Joanna Lee

Active - 1958 - 2012  |   Born - Jan 1, 1931   |   Died - Oct 24, 2003   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Jason Buchanan

Whether writing, producing, directing, or appearing onscreen in such camp classics as The Brain Eaters and Plan 9 From Outer Space, Joanna Lee always gave her all. A Newark, NJ, native who relocated to California with her divorced mother at the age of 12, Lee got her first taste of fame on the small screen with appearances on such notable television shows as Leave It to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, and Death Valley Days, where audiences caught a glimpse of a young actress who possessed not only a refreshing onscreen beauty, but undeniable talent, as well. As her career progressed with feature appearances and numerous other film roles, Lee wrote episodes of Petticoat Junction, Gilligan's Island, and The Waltons, the latter of which earned her an Emmy in 1974. She was nominated for a second Emmy the following year for her work on the television biopic Babe, and although that award eluded her, the movie provided Lee with her first credit as a producer. She moved into the director's chair in 1979 with the made-for-TV feature Mirror, Mirror, and as the Disco Decade gave way to the Me Decade, Lee was producing nearly every project on which she served as screenwriter. Especially adept at tackling social issues, Lee fought racial stereotypes as late as 1980, when she struggled to cast actress Kim Fields as an Olympic gymnast. Despite the producer's claim that there "are no black Olympic gymnasts," Lee stuck to her guns. and the film broke new ground for both television and minority athletes. Although Lee's final writer/producer/director duties came with the 1989 television drama My Dad Can't Be Crazy, Can He?, her legacy lived on through the work of her sons, actors Craig Lee and Christopher Ciampa. Joanna Lee died of bone cancer October 24, 2003, in Santa Monica, CA. She was 72.

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