Hector Lee completed his MA from Berkeley in the 1930s and became an instructor at the University of Utah. In the early 1940s, Lee, along with Austin Fife and Wayland Hand, conducted extensive fieldwork on the Mormon legend of the Three Nephites, which is why Lee, Fife, and Hand were jokingly called "The Three Nephites" by their friends. In a 1985 Newsletter of the Folklore Society of Utah article, Dave Stanley wrote: " In 1942, Lee published an article: "The Three Nephites: A Disappearing Legend." Lee, continued his interest in the Three Nephite legends when he enrolled in the doctoral program in American Civilization at the University of New Mexico. His dissertation, published by the University of New Mexico Press in 1949, was entitled The Three Nephites: The Substance and Significance of the Legend in Folklore, was the first large-scale scholarly treatment of Mormon folklore. Perhaps as important as his scholarship was Lee's organizational ability. In 1944, he landed a grant for the University of Utah from the Rockefeller Foundation. With this grant, Lee established the Utah Humanities Research Foundation and sponsored research projects by such well-known Utah scholars as Juanita Brooks, Helen Papanikolas, Lester Hubbard, Don D. Walker, and William Mulder. Lee also established the Utah Humanities Review, a quarterly journal that devoted much space and attention to Western folklore in its first few years. Lee's enthusiasm for Western folkways must have been contagious, for a number of writers and scholars throughout the state turned to folklore as an important and vital part of their pursuits. Hector Lee, then, was central as a collector and analyst of Mormon folklore, but he was also an early influence on many other writers who helped establish folklore as a subject worthy of public attention and of professional scholarship. Dr. Lee left Utah in 1947 to accept a position as Dean of Instruction at Chico State College in California; later, he moved to a similar position at Sonoma State College north of San Francisco."
Hector Lee's major publications include The Three Nephites: The Substance and Significance of the Legend in Folklore (University of New Mexico Press, 1949; republished by Arno Press, 1977); Tales of California (Utah State University Press, 1974); and Heroes, Villains and Ghosts: Folklore of Old California (Capra Press, 1984). A well known storyteller, Lee recorded hundreds of folktales and legends for radio broadcasts and other purposes. His storytelling abilities are recorded on Folklore of the Mormon Country (Folk Legacy Records, 1964), which contains stories about J. Golden Kimball and Brother Petersen yarns.
From the guide to the Hector Lee field recording collection, 1945-1947, (Utah State University. Merrill-Cazier Library. Special Collections and Archives.)