Buddy Lester

William "Buddy" Lester (January 16, 1915 – October 4, 2002) was an American comedian and actor who played dozens of character roles in films and television. Although known for his appearances in Jerry Lewis's comedy films, he was also regularly seen on popular television shows (such as The New Phil Silvers Show and Barney Miller) in the 1960s and 1970s. As a comedian, he was a fixture on the international nightclub circuit for several decades[1] and was the younger brother of comedian Jerry Lester.

Buddy Lester
Buddy Lester in a 1944 advertisement
William Lester

(1915-01-16)January 16, 1915
DiedOctober 4, 2002(2002-10-04) (aged 87)
OccupationComedian, actor
Years active1920s-1980s

Life and career

William Lester was born January 16, 1915 in Chicago. He began performing in variety shows in Chicago theaters at the age of seven, with his older brother, Jerry, who later became host of Broadway Open House, the television forerunner of The Tonight Show. He claimed in interviews that an early booster was the notorious mobster Al Capone, who helped the underage entertainers get jobs in nightclubs.[2] After serving in the Navy during World War II,[3] Lester, already an established stand-up comedian, stage actor, and radio host, eventually began appearing in films and on TV, becoming a popular character actor. His first film role was playing himself, as a nightclub entertainer, in the 1959 movie, The Gene Krupa Story.[4]

He regularly appeared in Jerry Lewis features, including The Patsy, The Ladies Man, The Nutty Professor, Three on a Couch, Cracking Up, Hardly Working and The Big Mouth.[4]

Although known mainly as a comic actor, he was also effective portraying tough underworld characters, in part because of his tall stature and a distinctive scar down his right cheek. He enjoyed concocting stories about the origin of the scar - claiming at one point to have received it in a sword duel while a student in Heidelberg, Germany - but admitted that it was actually the result of falling onto a broken drinking glass when he was three years old.[4] Lester portrayed Vince Massler, one of the gang members in the 1960 film Ocean's 11 with Frank Sinatra, for whom he performed as opening act many times.[1]

During the 1963–64 television season, he played "Nick" on The New Phil Silvers Show. In the third season of the show Gomer Pyle, USMC, he played Peter Evans, a crooked gambler. He guest-starred on Make Room for Daddy, where he played the part of a competitive comedian who stole some of Danny Thomas's comedy material.[4]

During the late 1960s and early 1970s Lester appeared in episodes of the show Dragnet, and later in the 1970s as 'Sidney' the bookie on the hit series Barney Miller.[4] He appeared in many other TV shows and movies from the 1960s through the mid 1980s, while regularly performing as a stand-up comedian.


Year Title Role Notes
1959The Gene Krupa StoryHimself
1960Ocean's 11Vince Massler
1961The Ladies ManWillard C. Gainsborough
1962Sergeants 3Willie Sharpknife
1963The Nutty ProfessorBartender
1964The PatsyCopa Café MC
1966Three on a CouchThe Drunk
1967The Big MouthStuds
1968The PartyDavey Kane
1975The Man from Clover GroveChed Fields
1980Hardly WorkingClaude Reed
1982Fake-OutThe Blackjack Player
1983Cracking UpPassenger


Lester died from cancer in a Van Nuys, California nursing home on October 4, 2002, aged 87.[1] He had a son and a daughter, and several grand- and great-grandchildren. His older brother, Jerry Lester, died in 1995, aged 85, in Miami, Florida.[2]


  1. Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2002; Obituaries; 'Buddy Lester, 86; Comedian Appeared in TV, Films', by Myrna Oliver
  2. The Telegraph, October 16, 2002; Obituaries: Buddy Lester
  3. The New York Times, October 12, 2002; Obituary: 'Buddy Lester, 85, Actor in Rat Pack Films'
  4. Biodata, imdb.com; accessed April 12, 2018.
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