Mark Lester (born Mark A. Letzer; 11 July 1958) is an English former child actor who starred in a number of British and European films in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1968 he played the title role in the film Oliver!, a musical version of the Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. Lester also made several appearances in a number of British television series. In 1977, after appearing in the all-star international action adventure film The Prince and the Pauper, he retired from acting. In the 1980s, he trained as an osteopath specialising in sport injuries.
Lester in 1977
Mark A. Letzer
11 July 1958
|Occupation||Actor, osteopath, acupuncturist|
|Years active||1964–1977 (as an actor)|
|Spouse(s)||Jane (1993–2005, divorced)|
Mark Lester was born in the city of Oxford, Oxfordshire, in southern England, to actress Rita Keene Lester and actor and producer Michael Lester (originally Michael Boris Letzer). His father was Jewish and his mother Anglican. Lester was educated at three independent schools: at Corona Theatre School in Ravenscourt Park in West London, followed by Tower House School, a boys' preparatory school near Richmond Park (also in West London), and at Halliford School in Shepperton in Surrey.
Lester initially had supporting roles in several British television series, including The Human Jungle and Danger Man. In 1964, at the age of six, Lester was cast in Robert Dhéry's film Allez France! (1964) (English title The Counterfeit Constable) with Diana Dors (who appeared in the 1948 film version of Oliver Twist).
Oliver! and child stardom
In 1967, at the age of eight, Lester was cast in the title role in the film version of Lionel Bart's musical Oliver!. The multiple Academy Award-winning adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel co-starred Jack Wild, Ron Moody, Harry Secombe, Shani Wallis and Oliver Reed and was directed by Carol Reed. Since Lester could not sing, his singing was dubbed by Kathe Green, daughter of the film's music arranger Johnny Green.
Lester received critical acclaim for his portrayal of a dysfunctional and withdrawn only child in Run Wild, Run Free (1969), starring opposite John Mills, released by Columbia who financed Oliver!. He played a disturbed child in the first regular episode of Then Came Bronson ("The Runner") and also guest starred on The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. Columbia wanted to sign him to a long term contract but Lester's parents refused.
Lester had leading roles in Eyewitness (1970), a British thriller with Susan George shot on Malta; The Boy Who Stole the Elephant (1970), a TV movie for Disney; and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971), with Shelley Winters.
He was reunited with Wild in Melody (1971), which depicted schoolchildren in love, based on a script by Alan Parker. Tracy Hyde played the role of Melody in the film, which used music from the Bee Gees and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Lester starred in a film version of Black Beauty (1971). He was announced for a version of Treasure Island but it was never made. After this period, his acting roles in the UK would begin to wane. This coincided with a decline in the British film industry.
Lester remained in demand for films outside England: What the Peeper Saw (1972) with Britt Ekland; Senza ragione (1973), in Italy with Franco Nero; Little Adventurer (1973), a Japanese film; Scalawag (1973), a pirate film with Kirk Douglas shot in Yugoslavia; the costume drama La Prima volta sull'erba (English title The First Time on the Grass, 1974), which was nominated for the Golden Bear prize at the 25th Berlin International Film Festival.
Lester wrapped up his film career playing the dual role as Edward VI of England and Tom Canty in the all-star film The Prince and the Pauper (US title: Crossed Swords) starring Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison, George C. Scott, and Oliver Reed, who had played Bill Sikes in Oliver!.
At the age of 18 Lester had access to some of his earnings from his films. He bought a Ferrari and a house in Belgravia and went to parties, nightclubs and restaurants, often paying for friends, and taking drugs. After the poor reception of The Prince and the Pauper, Lester gave up acting at the age of 19. In his twenties he became a karate black belt; through this he grew interested in sports injuries, and from there osteopathy. At the age of 28 he took his A-Levels, passing Chemistry and Biology. He became an osteopath, studying at the British School of Osteopathy, and in 1993, Lester opened the Carlton Clinic, an acupuncture clinic in Cheltenham.
He is a patron of the theatre charity The Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America.
Lester was a close friend of Michael Jackson and is godfather to Jackson's three children. In August 2009, after Jackson's death, Lester gave an interview to the British tabloid newspaper News of the World in which he claimed that he could be the biological father of Paris, the late singer's daughter. Lester claimed to have been a sperm donor for Jackson in 1996, and announced that he was willing to take a paternity test to determine whether he was the father. Brian Oxman, former lawyer for the Jackson family, rejected the claim in a television interview, stating, “The thing I always heard from Michael was that Michael was the father of these children, and I believe Michael." In 2019, Lester stated that he was one of twenty sperm donors for Jackson.
|1964||The Counterfeit Constable||Gérald||a.k.a. Allez France|
|1965||Spaceflight IC-1: An Adventure in Space||Don Saunders|
|1967||Our Mother's House||Jiminee|
|1969||Run Wild, Run Free||Philip Ransome|
|1970||The Boy Who Stole the Elephant||Davey||TV movie|
|1971||Melody (released as S.W.A.L.K.)||Daniel Latimer|
|1971||Black Beauty||Joe Evans|
|1971||Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?||Christopher Coombs|
|1972||What the Peeper Saw||Marcus|
|1973||Little Adventurer||Mike Richard|
|1975||The First Time on the Grass||Franz Schmidt||a.k.a. La prima volta sull'erba|
|1977||The Prince and the Pauper||Prince Edward/Tom Canty||a.k.a. Crossed Swords|
|2019||Michael Jackson: Chase the Truth||Himself||Documentary film|
|1964||The Human Jungle||Small boy||TV series (1 episode The Twenty-Four Hour Man)|
|1966||Danger Man||A boy||TV series (1 episode Dangerous Secret)|
|1966||Court Martial||Paolo Stevens||TV series (1 episode Retreat from Life)|
|1969||Then Came Bronson||John Beaman||TV series (1 episode The Runner)|
|1969||The Ghost & Mrs. Muir||Mark Helmore||TV series (2 episodes Puppy Love and Spirit of the Law)|
|1970||Disneyland||Davey||(film in two parts)|
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- "Carlton Clinic". www.carltonclinic.co.uk. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
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- reporter, Daily Telegraph (10 August 2009). "Michael Jackson lawyer rejects Mark Lester claims he is Paris' father". Retrieved 18 May 2019 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
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- "Mark Lester opens up about being one of Michael Jackson's 20 sperm donors". 25 January 2019. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
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- Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, pp. 130–131.