Las Vegas Sun

August 20, 2019

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Veteran Strip comedian, TV, film actor Lester dies

Longtime Las Vegas comedian Buddy Lester, who opened for Frank Sinatra on the Strip and appeared on television and in the movies often as a stone-faced heavy or a drunk, died Friday of cancer in Los Angeles. He was 86.

Services were earlier today in Reseda, Calif., for Lester, who in the late 1970s wrote the Las Vegas Sun golf humor column "Hookers I Have Known." As a character actor, he had a recurring role on "Dragnet" in the 1950s and a supporting role in the 1960 Rat Pack film "Ocean's Eleven."

Lester was a resident of the Las Vegas Country Club from the 1970s to 1993. He resided in Los Angeles for the last nine years.

"Buddy was not only a very funny man but he also was truly a happy-go-lucky guy," said Ed Gomez, a longtime Las Vegas real estate agent. As former Las Vegas bandleader Edi Domingo, Gomez appeared with Lester in "Ocean's Eleven" and worked with him at the old El Rancho Vegas. "He always had a good time working," he said.

Paul Lester said his father's positive attitude stemmed from the hip, fun celebrity life he enjoyed.

"My father always said he hated to be around square people," he said. "He had such an energy for life and it showed when he performed."

In addition to playing gangsters, Lester may best be remembered for his signature performance as a sophisticated drunk, which he portrayed in the 1960s Jerry Lewis comedy "Three on a Couch."

"My father said the secret to playing a drunk well is to play a drunk who is trying to act like he is sober," Paul Lester said.

Buddy Lester made five movies with Lewis. The other four were "The Ladies' Man," "The Nutty Professor," "The Patsy" and "The Big Mouth."

Lester's roles on television did not make him a household name, but were memorable:

Born Albert Goldberg on Jan. 16, 1916, in Chicago, Lester was one of two sons of James Goldberg, a comedian and entertainment reporter for the now-defunct Chicago Evening American newspaper. Lester's mother died when he was 6.

As a teenager Lester began his entertainment career working neighborhood clubs. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to the stage and met Sinatra while both were working at New York's Paramount Theatre.

In 1951 Lester moved to California, where he landed his first TV jobs and began playing Las Vegas lounges. He opened the New Frontier lounge and, a few years later, was the opening act for headliner Sinatra at the Sands.

Lester made his movie debut in "The Gene Krupa Story" in 1959.

In "Ocean's Eleven," which was filmed in Las Vegas, Lester portrayed Vince, a character who initially did not want to join his fellow Army pals in robbing a casino but relented because he needed the money.

After "Ocean's Eleven," Lester did another Rat Pack film, "Sergeants Three,"portraying American Indian Willie Sharpknife.

In addition to his son, Lester is survived by a daughter, Sylvia Jensen; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death in 1991 by his wife of 42 years, Lael Lester.

Arrangements were handled by Lorenzen Mortuary of Reseda.