Etta Lee

Etta Lee (born Etta Lee Frost, 1906 – 1956) was an American silent film actress, known for supporting roles.

Etta Lee
Etta Lee - Jan 1923 Shadowland.jpg
From a 1923 magazine
Born(1906-09-12)September 12, 1906
DiedOctober 27, 1956(1956-10-27) (aged 50)
Years active1921–1935
Frank Robinson Brown
(m. 1932⁠–⁠1956)


Lee was born on September 12, 1906, in Kauai, Hawaii. Her father was a Chinese medical doctor and her mother was of French ancestry.[1][2] She grew up in California and went on to get her degree in education at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Lee moved back to Hawaii to be a teacher, before returning to Los Angeles to begin her career as an actress.[3]

Lee's first film was A Tale of Two Worlds in 1921, where she played Ah Fah, a Chinese maid. She played another Chinese maid named Liu in the 1923 film The Remittance Woman, a maid in The Untameable (1923), A Thief in Paradise (1925), The Trouble with Wives (1925), and International House (1933). Other so-called exotic roles she was cast in included The Slave of the Sand Board in The Thief of Bagdad (1924).[4][5][6] In 1923 she was called the only Eurasian girl in films.[1]

Lee directly commented on the lack of diversity in her roles in an article in 1924. She noted that "I am equipped…to show oriental impulse and emotional complexities. But in this field I have not yet had opportunity."[7] She went on to discuss that even in terms of getting roles meant for Chinese women, she was often turned down because she was of mixed race and did not look Chinese enough.

She made her first stage debut in the summer of 1927, with a production of The Scarlet Virgin in Los Angeles.[8]

In 1932, Lee married Frank Robinson Brown, a Welsh-born radio announcer and columnist,[9] and retired from acting afterward. She became active in her community following retirement, becoming chairwoman of the Eureka Woman's Club. She was also an active member of the Episcopal Church. She died at age 50 on October 27, 1956, at her in home Eureka, California.[3][10]



  1. ^ a b Clark, Barrett (June 1923). "Half-Chinese and Wholly Lovely". Motion Picture Classic. Vol. XVII no. 4. pp. 41, 76.
  2. ^ Cho, Jenny; Chinese Historical Society of Southern California (2013). Chinese in Hollywood. Arcadia Publishing. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-7385-9973-1.
  3. ^ a b "Etta Lee Brown, former film star, dies in Eureka". The Times Standard. (Eureka, Calif.). October 27, 1956.
  4. ^ Exhibitor's Trade Review 1923: 1227. Print.
  5. ^ Photoplay 1925: 395. Web. 9 Nov. 2016.
  6. ^ Variety 1923. Print.
  7. ^ Jungmeyer, Jack (July 15, 1924). "Etta Lee is Rare Screen Type". The Bismarck Tribune. NEA. p. 4.
  8. ^ "Stage wins almond-eyed heroines". Brownsville Herald. Associated Press. October 17, 1927. p. 3.
  9. ^ Variety Radio Directory. Variety, Inc. 1940. p. 889.
  10. ^ "Etta Lee Brown". Variety. October 31, 1956. p. 71.

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