Virginia Lee was born on July 14th, 1901, in Mexico City, Mexico, and spent her early years growing up with an Spanish-speaking nurse as her nanny. She was a descendant of Robert E. Lee and in later life proudly claimed ownership of the cabinet in which the Confederate General had kept some of his uniforms. Virginia’s family relocated to Canada when she was eight years old and there she added French to the Spanish she had learned in Mexico. A beautiful young girl, Miss Lee began modeling for artists when she was eleven and eventually went on to pose for famed artist Howard Chandler Christy. Ambitious and admittedly opportunistic, Miss Lee quickly moved from modeling to minor movie roles to starring in feature films. Always candid and direct in speech, the actress once proudly told a reporter that her rapid success was based solely on her talent and beauty and “without ever going to bed with any man.”
In 1917, Miss Lee appeared in the first experimental Technicolor film, The Gulf Between, made in Jacksonville, Florida. Though the film had considerable technical problems and was not a great box office success, the young beauty—5 ’4” and 120 pounds with golden hair and blue eyes—was quite happy with the results. “I photographed like a million bucks in color,” was her assessment. While this film was in release, Miss Lee was hired by the Betzwood Film Company to appear opposite Louis Bennison in the first two films he made at the Betzwood studios, Oh! Johnny! and Sandy Burke of the U-Bar-U. She celebrated her seventeenth birthday at the Betzwood studio in the summer of 1918. Bennison and Lee enjoyed good chemistry together both onscreen and off; Virginia Lee admired Louis Bennison and appreciated the kindness with which he treated her.
In September 1921, Virginia Lee participated in the very first Miss America contest in Atlantic City, as the representative of the state of New York. Because she was already a professional actress, and not an “amateur beauty,” she was placed in a special “professional” category. She won the category, was awarded the Endicott Trophy and became first runner-up to the girl who won Miss America. Many years later Lee would claim that she had actually been chosen as the first Miss America, but that the title had been taken from her because a wealthy and influential citizen of Atlantic City had promised it to his girlfriend.
Miss Lee continued to make films in the 1920s, appearing in a dozen more silent films. However, she also got married—to a young navy ensign named William Boyer she had met while working in the New York area—and decided to retire from the movies. “I had been in films for years; I was successful and had done everything I had set out to do. Now I wanted to be a wife and mother. I wanted to do it the right way,” she recalled in a 1993 interview conducted by Michael G. Fitzgerald and Boyd Magers and published in Classic Images (1994). Bill and Virginia Boyer had two children, and even though the former actress was coaxed back to make a few more film appearances, she preferred to focus her energies on her husband and family. Her last credited movie role was in one of the last silent films, The Adorable Cheat, in 1928.
Virginia Lee Boyer died on January 14, 1996, in Englewood, Florida, at the age of 94.