintage '60. She soon began appearing in musicals, becoming Broadway performer at the age of 19 in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opposite Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee, a role she reprised in the film version. She also appeared in dramas such as the Los Angeles production of Jerry Herman's Parade and the Broadway productions of Bravo Giovanni and The Tale of the Allergist's Wife.

After she sang in the film version of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, she became known for her roles in the films The Comic and The Love Bug, the latter becoming the third highest grossing film of 1968 in the United States. That same year, she starred in a special television production of the Jerome KernOtto Harbach musical, Roberta, in which she sang "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes". After the birth of her son, she worked infrequently until accepting a role on Broadway in Seesaw, which netted her a Tony Award nomination in 1974. After her mother's death, she stopped working to spend time with her son.

In 1974, Lee starred in the pilot episode for proposed CBS sitcom The Michele Lee Show. She played Michele Burton, a clerk in a hotel newsstand, with support from Stephen Collins. However, only the pilot episode was aired and the series did not proceed. Lee became a busy guest actor in the 1970s, appearing in Marcus Welby, M.D., Alias Smith and Jones, Night Gallery, Love, American Style, Fantasy Island and The Love Boat.

Knots Landing[edit]

In 1979, Lee accepted the role of Karen Fairgate on Knots Landing, a spin-off of the immensely popular Dallas. Though slow to start, the series eventually became a ratings hit and became one of the longest running American primetime dramas ever, lasting for a total of 14 seasons from 1979 - 1993.[1] Due to her long-running tenure, Lee's alter-ego is often credited as being the center of the program. Television personality Joan Rivers commented that Lee was, in theory, the "First Lady of Knots Landing" during her guest appearance on The Late Show, which Rivers hosted at the time.[5] The characters of the serial often represented what was happening in society at the time. Lee acknowledged that, saying: "Karen wanted to be a Pollyanna and wasn't ashamed of that. Remember in our society, maybe people don't remember, but remember when we could go over to other people's houses and come in through an open back door? I remember when I was a little girl and my mother and father would have people over and they'd walk into an unlocked door in our house."[6] Lee was the only performer to appear in all of the show's 344 episodes.

Although Lee was enjoying a successful career on television, her marriage to actor James Farentino was failing. She and Farentino separated around the same time Lee's onscreen husband, Don Murray, left the show. Lee thus played a single mother on Knots Landing at the same time she was becoming one in real life. Lee revealed that when her character took off her wedding ring in a 1982 episode, she was taking off her real wedding band.

During the fall of 1982, her character met M. Patrick "Mack" MacKenzie (Kevin Dobson), who became her screen husband the following year. They would continue working together until the end of the series. Lee won the Soap Opera Digest Award for Best Lead Actress (Primetime) three times, and was also nominated for an Emmy Award in 1982 for "Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series".[7] In 1983, the writers/producers of Knots Landing urged her to do a storyline based on prescription drug dependency which became one of her most prominent storylines. Six years later, Lee directed her first of several episodes of the series. In 1991, Knots Landing reached a milestone with its 300th episode. During the same season, Lee filmed her favorite scene from the series, known as the "Pollyanna Speech" among fans. In this scene, for which Lee had much input, Karen reacts strongly against all of the social problems of 1990s society and explains how she doesn't want to be a Pollyanna and see the world through rose-colored glasses, but rather wanted the world to be rose-colored.

As Knots Landing moved into the 1990s, its popularity began to wane although it had outlived all of its contemporaries. The big budget that the series once had was trimmed to the extent that, in the final season, the higher paid cast members were asked to appear in only 15 of the season's 19 episodes as the production company couldn't afford to pay them. However, Lee insisted on appearing in all 19 episodes that season, doing her extra four episodes for "union scale" pay.

Later career[edit]

After Knots Landing ended in 1993, Lee has appeared in many made-for-TV movies, including a biopic of late country star Dottie West (Big Dreams and Broken Hearts: The Dottie West Story) and she became the first woman to star in, direct, and produce a TV movie for Lifetime, Color Me Perfect in 1996. She also starred in the reunion mini-series Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac in 1997, and portrayed Hollywood novelist Jacqueline Susann in the television biopic Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story in 1998. In 2000, she returned to the Broadway stage in The Tale of the Allergist's Wife and received a 2001 Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play. In 2004, she returned to feature films in the role of Ben Stiller's character's mother in Along Came Polly. She guest-starred alongside Chita Rivera in a February 2005 episode of Will & Grace. Also in 2005, she reunited with her Knots Landing co-stars for the non-fiction special Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again, in which the stars reminisced about their time on the hit series.[8] Also in 2005, she appeared alongside Tyne Daly, Leslie Uggams, Christine Baranski and Karen Ziemba for the Kennedy Center Honor of Julie Harris. In 2010, Lee did voice work for an episode of the animated comedy series Family Guy.

Personal life[edit]

In 1963, Lee met actor James Farentino on the set of the play, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and in 1966 they were married. Their son, David Farentino, was born July 6, 1969. Lee and Farentino divorced in 1983. She married Fred Rappaport in 1987.


1961The Many Loves of Dobie GillisLilaEpisode: "Crazylegs Gillis"
1967The Red Skelton ShowPeaches LaverneEpisode: "A New York Stripper Is Not Always a Steak"
1967How to Succeed in Business Without Really TryingRosemary Pilkington
1968The Love BugCarole Bennett
1969The ComicMary Gibson
1971Night GalleryJoanna LowellEpisode: "Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay/With Apologies to Mr. Hyde/The Flip Side of Satan"
1970-1972Marcus Welby, M.D.Katie3 episodes
1972Alias Smith and JonesGeorgette Sinclair3 episodes
1972Of Thee I SingDiana Devereaux
1971-1973Love, American StyleVarious5 episodes
1974Only with Married MenJill Garrett
1976Dark VictoryDolores Marsh
1978Having BabiesLucyEpisode: "Sterile Wife"
1978Bud and LouAnne Costello
1978-1979Fantasy IslandNancy Weston / Carol DeAngelo2 episodes
1979Nutcracker FantasyNarratorVoice
1977-1982The Love BoatVarious6 episodes
1985A Letter to Three WivesRita Phipps
1989Single Women Married MenSusan Parmel
1990The Fatal ImageBarbara Brennan
1991My Son JohnnyMary Anne
1992Broadway BoundBlanche
1992When No One Would ListenJessica Cochran
1979-1993Knots LandingKaren Cooper Fairgate MacKenzieSeries regular, 344 episodes
1995Something WilderJoannaEpisode: "The Ex Files"
1995Big Dreams and Broken Hearts: The Dottie West StoryDottie West
1996Color Me PerfectDina Blake
1997Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-SacKaren MacKenzieTV Mini-Series
1998Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann StoryJacqueline Susann
1999A Murder on Shadow MountainBarbara Traynor
2000Grandma Got Run Over by a ReindeerCousin MelVoice
2003Miss MatchSandyEpisode: "Addicted to Love"
2004Along Came PollyVivian Feffer
2004Married to the KellysMaggie WagnerEpisode: "Kansas v. Tom's Parents"
2005Will & GraceLucilleEpisode: "Dance Cards & Greeting Cards"
2010Family GuyEstelle HarrisEpisode: "Extra Large Medium"
2013See Dad RunGrandma MaggieEpisode: "See Dad See Through Grandma"
2013How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)CarolineEpisode: "How to Help the Needy"

Awards and nominations[edit]

1973Drama Desk AwardOutstanding PerformanceSeesawWon
1974Tony AwardBest Actress in a MusicalNominated
1982Primetime Emmy AwardOutstanding Lead Actress in a Drama SeriesKnots LandingNominated
1986Soap Opera Digest AwardFavorite Super Couple on a Prime Time SerialWon
Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role on a Prime Time SerialNominated
1988Favorite Super Couple: Prime TimeWon
Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role: Prime TimeWon
1991Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role: Prime TimeWon
1992Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role: Prime TimeWon
1998Hollywood Walk of FameStar on the Walk of Fame
On 19 November 1998 at 6363 Hollywood Blvd.
2001Tony AwardBest Featured Actress in a PlayThe Tale of the Allergist's WifeNominated
2009TV Land AwardAnniversary AwardKnots LandingWon


  1. ^ a b "Michele Lee- Biography". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2013-04-12. 
  2. ^ The Broadway League. "Michele Lee | IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information". IBDB. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  3. ^ Profile at FilmReference.com
  4. ^ IMDb profile/Michele Lee
  5. ^ "Michele Lee on Joan Rivers with Lucille Ball (Part 3)". The Joan Rivers Show. Retrieved January 31, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Knots Landing official website exclusive web only interviews Michele Lee". Knotslanding.net. 2003-03-16. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  7. ^ "Michele Lee | Academy of Television Arts & Sciences". Emmys.com. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  8. ^ "Knots Landing Reunion: Together...". TV Guide. Dec 5, 2005. Retrieved 2013-04-12. 

External links[edit]