Cherylene Lee and Gene Kelly, 1958

Cherylene Lee and Gene Kelly, 1958

Cherylene Lee, a fourth-generation Chinese American, was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Like the narrator of her short story “Hollywood and the Pits,” she was a child performer in Hollywood.

Lee started her Hollywood career at the age of three on the live CBS T.V. show, Playhouse 90, in the episode, “The Family Nobody Wanted.”  At four, she and her sister, Virginia, were guest stars on The Dinah Shore Show, which led, at age five, to her being chosen as Gene Kelly’s protege on the Gene Kelly Spectacular featuring Liza Minelli and poet, Carl Sandburg.  With her sister Virginia, they formed the song and dance team, the Lee Sisters, and their nightclub act played the main stage at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas for three summers. On TV, she was a semi-regular on TV series’ Bachelor Father, and Kentucky Jones,  guest star on Dennis the MenaceMcHale’s Navy, My Three Sons, The F.B.I. among others, and she also performed in the films, Flower Drum Song, Donovan’s Reef, The Horizontal  Lieutenant, and A Letter to Nancy. Her stage credits include King and I, Flower Drum Song, and as an adult, the NY Shakespeare Festival’s International Company of A Chorus Line

As an adult, Lee changed her focus. First, she earned degrees in paleontology and geology. She holds a BA from UC Berkeley and an MS from UCLA. Her transition from child performer to paleontologist is chronicled in her widely published short story, Hollywood and the Pits.

In 1983, she started writing plays, poetry, and fiction. Her writing often deals with parallels and conflicts between East and West, past and present, science and art. Lee’s stories and poetry appear in many anthologies, notably in American Dragons (HarperCollins) and Charlie Chan is Dead (Penguin). Her plays include Yin Chin Bow, Wong Bow Rides Again,  Arthur and Leila , Carry the Tiger to the Mountain, Knock Off Balance, Rice, Lost Vegas Acts, The Legacy Codes, Antigone Falun GongMixed Messages, and And Justice for All: The Story of Lily Chin (screenplay).

Lee’s plays have been mounted on stages across the country, including Pan Asian Repertory Theatre off-Broadway, East West Players in Los Angeles, the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York, Brava! Theatre For Women in the Arts, Theatre-Works and the Aurora in the Bay Area, and at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepherd’s Town, West Virginia.

Recipient of numerous grants including a TCG/NEA Playwright in Residence grant, a Wallace A. Gerbode grant, a California Arts Council Playwriting Fellowship, two San Francisco Cultural Equity Grants, and a Kennedy Center Fund For New American Plays grant, Cherylene has also been commissioned by  East West Players, Pan Asian Rep, Z Space Studio, the Magic Theatre, and the Playwright’s Workshop of the Mark Taper Forum under Oscar Eustis.

Her memoir was supported by a San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity Individual Artist grant and a Creative Work Fund literary grant in collaboration with the Center for Asian American Media.

To see more of Cherylene’s playwriting and theatre work, visit

September 29, 1983, Shubert Theatre, NY © NYPL. Photo by Martha Swope.