Archivists will continually remind you that Lee was successively: Miss San Francisco, Miss California and Miss America. And though most know Lee as “Betty” in the highly successful CBS series, Barnaby Jones, where she co-starred opposite Buddy Ebsen for eight years, and was nominated for both the Golden Globe and the Emmy for her work on that show, Lee has had starring or recurring roles in no less than nine different series, ranging from the first women’s editor with Dave Garroway on the original Today Show on NBC to her three year run as Lily on The Munsters Today for Universal. Some of Lee’s successful series include: Time Tunnel, The New Andy Griffith Show, Mission: Impossible, The F.B.I., 12 O’Clock High, and Dr. Kildare.
Lee was born in Los Angeles and after her brother Don was born 3 years later, the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona. As she was about to enter the fifth grade, her father was transferred to San Francisco. Her memories of childhood are happy ones. She had the usual teenage frustrations but was encouraged to pursue acting while attending George Washington High School along with another young and talented student that fame would touch – Johnny Mathis. Johnny fondly remembers Lee as the girl he never saw without her hair in rollers.
Lee won the pageant titles while attending San Francisco City College as a Radio and TV/Theatre Arts major. She had been nominated by a fraternity there. “I never would have entered on my own.” Everyone, especially Lee, was shocked when she won. Ironically, she almost didn’t make it to Atlantic City. A short time before the competition, her father passed away, and she felt as though, “the whole world had dropped out from under me.” Thank Heavens for Mom who reminded her of the lost scholarships and her father’s personal excitement over the pageant and his eagerness for her participation. The rest is history. Lee’s mother remained a very important part of her life. As she says, “I looked to her for guidance and support and she always gave it unselfishly. Heavens, she practically raised my daughters while I was doing Barnaby Jones for eight years.”
Following her year’s reign as Miss America, Lee joined The Today Show. This experience afforded her the opportunity to use her pageant scholarships to study acting with the famed teacher Lee Strasburg, as well as dancing, singing, and fencing with some of the top coaches in New York. Lee’s beginnings in the entertainment industry include her first TV role – The Philco Television Playhouse" with Mary Astor, her first motion picture lead – The 4-D Man with Robert Lansing, and her first professional stage appearance – Hatful of Rain with William Smithers and Lou Antonio.
Her noteworthy film roles include “Catwoman” in the original Batman movie. She also portrayed Andy Griffith’s pregnant wife in Angel in My Pocket, as well as Rock Hudson’s southern wife in The Undefeated. Lee “swam” with Namu, The Killer Whale and has a great deal of fun in reminding film buffs that she played the “man” killed by Kim Novak in The Legend of Lylah Clare.
Live theatre, however, continues to be Lee’s first love. Attesting to that fact is her long association with Theatre West, a professional actors’ workshop in Hollywood. Of the countless appearances she made at T.W., three stand out in her memory: Spoon River Anthology with Betty Garrett, Aesop in Central Park with Richard Dreyfuss and Ladies of Hanover Towers with Carroll O’Connor. She appeared there in the 40th Reunion production of Spoon River in the role that Ms. Garrett originally portrayed.
An assortment of her recent national stage credits include: the female version of The Odd Couple (two productions), Last Summer at Blue Fish Cove for which she received the Drama Logue Award for Best Actress as well as the San Francisco Critics Award. The Business of Murder with Van Johnson, Sondheim’s Follies with seven former Miss Americas, a national tour with Anthony Zerbe and Roy Dotrice of Country Matters (Sex and Shakespeare!) and most recently productions of the musicals Hello Dolly, Mame, The King and I with George Chakiris, and I Do, I Do, Pirates of Penzance and the 20th Anniversary Tour of Nunsense with Kaye Ballard, Mimi Hines, Georgia Engel and Darlene Love. And four national tours of Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite with her husband, Marshall Borden.
Lee met Marshall in San Antonio where they both starred in a production of Angel Street ("Gaslight"). When, over the next few years, they found themselves appearing together in Lion in Winter and Alone Together, they decided that working side by side was simply not enough. So, in San Francisco on September 21 1986, while performing in one of Marshall’s plays The Artful Lodgers, they tied the knot. In Lodgers they both got to “chew some scenery.” Lee as a drunken floozie and Marshall as a 150-year-old flighty ghost sporting a large moustache, smoking a cigar and wearing an Erte gown! She must really love this man for, as she says, “There he was, looking better in a dress than I do and I still wanted to marry him!”
Lee also loves working with her daughters, Kyle Oldham and Lesley Aletter. Kyle appeared with her mother in The Gingerbread Lady and Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, and Lesley stunt doubled for her in the television travel show It’s a Wonderful World. Both daughters swung high over the center ring with their mom in several Circus of the Stars, and all have done commercials together. Obviously, Lee is happiest around family, whether it’s at work or play.
The future looks to be quite busy for the Borden household. Marshall, a playwright as well, sold his adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo to the National Theatre of Canada in Stratford, Ontario and played for 90 performances in their 2004 season! He is now busy writing the novel of his movie script of The Artful Lodgers, a television series proposal and a musical version of The Count. Lee has kept busy appearing in Love Letters with Beau Bridges, Long Day's Journey into Night; and Rockers by Sherwood Schwartz. She finished a second tour of Nunsense which began at Theatre West with Betty Garrett, Bridget Hanley, Barbara Mallory, Rhonda Stovey and Sandra Tucker. Along with her love of theatre, Lee has enjoyed one of the most difficult acting jobs of her career. Reading John Saul’s gothic thrillers, Second Child, Shadows, Guardian, Black Lightning, the serialized Blackstone Chronicles, The Presence, The Right Hand Of Evil, Nightshade, The Manhattan Hunt Club, Midnight Voices and Black Creek Crossing. The last nine were under Random House’s Audio Publishing. She has adapted the Spoon River Anthology ino a one-woman production where she plays 24 women. This show, entitled The Women of Spoon River: Their Voices from the Hill premiered at the Robinson Theater on the Indiana University Southeast campus in New Albany, Indiana followed by a run of several weeks at Theatre West.
Her favorite role? That of Grandma! Kyle gave birth to daughter Ryan in December 1993. Grandma Lee is always available and eager to take her shopping or to the movies, etc. If she can get her away from Auntie Lesley, that is.
Even when she’s on stage, in front of a camera, or family outings Lee can always be counted on to have several other activities going on simultaneously. She is active with a number of humanitarian endeavors and charities. She still serves as Honorary Chairman of ABILITY FIRST (formally the Crippled Children’s Society). She was an honorary member of Women in Show Business, a Philanthropic organization that funded reconstructive surgery for needy children and was twice named their “Angel of the Year.” She has also served as National Education Chairman of the American Cancer Society and as the Los Angeles Chairman for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. For many years now there has been a special place in her heart for the Blind Children's Center, and the Jeffrey Foundation and the pet organization, “Actors and Others for Animals.”