Buddy Lester and His Million Dollar Scar

William “Buddy” Lester (1915-2002) was the younger brother of comedian Jerry Lester, though he would come to overshadow him. The brothers performed in vaudeville and nightclubs in Chicago as kids in the 1920s; Lester claimed that Al Capone helped them get work as minors (he may have a soft spot for Buddy on account of a prominent scar on his face from a childhood accident). Lester would later play Capone in the TV movie Poor Devil (1973).

After naval service in World War II, Lester became a Las Vegas nightclub favorite, opening for Frank Sinatra and others. Lester appeared in the Rat Pack films Oceans 11 (1960) and Sergeants 3 (1962). Jerry Lewis was also a big fan, giving him prominent turns in The Ladies Man (1961), The Nutty Professor (1963), The Patsy (1964), Three on a Couch (1966), The Big Mouth (1967), Hardly Working (1980) and Cracking Up (1983). Blake Edwards cast him in The Party (1968).

Because of his scar, Lester was often cast as tough guys both in comedy and in crime dramas. He did a lot of work in television. In addition to being a regular on The New Phil Silvers Show (1963-64), he had recurring roles on Barney Miller and My World and Welcome To It; appeared on Dragnet six times (and one each on Adam-12 and Emergency! — clearly Jack Webb was a fan), That Girl four times (and once on Make Room for Daddy — he was plainly also a friend of Danny Thomas); and he also appeared on The Doris Day Show, Love American Style, The Odd Couple, It Takes a Thief, Mod Squad, McCloud, Kojak, Police Woman, Starsky and Hutch, CPO Sharkey and many other shows. His last role was a bit part in the 1984 Mike Hammer film More Than Murder.  While not playing roles in film and television Buddy Lester continued to work as a stand-up comic throughout his life .

To find out more about the history of show business and performers like Buddy Lester, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous and for more on slapstick comedy film (like that of Jerry Lewis), read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube