Thursday, April 23, 2020

Tom Lester Passes On

Tom Lester, best known for playing farmhand Eb Dawson on the classic sitcom Green Acres, died on April 20 2020 at the age of 81. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease. He was the last surviving cast member of Green Acres.

Tom Lester was born on September 23 1938 in Laurel, Mississippi. He attended Laurel High School and then the University of Mississippi, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry. He attended graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi before leaving the university to pursue acting.

He made his acting debut in 1961 in the very first production of the Laurel Little Theatre, Born Yesterday. He moved to California where he befriended actress Lurene Tuttle, who appeared in many radio shows and TV shows. She was able to get him cast in a variety of plays. He made multiple appearances at the North Hollywood Playhouse. Among the plays in which he appeared was one in which producer Paul Henning's daughter Linda Kaye Henning, who would play Betty Jo Bradley on Mr. Henning's show Petticoat Junction. Because of this he became friends with Paul Henning. When Paul Henning was casting a new show set in the universe shared by The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junciton, he cast Tom Lester as farmhand Eb Dawson, largely because he knew how to milk a cow.

Green Acres proved to be a hit and Tom Lester appeared in very nearly every episode of the show. He also guest starred as Eb on several episodes of Green Acres and episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies. In the Seventies, after Green Acres left the air, Mr. Lester guest starred on episodes of Love, American Style and Marcus Welby, M.D. He appeared in the TV movie Charo and the Sergeant. He made his feature film debut in 1974 in Benji.

In the Eighties Tom Lester guest starred on episodes of Little House on the Prairie, Knight Rider, and Santa Barbara. He reprised his role as Eb Dawson in the television reunion movie Return to Green Acres. He appeared in the movie Intruder (1989). Since then he has appeared in the movies The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend (1991), Gordy (1994), and Campin' Buddies (2014). He was the voice of a radio announcer in the film Christmas Child (2004).

Both while he was on Green Acres and for years afterwards, Mr. Lester travelled the country as a Christian preacher. He also returned to farming and attended autograph shows and conventions, often in the role of Ed Dawson.

Tom Lester's acting career was not extensive, but he was also a delight to see on screen. On Green Acres he created one of the most memorable sitcom roles of the Sixties, that of childlike, but smart-alecky farm hand. He interactions with Oliver Wendell Douglas (played by Eddie Albert), who he insisted on calling "Dad," were often the funniest bits in any given episode. While Tom Lester would always be typecast as Eb Dawson, he could play other roles. He played the main villain's henchman Riley Bonner in  the movie Benji. In the Love, American Style segment he played a deputy sheriff who must deal with a young couple who bet on literally everything. Tom Lester had considerable talent and a gift for comedy. If he is remembered so well as Eb Dawson, it is perhaps because he performed the character so well.

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