Bruce Lester

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Bruce Lester
Bruce Lester in Above Suspicion (1943)
Bruce Somerset Lister

(1912-06-06)6 June 1912
Died13 June 2008(2008-06-13) (aged 96)
Los Angeles
Resting place Westwood Memorial Park
Years active1934–1958
Spouse(s)Jane Lester [1]

Bruce Lester (6 June 1912 – 13 June 2008) was a South African-born English film actor with over 60 screen appearances to his credit between 1934 and his retirement from acting in 1958. Lester's career divided into two distinct periods. Between 1934 and 1938, billed as Bruce Lister, he appeared in upwards of 20 British films, mostly of the cheaply shot and quickly forgotten quota quickie variety. He then moved to the US, where he changed his surname to Lester, and found himself for a time appearing in some of the biggest prestige productions of their day, alongside stars such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn. Lester himself never achieved star-billing, but was said to have remarked that this at least meant that if a film was a flop, no blame ever fell on his shoulders. [2]

Union of South Africa state in southern Africa from 1910 to 1961, predecessor to the Republic of South Africa

The Union of South Africa is the historical predecessor to the present-day Republic of South Africa. It came into being on 31 May 1910 with the unification of the Cape Colony, the Natal Colony, the Transvaal, and the Orange River Colony. It included the territories that were formerly a part of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Bette Davis American film, television and stage actress

Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis was an American actress of film, television, and theater. With a career spanning 60 years, she is regarded as one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history. She was noted for playing unsympathetic, sardonic characters, and was famous for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films, suspense horror, and occasional comedies, although her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas.


Early life

Born in Johannesburg to English parents, Lester was educated at Brighton College in Sussex. He dabbled in amateur dramatics, but also showed potential as an exceptionally talented tennis player, and was considering trying to make a living from the sport until friends convinced him that acting offered far greater earning potential. [3]

Johannesburg Place in Gauteng, South Africa

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. It is the provincial capital and largest city of Gauteng, which is the wealthiest province in South Africa. While Johannesburg is not one of South Africa's three capital cities, it is the seat of the Constitutional Court. The city is located in the mineral-rich Witwatersrand range of hills and is the centre of large-scale gold and diamond trade.

Brighton College English boarding school

Brighton College is a boarding and day school for boys and girls aged 11–18 in Brighton, England. Brighton College Preparatory School, for children aged 8 to 13, is located immediately next to the College itself and shares many of its facilities. The Pre-Prep School, for children ages 3 to 8, has its own site close by.

Sussex historic county in South East England

Sussex, from the Old English Sūþsēaxe, is a historic county in South East England corresponding roughly in area to the ancient Kingdom of Sussex. It is bounded to the west by Hampshire, north by Surrey, northeast by Kent, south by the English Channel, and divided for many purposes into the ceremonial counties of West Sussex and East Sussex. Brighton and Hove, though part of East Sussex, was made a unitary authority in 1997, and as such, is administered independently of the rest of East Sussex. Brighton and Hove was granted City status in 2000. Until then, Chichester was Sussex's only city.

Film career


After spending some time as a stage actor, Lester obtained his first minor film role in the 1934 quota quickie The Girl in the Flat . His performance was noticed and a good career opportunity presented itself straight away when he was offered the male romantic lead in To Be a Lady , opposite Chili Bouchier, one of Britain's top female stars of the time. Far from a quota quickie, this was a quality production with a generous budget, but failed to perform as well as expected at the box-office. This was followed by another romantic lead, this time with Valerie Hobson, in Badger's Green , a film in which cricket played a major part and which was praised for its "Englishness". Both of these films are believed lost, but are deemed of great interest by the British Film Institute and are both included on its "75 Most Wanted" list of missing British feature films. [4]

The Girl in the Flat is a 1934 British crime film directed by Redd Davis and starring Stewart Rome, Belle Chrystall, Vera Bogetti and Noel Shannon. Its plot concerns a barrister's fiancée who is blackmailed over an alleged murder.

<i>To Be a Lady</i> 1934 British romance drama film directed by George King

To Be a Lady is a 1934 British romance drama, directed and produced by George King, and starring Chili Bouchier and Bruce Lester. The film is the first screen editing credit of American film editor Elmo Williams.

Chili Bouchier British actress

Dorothy Irene "Chili" Bouchier was an English film actress who achieved success during the silent film era, and went on to many screen appearances with the advent of sound films, before progressing to theatre later in her career.

Lester's career then began to stagnate. The most enduring British film in which he appeared was Death at Broadcasting House , also from 1934, although his role was relatively minor. The next few years were spent toiling mainly in low-budget programmes, often in insignificant roles. Things took an upturn in 1938, when he was signed to Teddington Studios, the British division of Warner Brothers. He was promptly sent to the US, where he was cast in the James Cagney vehicle Boy Meets Girl . He was then signed to a three-year Hollywood contract, reportedly at Cagney's urging. [2] One of his first Hollywood assignments was the high-profile historical drama If I Were King .

<i>Death at Broadcasting House</i> 1934 British mystery film directed by Reginald Denham

Death at Broadcasting House, also known as Death at a Broadcast, is a 1934 British mystery film directed by Reginald Denham and starring Ian Hunter, Austin Trevor, Henry Kendall, and Jack Hawkins.

Teddington Studios

Teddington Studios was a large British television studio in Teddington, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, providing studio facilities for programmes airing on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky1 and others. The complex also provided studio space for channel continuity. The site was run by the Pinewood Studios Group.

James Cagney American actor and dancer

James Francis Cagney Jr. was an American actor and dancer, both on stage and in film. Known for his consistently energetic performances, distinctive vocal style, and deadpan comic timing, he won acclaim and major awards for a wide variety of performances. He is best remembered for playing multifaceted tough guys in films such as The Public Enemy (1931), Taxi! (1932), Angels with Dirty Faces (1938), and White Heat (1949), finding himself typecast or limited by this reputation earlier in his career. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him eighth among its list of greatest male stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Orson Welles said of Cagney, "[he was] maybe the greatest actor who ever appeared in front of a camera". Stanley Kubrick considered him to be one of the best actors in history.

1940s and 1950s

Lester's film career hit its peak in the early 1940s, beginning with the role of Mr. Bingley in the 1940 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice , followed by landing a plum role in the Bette Davis classic The Letter . Lester and Davis shared some crucial scenes in the film, and it was soon being reported that Davis was very taken by the handsome young Englishman, going out of her way to help him and put him at his ease on set. It is generally believed that a brief relationship of some description developed between the two, although nothing came of it. Writer Jerry Asher, a long-time friend of Davis, recalled: "She found Bruce attractive and sweet, but he was a bit tame for her speed." [5]

<i>Pride and Prejudice</i> (1940 film) 1940 film by Robert Zigler Leonard

Pride and Prejudice is a 1940 American film adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, directed by Robert Z. Leonard and starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. The screenplay was written by Aldous Huxley and Jane Murfin, adapted specifically from the stage adaptation by Helen Jerome in addition to Jane Austen's novel. The film is about five sisters from an English family of landed gentry who must deal with issues of marriage, morality, and misconceptions. The film was released by MGM on July 26, 1940, in the United States and was critically well received. The New York Times film critic praised the film as "the most deliciously pert comedy of old manners, the most crisp and crackling satire in costume that we in this corner can remember ever having seen on the screen."

<i>The Letter</i> (1940 film) 1940 American film William Wyler

The Letter is a 1940 American film noir directed by William Wyler, and starring Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall and James Stephenson. The screenplay by Howard E. Koch is based on the 1927 play of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham. The play was first filmed in 1929, by director Jean de Limur.

At this time Lester briefly returned to Britain, intending to join the army. However he was persuaded that his talents would be better employed in helping to promote the Allied cause in the US. He returned, and appeared in several films in which he played flying officers, including Man Hunt , A Yank in the RAF and Desperate Journey . In 1943 he played in the Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray spy drama Above Suspicion . He did then decide to join the British services, serving through to the end of the war.

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.

<i>Man Hunt</i> (1941 film) 1941 film by Fritz Lang

Man Hunt is a 1941 American thriller film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Walter Pidgeon and Joan Bennett. It is based on the 1939 novel Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household and is set just prior to the Second World War. Lang had fled Germany into exile in the mid-1930s and this was the first of his four anti-Nazi films, which include Ministry of Fear, Hangmen Also Die!, and Cloak and Dagger. It was Roddy McDowall's first Hollywood film. He had been evacuated from London following the Blitz. Man Hunt was one of many movies released in 1941 that was considered so pro-British that it influenced the American public towards being more inclined to the British point of view in World War II.

<i>Desperate Journey</i> 1942 film by Raoul Walsh

Desperate Journey is a 1942 American World War II action and aviation film directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan. The supporting cast includes Raymond Massey, Alan Hale Sr., and Arthur Kennedy. The melodramatic film featured a group of downed Allied airmen making their way out of the Third Reich, often with their fists.

On his return to Hollywood, Lester's career faltered, with both the quality of film and size of role he was being offered tapering off. He did land a good part in 1947's Golden Earrings with Ray Milland and Marlene Dietrich, then returned for a time to Europe, where he starred in But Not in Vain (1948 – filmed in the Netherlands) and Celia: The Sinister Affair of Poor Aunt Nora (1949).

Returning to the US, Lester began to turn his hand to working as a story analyst for Paramount and Columbia. In the early 1950s he was playing minor roles in low-budget versions of English-set historical dramas such as Tales of Robin Hood and Lorna Doone. As the decade progressed film parts became ever-smaller, until he was mainly playing uncredited bit parts. Lester's final screen credit came in 1958's Tarzan and the Trappers , after which he decided to retire from acting and spend the rest of his life out of the spotlight. [3]

Later life

In later years, Lester and his wife divided their time between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. He continued to play tennis, and was a keen member of the Hollywood Cricket Club. Lester died in Los Angeles on 13 June 2008, one week after his 96th birthday. [2] He was buried at the Westwood Memorial Park in Westwood, Los Angeles [6]


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  2. 1 2 3 Bruce Lester obituary The Daily Telegraph, 27 June 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2010
  3. 1 2 "Bruce Lester: Dapper actor in Forties Hollywood" The Independent, 1 July 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2010
  4. 75 Most Wanted BFI National Archive. Retrieved 14 August 2010
  5. Quirk, Lawrence J., The Passionate Life of Bette Davis, Robson Books, 1990, p.219 ISBN   0-86051-700-4
  6. Bruce Lester at Find a Grave