The Tennessee Historical Commission recently approved an application to honor Harriman native and Actress of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Dixie Lee.
Dixie was born in the Walnut Hill neighborhood in Harriman near the intersection of Oak and Maple Streets, where the marker will be installed later this year. Unfortunately, the modest wooden frame house that was located on the property was destroyed by fire in 1959.
Dixie Lee was born November 4, 1909 as Wilma Winifred Wyatt, although she later claimed to have been born in 1911. Wilma was the youngest of three daughters born to East Tennessee natives, Evan Wyatt and Nora Scarborough Wyatt. Throughout her youth her family moved several times due to her father’s career as an insurance agent, eventually ending up in Chicago, Illinois where Wilma entered and won an amateur singing contest at the Sherman Hotel in 1928. This led to her being offered a part in a Broadway play and ultimately to her being discovered by Fox Film Corporation.
Her name was changed to “Dixie Lee” to avoid confusion with another actress with a similar name. She made her big screen debut in Fox’s Movietone Follies of 1929. She went on to have major and minor roles in at least 17 known films. In 1930, she met and married a little known up-and-coming crooner by the name of Harry Lillis Crosby, Jr., or “Bing Crosby” as he would later become known. She retired from acting in 1935, and helped Bing raise their 4 boys. She died November 1, 1952, from ovarian cancer.
Over the years, she has been largely forgotten and become a footnote in her famous husband’s story. However, this talented Harriman native will now be remembered for who she was and the talent she possessed. Details for a public dedication will be released later this year.
The City would like to thank Dixie Lee’s granddaughter in California and Chris Hammond from Powell, Tennessee without whom this application would not have been successful.