Mark Lester

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Mark Lester
Mark Lester Allan Warren.jpg
Lester in 1977
Mark A. Letzer

(1958-07-11) 11 July 1958 (age 60)
Oxford, England
OccupationActor, osteopath, acupuncturist
Years active1964–1977 (as an actor)
Spouse(s)Jane (1993–2005, divorced)
Lisa (2006–2012)

Mark Lester (born Mark A. Letzer; [1] 11 July 1958) is an English former child actor who starred in a number of British and European films in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1968 he played the title role in the film Oliver! , a musical version of the Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist . Lester also made several appearances in a number of British television series. In 1977, after appearing in the all-star international action adventure film The Prince and the Pauper , he retired from acting. In the 1980s, he trained as an osteopath specialising in sport injuries. [2]

The term child actor or child actress is generally applied to a child acting on stage or in motion pictures or television, but also to an adult who began their acting career as a child. To avoid confusion, the latter is also called a former child actor. Closely associated is teenage actor or teen actor, an actor who reached popularity as a teenager.

<i>Oliver!</i> (film) 1968 film by Carol Reed

Oliver! is a 1968 British musical drama film directed by Carol Reed, written by Vernon Harris, and based on the stage musical of the same name. Both the film and play are based on Charles Dickens's novel Oliver Twist. The film includes such musical numbers as "Food, Glorious Food", "Consider Yourself", "As Long as He Needs Me", "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two", and "Where Is Love?". Filmed at Shepperton Film Studio in Surrey, it was a Romulus Films production and was distributed internationally by Columbia Pictures.

Musical film film genre

Musical film is a film genre in which songs sung by the characters are interwoven into the narrative, sometimes accompanied by dancing.


Early life

Mark Letzer was born in the city of Oxford, Oxfordshire, in southern England, to actress Rita Keene Lester and actor and producer Michael Lester (originally Michael Boris Letzer). His father was Jewish and his mother Anglican. [3] Lester was educated at three independent schools: at Corona Theatre School in Ravenscourt Park in West London, followed by Tower House School, a boys' preparatory school near Richmond Park (also in West London), and at Halliford School in Shepperton in Surrey.

Oxford City and non-metropolitan district in England

Oxford is a university city in south central England and the county town of Oxfordshire. With a population of approximately 155,000, it is the 52nd largest city in the United Kingdom, with one of the fastest growing populations in the UK, and it remains the most ethnically diverse area in Oxfordshire county. The city is 51 miles (82 km) from London, 61 miles (98 km) from Bristol, 59 miles (95 km) from Southampton, 57 miles (92 km) from Birmingham and 24 miles (39 km) from Reading.

Oxfordshire County of England

Oxfordshire is a county in South East England. The ceremonial county borders Warwickshire to the north-west, Northamptonshire to the north-east, Buckinghamshire to the east, Berkshire to the south, Wiltshire to the south-west and Gloucestershire to the west.

Corona Theatre School was founded in 1957 as a performing arts academy, operating in the region of west London. After the retirement of its owner, Rona Knight, it reopened as Ravenscourt Theatre School in 1989.

Acting career

Early performances

Lester initially had supporting roles in several British television series, including The Human Jungle and Danger Man . In 1964, at the age of six, Lester was cast in Robert Dhéry's film Allez France! (1964) (English title The Counterfeit Constable) with Diana Dors (who appeared in the 1948 film version of Oliver Twist ).

<i>The Human Jungle</i> (TV series) British television series

The Human Jungle is a British TV series about a psychiatrist, made for ABC Television by the small production company Independent Artists, for transmission on ITV. Starring Herbert Lom and Sally Smith, it ran for two series, which were first transmitted during 1963 and 1965.

<i>Danger Man</i> British television series

Danger Man is a British television series that was broadcast between 1960 and 1962, and again between 1964 and 1968. The series featured Patrick McGoohan as secret agent John Drake. Ralph Smart created the programme and wrote many of the scripts. Danger Man was financed by Lew Grade's ITC Entertainment.

Robert Dhéry 1921-2004 French actor and film director

Robert Dhéry was a French comedian, actor, director and screenwriter.

He also appeared in Spaceflight IC-1: An Adventure in Space (1965), played a small part as the second schoolboy in Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and had a larger role in Our Mother's House (1967).

<i>Fahrenheit 451</i> (1966 film) 1966 film based on the novel by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is a 1966 British dystopian drama film directed by François Truffaut and starring Oskar Werner, Julie Christie, and Cyril Cusack. Based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury, the film takes place in a controlled society in an oppressive future in which the government sends out firemen to destroy all literature to prevent revolution and thinking. This was Truffaut's first colour film as well as his only English-language film. At the 1966 Venice Film Festival, Fahrenheit 451 was nominated for the Golden Lion.

<i>Our Mothers House</i> 1967 film by Jack Clayton

Our Mother's House is a 1967 British drama film directed by Jack Clayton. It nominally stars Dirk Bogarde and principally features a cast of seven juvenile actors, including Pamela Franklin, Phoebe Nicholls and Mark Lester, with popular British actress Yootha Joyce in a supporting role. The screenplay was written by Jeremy Brooks and Haya Harareet, based on the 1963 novel of the same name by Julian Gloag.

Oliver! and child stardom

In 1967, at the age of eight, Lester was cast in the title role in the film version of Lionel Bart's musical Oliver! . [4] The multiple Academy Award-winning adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel co-starred Jack Wild, Ron Moody, Harry Secombe, Shani Wallis and Oliver Reed and was directed by Carol Reed. Since Lester could not sing, his singing was dubbed by Kathe Green, daughter of the film's music arranger Johnny Green. [5]

Lionel Bart composer

Lionel Bart was a British writer and composer of pop music and musicals. He wrote Tommy Steele's "Rock with the Caveman", which became the first British pop song to break into the American Top 40, and was the sole creator of the musical Oliver! (1960). With Oliver! and his work alongside theatre director Joan Littlewood at Theatre Royal, Stratford East, he played an instrumental role in the 1960s birth of the British musical theatre scene after an era when American musicals had dominated the West End. Best known for creating the book, music and lyrics for Oliver!, he was described by Andrew Lloyd Webber as "the father of the modern British musical". In 1963 he won the Tony Award for Best Original Score for Oliver!, and the 1968 film version of the musical won a total of 6 Academy Awards including the Academy Award for Best Picture. Some of his other compositions include the theme song to the James Bond film From Russia with Love, and the songs "Living Doll" by Cliff Richard, "Far Away" by Shirley Bassey, "Do You Mind?", "Big Time", "Easy Going Me" by Adam Faith, "Always You And Me" by Russ Conway, and several songs recorded by Tommy Steele. By the mid 1960s he was as well known for his outlandish lifestyle, his celebrity friends, his excesses, and his parties as he was for his work.

Academy Awards American awards given annually for excellence in cinematic achievements

The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, are a set of awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry. Given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the awards are an international recognition of excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy's voting membership. The various category winners are awarded a copy of a golden statuette, officially called the "Academy Award of Merit", although more commonly referred to by its nickname "Oscar".

Charles Dickens English writer and social critic

Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the 20th century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories are still widely read today.

Lester received critical acclaim for his portrayal of a dysfunctional and withdrawn only child in Run Wild, Run Free (1969), starring opposite John Mills, released by Columbia who financed Oliver!. He played a disturbed child in the first regular episode of Then Came Bronson ("The Runner") and also guest starred on The Ghost & Mrs. Muir . Columbia wanted to sign him to a long term contract but Lester's parents refused. [6]

Run Wild, Run Free is a 1969 British drama film directed by Richard C. Sarafian and starring John Mills and Mark Lester. The film was written by David Rook, based on his novel The White Colt, and shot on location in Dartmoor, Devon, England.

John Mills English actor

Sir John Mills, was an English actor who appeared in more than 120 films in a career spanning seven decades. On screen, he often played people who are not at all exceptional, but become heroes because of their common sense, generosity and good judgment. He received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in Ryan's Daughter (1970).

<i>Then Came Bronson</i> television series

Then Came Bronson is an American adventure/drama television series starring Michael Parks that aired on NBC. It was created by Denne Bart Petitclerc, and produced by MGM Television. Then Came Bronson began with a television film pilot that aired on NBC on March 24, 1969; the pilot was also released in Europe as a theatrical feature film. This was followed by a single season of 26 episodes airing between September 17, 1969 and April 1, 1970.

Lester had leading roles in Eyewitness (1970), a British thriller with Susan George shot on Malta; The Boy Who Stole the Elephant (1970), a TV movie for Disney; and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971), with Shelley Winters. [7]

He was reunited with Wild in Melody (1971), which depicted schoolchildren in love, based on a script by Alan Parker. Tracy Hyde played the role of Melody in the film, which used music from the Bee Gees and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Lester starred in a film version of Black Beauty (1971). He was announced for a version of Treasure Island but it was never madde. [8] After this period, his acting roles in the UK would begin to wane. This coincided with a decline in the British film industry.

European films

Lester remained in demand for films outside England: What the Peeper Saw (1972) with Britt Ekland; Senza ragione (1973), in Italy with Franco Nero; Little Adventurer (1973), a Japanese film; Scalawag (1973), a pirate film with Kirk Douglas shot in Yugoslavia [9] ; the costume drama La Prima volta sull'erba (English title The First Time on the Grass, 1974), which was nominated for the Golden Bear prize at the 25th Berlin International Film Festival. [10] [11]

Lester wrapped up his film career playing the dual role as Edward VI of England and Tom Canty in the all-star film The Prince and the Pauper (US title: Crossed Swords) starring Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison, George C. Scott, and Oliver Reed, who had played Bill Sikes in Oliver!. [12]

After this he said "I bought myself a Ferrari and set off through Europe for 18 months." [13]

Later life

At the age of 18 Lester had access to some of his earnings from his films. He bought a Ferrari and a house in Belgravia and went to parties, nightclubs and restaurants, often paying for friends, and taking drugs. [14] After the poor reception of The Prince and the Pauper , Lester gave up acting at the age of 19. In his twenties he became a karate black belt; through this he grew interested in sports injuries, and from there osteopathy. [14] At the age of 28 he took his A-Levels, passing Chemistry and Biology. [15] He became an osteopath, studying at the British School of Osteopathy, and in 1993, Lester opened the Carlton Clinic, an acupuncture clinic in Cheltenham. [16] [17]

He is a patron of the theatre charity The Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America. [18]

Personal life

Lester has four children with his first wife, Jane, whom he married in January 1993 and divorced in 2005. In 2006, he married his second wife, a psychiatric nurse. [19] [20]

Lester was a close friend of Michael Jackson and is godfather to Jackson's three children. [21] In August 2009, after Jackson's death, Lester gave an interview to the British tabloid newspaper News of the World in which he claimed that he could be the biological father of Paris, the late singer's daughter. Lester claimed to have been a sperm donor for Jackson in 1996, and announced that he was willing to take a paternity test to determine whether he was the father. [22] Brian Oxman, former lawyer for the Jackson family, rejected the claim in a television interview, stating, “The thing I always heard from Michael was that Michael was the father of these children, and I believe Michael." [23] In 2019, Lester stated that he was one of twenty sperm donors for Jackson. [24]



1964 The Counterfeit Constable Géralda.k.a. Allez France
1965 Spaceflight IC-1: An Adventure in Space Don Saunders
1966 Fahrenheit 451 schoolboy(uncredited)
1967 Our Mother's House Jiminee
1968 Oliver! Oliver Twist
1969 Run Wild, Run Free Philip Ransome
1970 The Boy Who Stole the Elephant DaveyTV movie
1970 Eyewitness Ziggy
1971 Melody (released as S.W.A.L.K.)Daniel Latimer
1971 Black Beauty Joe Evans
1971 Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? Christopher Coombs
1972 What the Peeper Saw Marcus
1973 Redneck Lennox Duncan
1973Little AdventurerMike Richard
1973 Scalawag Jamie
1975 The First Time on the Grass Franz Schmidta.k.a. La prima volta sull'erba
1977 The Prince and the Pauper Prince Edward/Tom Canty a.k.a. Crossed Swords


1964 The Human Jungle Small boyTV series (1 episode The Twenty-Four Hour Man)
1966 Danger Man A boyTV series (1 episode Dangerous Secret)
1966Court MartialPaolo StevensTV series (1 episode Retreat from Life)
1969 Then Came Bronson John BeamanTV series (1 episode The Runner)
1969 The Ghost & Mrs. Muir Mark HelmoreTV series (2 episodes Puppy Love and Spirit of the Law)
1970DisneylandDavey(film in two parts)

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  7. National General Slates 'Terror' Los Angeles Times 25 Dec 1970: e25.
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  15. "Long after the stardom, another twist: Mark Lester was the child star". The Independent. 30 August 1993. Retrieved 19 December 2018.
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  24. "Mark Lester opens up about being one of Michael Jackson's 20 sperm donors". 25 January 2019. Retrieved 28 January 2019.