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 and was the younger brother of comedian Jerry Lester.
Buddy Lester in a 1944 advertisement
January 16, 1915
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||October 4, 2002 87) (aged|
Van Nuys, California, U.S.
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. After serving in the Navy during World War II, 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. He appeared in many other TV shows and movies from the 1960s through the mid 1980s, while regularly performing as a stand-up comedian.
|1959||The Gene Krupa Story||Himself|
|1960||Ocean's 11||Vince Massler|
|1961||The Ladies Man||Willard C. Gainsborough|
|1962||Sergeants 3||Willie Sharpknife|
|1963||The Nutty Professor||Bartender|
|1964||The Patsy||Copa Café MC|
|1966||Three on a Couch||The Drunk|
|1967||The Big Mouth||Studs|
|1968||The Party||Davey Kane|
|1975||The Man from Clover Grove||Ched Fields|
|1980||Hardly Working||Claude Reed|
|1982||Fake-Out||The Blackjack Player|
Lester died from cancer in a Van Nuys, California nursing home on October 4, 2002, aged 87. 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.
- Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2002; Obituaries; 'Buddy Lester, 86; Comedian Appeared in TV, Films', by Myrna Oliver
- The Telegraph, October 16, 2002; Obituaries: Buddy Lester
- The New York Times, October 12, 2002; Obituary: 'Buddy Lester, 85, Actor in Rat Pack Films'
- Biodata, imdb.com; accessed April 12, 2018.