Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lee, Margaret Stella (Meg) (1923–1987)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Margaret Stella Lee, by Norm Danvers, 1960

Margaret Stella Lee, by Norm Danvers, 1960

State Library of New South Wales, 07753

Margaret Stella Lee  (1923-1987), actress, was born on 20 June 1923 at Leichhardt, Sydney, daughter of John Llewellin Hogg, dentist at Camden, and his wife Margaret Clara, née Draper, formerly Watts, both born in New South Wales.  Her father practised at Strathfield (late 1920s), Gloucester and at Camden again by 1938.  At Gloucester Meg began her education at the local convent, where a nun gave her piano lessons.  From the age of 12 she boarded with an aunt at Strathfield and in 1937 entered the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music high school.  She studied under Frank Hutchens and won the under-18 piano championship at the City of Sydney Eisteddfod in 1939.

Abandoning her ambition to be a concert pianist without regret, Meg worked in radio with George Edwards  then joined 'The Youth Show' on the Macquarie network in 1941.  With shining blonde hair and classic features, she adopted the stage name 'Margo Lee'; she sang swinging songs and played comedy roles with Colin Croft.  He recalled that her gift of laughter and 'tremendous sense of fun enlivened everything she did' and those around her.  During World War II she honed her skills as a radio actress in many serials and later starred in Lux Radio Theatre.  She played a seductive nightclub singer in the racecourse film, Into the Straight (1949).

From 1952 Margo Lee was a panellist for eight years on 'Leave It to the Girls', on 2GB then on television.  She played leading roles on radio for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in such plays as Major Barbara (1953), The Merchant of Venice (1954), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1959), The Importance of Being Earnest (1964) and (Sir) Noël Coward’s comedies.  Although comedy was her forte, Margo Lee also accepted straight parts.  For her performance in the play 1984, she won the 1955 Lux Radio Theatre award for the best actress of the year.  She visited the United States of America, as her prize was to star in a Lux play, televised from Hollywood.  While there she refused television parts and two film offers.

Margo found television the hardest thing she had to do—she was on her own and the pace was 'terrific'.  Nevertheless, back home, she appeared in the ABC’s opening television play, J. M. Barrie’s The Twelve Pound Look, on 5 November 1956.  Other roles included Elizabeth Macarthur  in the ABC’s historical drama Stormy Petrel (1960).  Later, she admitted to liking television, though it could 'be tedious at times'.  She took part in such productions as Arthur Upfield’s  Boney and the Devil’s Steps (1972) and Kylie Tennant’s Ride on Stranger (1979).

Immensely versatile, Margo Lee darted from one medium to another.  She loved live theatre:  'What happens between you and the audience is the magical thing, that’s what gives the sense of fulfilment'.  On 7 May 1954 she had appeared in Top of the Bill, the first Phillip Street Revue.  She tap danced in Melbourne with Dame Anna Neagle in Charlie Girl (1971), a show she enjoyed immensely, played Queen Gertrude in John Bell’s Hamlet at the Nimrod Theatre (1973) and appeared in 1976 in a pantomime of Alice in Wonderland as 'a mad, singing duchess who was fun to play'.

On 1 November 1945 Meg had married Joseph Francis (Frank) Sidney Brooks (d.1984), an advertising agent and a divorcee, at the Vaucluse Congregational Church; she bore him two sons.  Although she was, according to a journalist, 'a real trouper and a professional to her fingertips', she had 'an agreeable record of putting her family first, in any clash with her career' and refused to make long tours.  In mid-1956 the Brooks family moved into the house that they had built at Seaforth overlooking Middle Harbour.  Meg loved to garden and by 1965 trailing wisteria, orchids, azaleas, camellias and roses were blooming.  She was an excellent cook and a lavish hostess.  In 1978 her sons still lived happily at home.

'Margo’s beauty never faded'; she kept her unlined complexion despite enjoying red wine and cigarettes.  She continued to work in the 1980s:  she played opposite Robert Morley in The Old Country (1980) and appeared (1982-85) in the television series 'A Country Practice' as Caroline Smithers.  In January 1982 she performed with the Sydney Theatre House as the Russian Grand Duchess in the classic comedy You Can’t Take It With You.  She took the title role in the Phillip Street revue Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You in 1983.  Indomitable to the end, she won a Melbourne Green Room award (1985) for her supporting role in Stepping Out and appeared posthumously as Miss Dawson in the television series 'Melba'.  She died of cancer on 16 October 1987 at St Leonards, Sydney, and was cremated.  Her sons survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Lane, The Golden Age of Australian Radio Drama, 1994
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 August 1939, p 19
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 'Women's Section', 11 September 1952, p 7
  • Australian Women’s Weekly, 25 April 1956, p 15
  • Woman's Day, 20 April 1959, p 10
  • Woman's Day, 15 November 1965, p 91
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 3 September 1967, p 104
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 28 December 1972, p 24
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 'TV Guide', 14 May 1973, p 1
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 8 August 1975, p 23
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 July 1979, p 1
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 18 December 1981, p 48
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 September 1983, p 44
  • Equity (Darlinghurst), December 1987, p 25
  • private and family information

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Lee, Margaret Stella (Meg) (1923–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lee-margaret-stella-meg-14146/text25157, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 November 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019

Margaret Stella Lee, by Norm Danvers, 1960

Margaret Stella Lee, by Norm Danvers, 1960

State Library of New South Wales, 07753

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hogg, Margaret Stella
  • Lee, Margo
  • Brooks, Margaret Stella
Birth

20 June 1923
Leichhardt, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

16 October 1987
St Leonards, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (breast)

Religious Influence
Occupation