Jennie Lee

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Jennie Lee (c.1854-1930)[1] was a British actress, singer and dancer.


She made her stage debut in London at an early age and not long afterwards found success in New York and San Francisco. However her career, and indeed her fame, was driven by her performance as the lead in Jo (a melodrama based on Bleak House, written by her husband, John Pringle Burnett).

Lee performed the role of "Jo" for the first time on 7 June 1875, in H. A. Rendle's stage adaptation of Dickens's Bleak House entitled Chesney Wold (with Fanny Janauschek in the dual roles of Lady Dedlock and Hortense). Real success however came when she performed "Jo" in her husband's play of that name on its London debut at the Globe Theatre in Newcastle Street, on 22 February 1876, with Burnett in the role of "Inspector Bucket".

Performing Jo and other productions, Lee and Burnett would perform in Britain for many years and undertake at least four tours of the colonies as well. She eventually chose to retire around 1911.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

According to Boonzaier (1923), Jennie Lee and J.P. Burnett visited South Africa 1894, appearing in the Opera House, Cape Town, under the auspices of Arturo Bonamici in a season that included Jo (with her husband probably in the role of "Inspector Bucket"), as well as in Caste ( Robertson) and Run Wild ()[]. She apparently played the role of "Jo" more than 9000 times on tour throughout the United Kingdom, America, Australia, South Africa and India.


D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.

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