actor Sophie Lee shot to national fame as the teenage presenter
of the Bugs Bunny Show in 1990 (Channel Nine). With a combination
of daring fashion-sense, verve and beauty she secured high ratings
among adults as well us children. Lee went on to host the first
series of Sex (a.k.a., Sex with Sophie Lee) for Channel
Nine in 1991. The show scored a high rating (32) and propelled her
further into popular notoriety, especially in tabloid and consumer
journalism, where she was the undisputed cover-girl of the year,
appearing, often repeatedly, in Australia's biggest-circulation
magazines; Woman's Day, New Idea, TV Soap, TV Week, Cosmopolitan,
Cleo, Dolly, Who Weekly, Truth, Playboy (in a cover/interview
as sax-player with Melbourne rock band The Freaked Out Flower
Children), and The Australian Woman's Weekly.
celebrity was organized around her youthful good looks, but Lee
exceeded the image from the start, being associated with forthright
views on sexism, feminism, and on the need for young people to get
accurate sex-information in the HIV era. The combination of her
popular reach, sexy image, and widely reported comments on sexism,
made her a contributor to and icon of the modernization, democritization
and feminization of sexual attitudes in Australian popular/public
culture. Her television career coincided with the rise of supermarket
journalism and the supermodel phenomenon (she was also used as a
fashion model), both of which blurred traditional distinctions between
public and private, politics and entertainment, male and female
"domains," urban and suburban culture. Lee herself was constantly
critical of the tendency of TV executives and tabloid journalists
to confuse sexuality with sleaze, and as a result she was seen as
an unofficial spokesperson for a postmodern, post-political generation
and its concerns.
was reluctant to continue as the role model of sexuality for Channel
Nine, since her commitment to democratized sexual lifestyles was
exploited to run segments on voyeuristic topics (such as topless
barmaids) over which she had no control, instead of stories she
did herself on topics such as abortion and the campaign to put condom
vending-machines in schools. As a result of these concerns she dropped
out of the Sex show after its first season. She continued to appear
as an actor in the internationally syndicated prime-time soap opera
The Flying Doctors and its short-lived successor RFDS,
playing the character of Penny Wellings. She also appeared in the
launch episode of the successful "forensic psychologist" series
Hallifax fp (starring Rebecca Gibney) in 1994. But effectively
Lee withdrew from TV-celebrity altogether to concentrate on acting,
spending 1995 on tour with the classic Australian stage-play Summer
of The Seventeenth Doll.
is known to an international audience through her role as Tania
in the 1994 suburban tragi-comedy film Muriel's Wedding.
Tania is notable for her sobbing, mascara-spattered, uncomprehending
line "But I'm beautiful!" uttered when she loses the plot to the
despised, ugly, fat, uncool Muriel. This line sums up an ironic,
Australian displacement of the standard Hollywood teen-film where
the good-looking girl wins out in the end precisely for that reason.
the constraints of possibility offered by her public persona, Lee
works against the grain of "suburban terrorism," not uncritically
endorsing or exploiting it, but offering glimpses of other powers
than being "beautiful" but "dangerously short of brains." She has
consistently used her own beauty and brains in opposition to the
"power thing," to talk through the expected stereotypes to the suburban
audiences who were hooked on her Bugs Bunny persona. Sophie
Lee was among the first of a new generation of politically astute
popular performers in Australia who allowed a virtualized, postmodern
public to think even as they admired.
Photo courtesy of Sophie Lee
LEE. Born 1969 in Melbourne, Australia. Worked in local theatre
groups and as an international model; first film role in the Australian
telemovie Raw Silk, 1988; host of GTV Channel 9 Bugs Bunny Show;
major roles in The Flying Doctors, 1985, and its spin-off R.F.D.S.;
talk show host, 1991; also pursued a singing career in this period
with a small Melbourne band.
1985- The Flying Doctors
1990 The Bugs Bunny Show (host)
1991 Sex with Sophie Lee (host)
1994 Hallifax, fp
Muriel's Wedding, 1994.
of the Seventeenth Doll, 1995; Gary's House, 1996.
John. Popular Reality: Journalism, Modernity, Popular Culture.
London: Edward Arnold, 1996.
Tom. Australian National Cinema. London: Routledge, 1996.