Archivists will continually remind you that Lee Meriwether was successively Miss San Francisco, Miss California, and Miss America. And though most know Lee as Betty in the highly successful series, "Barnaby Jones," where she co-starred opposite Buddy Ebsen for eight years, and was nominated for both the Golden Globe and Emmy Awards, Lee has had starring or recurring roles in nine different series, ranging from the first women's editor with Dave Garroway on the original "Today Show" to her three-year run as Lily on "The Munsters Today." 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. Shortly after her brother Don was born three years later, the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona. As she was about to enter the fifth grade, her father was transferred to San Francisco. She 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 City College of San Francisco as a radio and TV/theater arts major. She had been nominated by a fraternity there -- "I never would have entered on my own." 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." But her mother reminded her of the lost scholarships, her father's personal excitement over the pageant and his eagerness for her participation. The rest is history.
Lee's mother has remained a very important part of her life. As she says, "I have always looked to her for guidance and support and she has always given it unselfishly. Heavens, she practically raised my daughters while I was doing 'Barnaby Jones.'"
Following her 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 Strasberg, 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, on "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, in "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 likes to remind film buffs that she played the "man" killed by Kim Kovak in "The Legend of Lylah Clare."
Live theater, however, continues to be Lee's first love. Attesting to that fact is her long association with Theater 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 Garret, "Aesop in Central Park" with Richard Dreyfuss and "Ladies of Hanover Towers" with Carroll O'Connor.
An assortment of her recent national stage credits includes the female version of "The Odd Couple" (two productions), "Last Summer at Blue Fish Cove," for which she received the DramaLogue 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"; 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 a tour of the play "Plaza Suite" with her husband, Marshall Borden.
Lee met Marshall in San Antonio where they both starred in a production of "Angel Street." 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, while performing in one of Marshall's plays, "The Artful Lodgers," they tied the knot. This year they will celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary on stage together, co-hosting the Ms. Senior America Pageant on television; the next day they go into rehearsals for a national tour of "Mame."
Lee also loves working with her daughters, Kyle and Lesley Aletter. Kyle appeared with her mother in "The Gingerbread Lady"; 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 "Circus of the Stars"; and all have done commercials together.
Lee's husband is busy writing two plays, and while Lee waits for one of the them in which she will have the starring role, she is enjoying one of the most difficult acting jobs of her career -- reading several gothic thrillers for Bantam and Random House Audio Publishing.
Lee's daughter, Kyle, and husband Rory Oldham gave birth to Lee's granddaughter, Ryan Isabelle, on Dec. 30, 1993, and grandma Lee is always available and eager to babysit. Also, Lee is active with a number of humanitarian endeavors and charities. She has served as Honorary Chairman of the Crippled Children's Society and is permanent Chairman of their major annual benefit, "The World's Greatest Working Truck Show." She is an honorary member of Women in Show Business, a philanthropic organization that funds reconstructive surgery for needy children, and has twice been named their Angel of the Year. She has also served as National Educational Chairman of the American Cancer Society and as the Los Angeles Chairman for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. There is also a special place in her heart for the Blind Children's Center. Lee has long been associated with animal rights groups and is deeply involved with Actors and Others for Animals.
Lee joined the cast of All My Children in 1996, taking over the role of Ruth Martin. The role of Ruth had previously been portrayed by Mary Fickett, but in early 1996 the actress decided that she wanted to retire from the hustle and bustle of the soap world.