Tom Lester

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Tom Lester
Tom Lester.jpg
Lester in an undated photo
Thomas William Lester

(1938-09-23)September 23, 1938
DiedApril 20, 2020(2020-04-20) (aged 81)
  • Actor
  • evangelist
Years active1965–2014
(m. 2007)

Thomas William Lester (September 23, 1938 – April 20, 2020) was an American actor and evangelist. He was best known for his role as farmhand Eb Dawson on the television show Green Acres . He appeared in two feature animal films, Gordy and Benji .


Early life and education

Lester was born in Laurel, Mississippi, one of two children (both sons) of Pat Lester (1913–2009), an accountant with Gulf Oil, and Mary Sue (Thornton) Lester (1914–2009), a manager with Home Interiors and Gifts.[ citation needed ]

In 1948, he became a born-again Christian, and became involved in the Baptist church. [1] At that time he said he thought the Lord's plan for his life would deliver him to Hollywood, California, to embark on an acting career. He discussed his plans and his dream of becoming an actor with his parents. [2]

After he graduated from Laurel High School, he attended the University of Mississippi, where he was a member of the Sigma Nu Fraternity, and received a B.Sc. degree in chemistry and biology. He briefly attended graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi, but acting became his main interest.[ citation needed ] After college he taught school in Purcell, Oklahoma, but he left for Los Angeles. In his early 20s he attended the First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills, California. [2]

"Eb Dawson" role

After moving to Hollywood, Lester met radio and character actress Lurene Tuttle, who became his friend and acting coach. She suggested he begin work in the Little Theater, which he did, acting in showcases at the North Hollywood Playhouse. [3] In the early 1960s, Lester appeared in a play with CBS producer Paul Henning's daughter Linda Kaye Henning (Betty Jo Bradley of Petticoat Junction ), and Lester soon found himself auditioning for the role of Eb Dawson, farmhand to Oliver Wendell Douglas (played by Eddie Albert) on Green Acres . Lester beat around 400 other actors to play the character after a screen test. [4]

Lester later said he won the role because he was the only actor who auditioned who knew how to milk a cow since he grew up on a farm in Mississippi. His recurring role soon became a regular character due to the character's and the show's popularity. [4]

As several Green Acres characters also appeared in episodes of two other CBS series – Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies – Lester, as Eb Dawson, also occasionally appeared on those shows. Even during the height of Green Acres' popularity, Lester lived modestly in a small apartment over a garage in the San Fernando Valley. Each year during the show's summer hiatus he would travel the country and speak at churches, youth rallies and revival meetings and at one time worked for the Reverend Billy Graham's organization. [5]

Lester appeared in nearly every Green Acres episode between 1965 and 1971, with the exception of the first half of the 1967–68 season when he was ill with mononucleosis. The show's explanation for Eb's absence was that he had eloped and was on his honeymoon. After six seasons, Green Acres was cancelled in 1971 as part of CBS's "rural purge". [6]

Career after Green Acres

After Green Acres, Lester was typecast as Eb Dawson. In 1990, he reunited with Albert and Eva Gabor to reprise his role in Return to Green Acres . [7]

He returned to his parents' home in Laurel, Mississippi, but continued to do an occasional movie or TV role. During the mid-1970s to early 1980s, his roles included guest spots in Little House on the Prairie , Marcus Welby, M.D. , Knight Rider and Love, American Style . In 1991 he played the adult Pete Maravich in the film about the future basketball hall-of-famer's youth, The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend .[ citation needed ]

In 2004, he was the voice of the unseen DJ for KCOW radio station in the movie Christmas Child (starring William R. Moses and Steven Curtis Chapman).[ citation needed ] In 2014, he starred with Ray Stevens and Victoria Jackson in the comedy Campin' Buddies. [8]

Lester was a farmer and for many years had been a Christian speaker who traveled the nation, preaching a message of faith and obedience. [2] [9] He still participated in autograph shows and fan forums, often dressed as Eb Dawson. [10] [11]

With the death of Mary Grace Canfield, who portrayed Ralph Monroe, on February 15, 2014, Lester was the last surviving regular cast member of Green Acres. [12] [4]

Friendship with Eddie Albert

Lester referred to Eddie Albert as his "surrogate father". The two guest-starred on The Beverly Hillbillies , which featured Albert's good friend, Buddy Ebsen, for one episode. When Green Acres was canceled in 1971, Albert and Lester remained close friends and continued to stay in touch until Albert's death in 2005. [13] Both Albert and Lester attended Gabor's funeral in 1995. On May 26, 2005, Albert died of complications from Alzheimer's disease and Lester was the only surviving Green Acres star not to attend Albert's funeral. [14]

Personal life and death

Lester was married for the only time in July 2007 at the age of 68. He and his wife Kaylie lived on the 250-acre family farm in Vossburg, Mississippi. [13]

In 1997, Lester was the recipient of Mississippi's "Wildlife Farmer of the Year" award. [15]

On April 20, 2020, Lester died from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was 81. He was survived by his wife, Kaylie, and one brother. [16] [17] [18]


1965–71 Green Acres Eb Dawson/Gus, Jr.Main cast
150 episodes
1966–67 Petticoat Junction Eb Dawson6 episodes
1968 The Beverly Hillbillies Eb Dawson3 episodes
1974 Love, American Style Fleetus (from segment "Love and the Competitors")1 episode
1974 Marcus Welby, M.D. Will MacAllister1 episode
1974 Benji Riley
1976Charo and the SergeantSgt. Hank PalmerTV movie
1981 Little House on the Prairie Mr. WilderEpisode: "A Christmas They Never Forgot"
1982 Knight Rider Ted Moore1 episode
1987 Santa Barbara 2nd Deputy1 episode
1989 Intruder Officer Mathews
1990 Return to Green Acres Eb DawsonTV movie
1991 The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend Pete Maravich (Adult)
1995 Gordy Cousin Jake
2004 Christmas Child Radio AnnouncerVoice
2008Huntin' BuddiesTomAlso served as writer
2009Beyond the ForestMr. AlexanderShort
2014Campin' BuddiesTomAlso served as producer
Final film role

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