Len Lesser, who appeared in the movie Kelly's Heroes and as Uncle Leo on the TV show Seinfeld, passed on February 16, 2011 at the age of 88. The cause was complications from pneumonia, after having fought a long battle with cancer.
Len Lesser was born on December 3, 1922 in New York City. He graduated from City College in New York City with a degree in economics and government in 1942. During World War II he served in the United States Army. After the war he went back to New York to study acting.
Mr. Lesser made his television debut in 1949 on an episode of Studio One. In 1954 he moved to Los Angeles where he made his career in television and film. During the Fifties he appeared on the shows Man Against Crime, G.E. Theatre, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Panic, Gunsmoke, Have Gun--Will Travel, The Jack Benny Programme, M Squad, Peter Gunn, Mr. Lucky, Bat Masterson, and The Untouchables. He appeared in such films as Shack Out on 101 (1955), Lust for Life (1956), Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (1957), The Brothers Karamazov (1958),Some Came Running (1958), Crime and Punishment U.S.A. (1959), and Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960).
In the Sixties Len Lesser appeared in such as films as Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Smog (1962), McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force (1965), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), Fireball 500 (1966), The Last Challenge (1967), and Kelly's Heroes (1970). He appeared on such shows as The Red Skelton Hour, The Outer Limits, The Wild Wild West, The Monkees, Ben Casey, The Munsters, Honey West, My Favourite Martian, Laredo, That Girl, Get Smart, and Green Acres.
In the Seventies Mr. Lesser appeared in such films as Blood and Lace (1971), Dirty Little Billy (1972), Slither (1973), Papillon (1973), Truck Stop Women (1974), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), House Calls (1978), and The Main Event (1979). He appeared on such shows as All in the Family, Ironside, Bonanza, The Mod Squad, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Kojak, The Rockford Files, Switch, and Quincy M.E.
In the Eighties Len Lesser appeared in such movies as Death Hunt (1981), Grandma's House (1989), Ain't Now Way Back (1990), Sorority Girls and the Creature from Hell (1990), and Faith (1990). He appeared on such shows as Airwolf, Spies, and Tour of Duty. In 1992 Len Lesser appeared for the first time as Uncle Leo on Seinfeld. He would remain a semi-regular for the length of the show's run. In 1996 he would appear as a similar character Garvin on Everybody Loves Raymond, also remaining a semi-regular for most of that show's run. He also appeared on the shows thirtysomething, The John Laroquette Show, and Smart Guy, . He appeared in the movies Rave Reveiw (1994), The List (1998) True Friends (1998), and The Werewolf Reborn (1998). In the Naughts he guest starred on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Just Shoot Me, ER, Cold Case, and Castle. He appeared in the movies Baadassss (2003) and Frankenstien and The Werewolf Reborn (2005).
Len Lesser was the sort of actor I always called "a professional guest star." I mean no disrespect by this, but rather I mean it as a compliment. He is one of those actors, like such legendary character actors as Richard Deacon and Jesse White, who frequently appeared in guest shots on TV shows and in small parts in movies. And Mr. Lesser was ideal as a professional guest star. He could play a large array of roles, from friendly relatives such as Uncle Joe on Seinfeld to heavies. Mr. Lesser was a very versatile actor, which more than anything else explained his long career, which stretched from 1949 to 2009.