John Lester Johnson: Bouts and Bits

We don’t endorse the depiction above; it was the costume of John Lester Johnson (1893-1968) in the Our Gang short The Kid from Borneo (1933). Prior to this (1912-29), Johnson had been a pro boxer with 23 k.o.s to his credit, famous for once fighting Jack Dempsey to a tie after 10 rounds, breaking several of Dempsey’s ribs. Johnson (whose given middle name was Leslie) appeared in over three dozen movies, usually in stereotyped bit parts. You can also see him in The Mighty Barnum (1934), Steamboat ‘Round the Bend (1935) with Will Rogers, The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), Klondike Annie (1936) with Mae West, Anthony Adverse (1937), Gold Diggers of 1937, Tarzan’s Revenge (1938), the Three Stooges shorts Wee Wee Monsieur and Three Missing Links (both 1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Drums of Fu Manchu (1940). In the ’40s he appeared in “race” films like Mystery in Swing (1940), Mrs. Washington Goes to Town (1941) and Professor Creeps (1942) with Mantan Moreland, his last.

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on the history of silent and classic comedy film please see Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube