Treasure: Artist got his start in ‘Our Gang’

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

George E. Lee was once known as a child actor. Few today know that Lee was also a prominent painter. Ken Schmidt of Bay City recently brought three Lee paintings downtown to DuMouchelles auction house, hoping to get an updated idea of their value and salability.

“My brother bought them directly from him at an art show in Salt Lake City in 1972,” he wrote in an email. “From research, I find he was an early member of “Our Gang” as a child actor. He had many celebrity friends that purchased his paintings. He worked at Disney Studios. Numbers of his paintings were reportedly owned by Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson as well as other members of the Hollywood crowd. He had an interesting background. He is deceased now, of course. These are larger paintings. They are not prints.”

More information about Lee (1925-1998) was found on the website askart.com. “Lee’s life was unique among his artist peers. He was born in Santa Monica, California on August 21, 1925, into a show business family (his father was a MGM property manager and two of his siblings were child actors). This meant he spent many of his early years in and around Hollywood. He became a very young child star in the “Our Gang” television comedies along with his brother Tommy, Jackie Cooper, and others.”

Artsalesindex.com offered more information on his interest in art. “During his time in and around Hollywood, George Lee became friends with many actors, including Laurel and Hardy, Judy Garland, Burl Ives, Edward G. Robinson, and Vincent Price. Lee indicated that actors Vincent Price and Edward Robinson were influential in arousing his interest in art. Both actors were collectors of American art and extolled the virtues of fine art. Lee, who spent much of his growing years sketching and drawing, indicated that Hollywood made it possible for him to take on painting as a career. Ultimately, both Price and Robinson would become some of the first major collectors of George E. Lee oil paintings. George E. Lee painted maritime themes full time for 3 decades, from 1968 until his death in 1998.”

Appraiser Jim Flannery was familiar with Lee’s work, having seen some of it in the past. He said that Lee “bounced around a bit and that he designed the Princess phone,” but that his last three decades were devoted to marine painting. While he said his background and work is interesting and well done, it unfortunately doesn’t bring big numbers at auction. “Most of his pieces go for $150-$500 each, although I’ve seen one that brought a few thousand,” he told Schmidt. “I would appraise each of yours at $250-$500 at auction, even though he’s a relatively well-known artist.”

Schmidt said he likes them and is considering buying them from his brother. “I like the muted colors,” he told the appraiser. “There’s something about sunsets. We don’t see enough of them around here.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to trashortreas@aol.com. If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item : George E. Lee paintings

Submitted by : Ken Schmidt

Appraised by : Jim Flannery, DuMouchelles

Estimated value: $250-$500 each at auction