In Remembrance: Robert Lees
Robert Lees, the screenwriter who worked on such comedies as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951) before having to work under a pseudonym following being blacklisted during the McCarthy era, was found murdered on Sunday June 13, 2004 in his home in Los Angeles. He was 91.
Lee started in show business as a dancer before becoming a writer for MGM Studios where he was paired with writer Frederic Rinaldo. Their first screen credit was the short The Perfect Set-Up (1936), part of the studios “Crime Does Not Pay” series. Lees and Rinaldo continued to work on comedy short subjects including How To Start The Day and A Night At The Movies starring Robert Benchley, Penny Wisdom, Decathlon Champions and Candid Cameramaniacs (all 1937) from the Pete Smith Specialty series. They also wrote two biographical short subjects, The Story Of Doctor Carver (1938) and Prophet Without Honor (1939), about Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806 - 1837) the American naval officer who developed the first charts of ocean currents. The film would be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject.
After one final comedy short for Benchley, An Hour For Lunch (1939), Lees and Rinaldo, moved onto feature length projects with the 1940 drama Street Of Memories. The pair worked on the science-fiction/ horror films The Invisible Woman (1940) and The Black Cat (1941) and the drama Bachelor Daddy (1941). They penned their first film for Abbott and Costello, Hold That Ghost, in 1941. They would go on to write Hit The Ice (1943), Buck Privates Come Home (1947), The Wistful Widow Of Wagon Gap (1947), Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein, Abbott And Costello Meet The Invisible Man and Comin’ Round The Mountain (1952) for the comedy duo. They also wrote Jumping Jacks in 1952 for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Following being blacklisted during the McCarthy era for his participation in the founding of the Hollywood chapter of League of American Writers, Lees continued to write under the pseudonym “J. E. Selby” for such television series as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Rawhide and Land Of The Giants.
At press time on the evening of June 14th, 2004, police have arrested a 27-year old homeless man in connection with the murder of Lees and his neighbor, though they admitted they had not yet established a motive.