Michele Lee

Michele Lee (born June 24, 1942) is an American actress, singer, dancer, producer, director and frequent game show panelist of the 1970s. She is known for her role as Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie on the 1980s prime-time soap opera Knots Landing (1979–93), for which she was nominated for a 1982 Emmy Award and won the Soap Opera Digest Award for Best Actress in 1988, 1991 and 1992. She was the only performer to appear in all 344 episodes of the show.

Lee began her career on Broadway 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. Her other film appearances include the Disney film The Love Bug (1968), The Comic (1969) and Along Came Polly (2004). She was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 1974 for Seesaw, and for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 2001 for The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. She also played the title role in the 1998 TV film Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story, and Madame Morrible in the Broadway musical Wicked in 2015.

    Early life

    Lee was born Michele Lee Dusick in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Sylvia Helen (née Silverstein) and Jack Dusick, a make-up artist. She is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, her ancestors being from Poland and Russia. At age 19, her television career began on the December 26, 1961 episode of the CBS-TV sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. She attended Alexander Hamilton High School where she became popular with her class.


    Early years

    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, opposite Dick Van Dyke, and The Love Bug, opposite Dean Jones. 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", and also peaked at #52 on the Hot 100 with "L. David Sloane". 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

    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. 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. 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." 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. Farentino and she 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 in 1982 for "Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series". 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 does not 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 could not 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

    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 miniseries 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 nonfiction special Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again, in which the stars reminisced about their time on the hit series. 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. She returned to Broadway in 2015 to star as Madame Morrible in the musical .

    Personal life

    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.


    Year Title Role Notes
    1961 The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis Lila Episode: "Crazylegs Gillis"
    1967 The Red Skelton Show Peaches Laverne Episode: "A New York Stripper Is Not Always a Steak"
    1967 How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying Rosemary Pilkington
    1968 The Love Bug Carole Bennett
    1969 Roberta Stephanie
    1969 The Comic Mary Gibson
    1971 Night Gallery Joanna Lowell Episode: "Since Aunt Ada Came to Stay/With Apologies to Mr. Hyde/The Flip Side of Satan"
    1970-1972 Marcus Welby, M.D. Katie 3 episodes
    1972 Alias Smith and Jones Georgette Sinclair 3 episodes
    1972 Of Thee I Sing Diana Devereaux
    1971-1973 Love, American Style Various 5 episodes
    1974 Only with Married Men Jill Garrett
    1976 Dark Victory Dolores Marsh
    1978 Having Babies Lucy Episode: "Sterile Wife"
    1978 Bud and Lou Anne Costello
    1978-1979 Fantasy Island Nancy Weston / Carol DeAngelo 2 episodes
    1979 Nutcracker Fantasy Narrator Voice
    1977-1982 The Love Boat Various 6 episodes
    1985 A Letter to Three Wives Rita Phipps
    1989 Single Women Married Men Susan Parmel
    1990 The Fatal Image Barbara Brennan
    1991 My Son Johnny Mary Anne
    1992 Broadway Bound Blanche
    1992 When No One Would Listen Jessica Cochran
    1979-1993 Knots Landing Karen Cooper Fairgate MacKenzie Series regular, 344 episodes
    1995 Something Wilder Joanna Episode: "The Ex Files"
    1995 Big Dreams and Broken Hearts: The Dottie West Story Dottie West
    1996 Color Me Perfect Dina Blake
    1997 Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac Karen MacKenzie TV Mini-Series
    1998 Scandalous Me: The Jacqueline Susann Story Jacqueline Susann
    1999 A Murder on Shadow Mountain Barbara Traynor
    2000 Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer Cousin Mel Voice
    2003 Miss Match Sandy Episode: "Addicted to Love"
    2004 Along Came Polly Vivian Feffer
    2004 Married to the Kellys Maggie Wagner Episode: "Kansas v. Tom's Parents"
    2005 Will & Grace Lucille Episode: "Dance Cards & Greeting Cards"
    2010 Family Guy Estelle Harris Episode: "Extra Large Medium"
    2013 See Dad Run Grandma Maggie Episode: "See Dad See Through Grandma"
    2013 How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) Caroline Episode: "How to Help the Needy"

    Awards and nominations

    Year Award Category Work Result
    1973 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Performance Seesaw Won
    1974 Tony Award Best Actress in a Musical Nominated
    1982 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Knots Landing Nominated
    1986 Soap Opera Digest Award Favorite Super Couple on a Prime Time Serial Won
    Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role on a Prime Time Serial Nominated
    1988 Favorite Super Couple: Prime Time Won
    Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role: Prime Time Won
    1991 Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role: Prime Time Won
    1992 Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role: Prime Time Won
    1998 Hollywood Walk of Fame Star on the Walk of Fame
    On 19 November 1998 at 6363 Hollywood Blvd.
    2001 Tony Award Best Featured Actress in a Play The Tale of the Allergist's Wife Nominated
    2009 TV Land Award Anniversary Award Knots Landing Won


    External links