American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2011 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 29

Sutton & Lee

Sutton & Lee were a self-described “rodeo act.”  They played vaudeville, circus, wild west shows, rodeo and nightclubs.  Shorty appeared in silent western movies as a rider and roper, and toured with Tom Mix and Ken Maynard in personal appearance tours.  He had been fascinated with the cowboy life since he was a child and he never wavered from his intent to make his living through cows and horses.

From his start as a ranch hand he moved into rodeos and then to silent films where he watched Doug Fairbanks learn to manipulate bull whips for his role in Don Q.  Shorty learned by watching and took his new skills into rodeo shows, circus and vaudeville.  He used to bring someone on-stage from the audience to assist him, but on tour he met Betty Lee and she became his assistant, first, and later his partner in the act.

In their act, “Rope, Whips and Humor,” they were rush on the full stage cracking their whips, both of them slicing pieces of paper into fragments.  Then Shorty would tie handkerchiefs around Betty’s head, her wrists behind her back and then stick a third in the breast pocket of her blouse.  With Betty’s back to the audience, Shorty would then whip off the kerchiefs from the other side of the stage.  With her head and wrists freed, Betty would turn to the audience as Short plucked out the breast pocket handkerchief with his whip.  Keeping a fast pace Shorty would then whip cigarettes out of Betty’s mouth and the two of them would join for the big finish of their ten minute act by whip-slicing newspapers down to postage stamp-size fragments.

The act kept working in a variety of venues until 1975.  Shorty passed on in 1982.  Since then Betty stayed active in charity work and today swims regularly and goes out to dine and attend theatre.