Molly Bee, the country singer who shot to fame at age 13 with the 1952 novelty hit "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," has died of complications following a stroke. She was 69.
Bee died Saturday at a hospital in Oceanside, her manager, Rick Saphire, told The Associated Press. She had been in failing health for several months, Saphire said Wednesday.
Bee was just 10 when she started her music career, singing the Hank Williams classic "Lovesick Blues" on country star Rex Allen's radio show. He had met her and her mother at one of his concerts and was impressed when she sang a song for him.
Three years later, the blond girl with the sweet-honey voice was a star herself, with a hit song and a regular role on "Hometown Jamboree," a popular Los Angeles country-western TV show.
She made her movie debut in 1954 in "Corral Cuties," opposite country star Tennessee Ernie Ford, with whom she had recorded the duet "Don't Go Courtin' in a Hot Rod Ford" the year before.
She also appeared in the films "Going Steady," "Chartroose Caboose" and "The Young Swingers," and recorded such songs as "Young Romance," "5 Points of a Star" and "Don't Look Back."
She also had a regular role on Ford's TV variety show and played Pinky Lee's sidekick on "The Pinky Lee Show," one of the most popular children's programs of the 1950s.
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"She just had this kind of down-home quality about her. There was nothing phony about her, it was all real, and everyone loved her," actress Beverly Washburn told the AP. The two had appeared as sisters in the 1958 teen musical comedy "Summer Love."
Bee's career began to fade by the late 1960s, however, and in later years she was candid in saying a period of drug abuse was one of the reasons.
"It was no secret that she had been through some tough times in the '60s and '70s with drugs," Saphire said. "She equated it to being part and parcel of the kinds of things happening in the music business at the time."
Her personal life also was at times tumultuous. She was married five times.
She made a comeback in the 1970s, playing small country bars that were very different from the large concert audiences she had once attracted. Slowly she rebuilt her audience, releasing the albums "Good Golly Ms. Molly" in 1975 and "Sounds Fine to Me" in 1982. More recently she appeared from time to time at autograph shows.
Molly Gene Beachboard was born on Aug. 18, 1939, in Oklahoma City and raised in Tennessee and Arizona before moving to Los Angeles with her family at age 11.
She is survived by daughters Lia Genn and Bobbi Carey; a son, Michael Allen; a brother, Robert Beachboard; and four grandchildren.