Buddy Lester, 86; Comic Appeared in TV, Films


Buddy Lester, stand-up comedian and character actor on television and in motion pictures starring Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis, has died. He was 86.

Lester died Friday of cancer in a Van Nuys nursing home, his family said.

A native of Chicago, Lester was a fixture on the international nightclub circuit for seven decades. In Las Vegas, he opened for Sinatra several times and appeared with the singer in such “Rat Pack” films as the 1960 “Ocean’s Eleven” and the 1962 “Sergeants Three.”

Later that decade Lester appeared with Lewis in four films, “The Nutty Professor,” “The Patsy,” “Three on a Couch” and “The Big Mouth.”


Lester made his film debut playing himself as an entertainer in the 1959 movie “The Gene Krupa Story,” starring Sal Mineo.

The comedian proved even more popular on television, and was a part of the regular cast of “The New Phil Silvers Show” in 1963-64. Lester also acted in several episodes of such police series as “Adam-12" and “Barney Miller,” and became a familiar face through his work in shows such as “Love, American Style,” “The New Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Odd Couple” and “Starsky and Hutch.”

A handsome man with dark hair, Lester could assume mockingly menacing personas because of a somewhat mysterious scar to the right of his mouth. He delighted in making up various stories about how he acquired it.

He frequently said he got the scar when he was blown off a barge at Guadalcanal. He once used it to intimidate beefy rabble-rousers at a nearby table when he was watching friends on stage in a Chicago nightclub. And in a New York hotel, he told a group of Germans that he got the scar in a fencing duel while he was a student in Heidelberg.


The truth, he confessed to the now-defunct Los Angeles Mirror in 1961, was: “I fell off a chair onto a broken water glass when I was 3 years old.”

Lester once considered plastic surgery to erase the mark, but changed his mind after a movie makeup artist liked it so much that he enlarged it for Lester’s scenes.

Lester is survived by his son, Paul; daughter, Sylvia Jensen; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.