Lester in 1977
11 July 1958 |
|Spouse(s)||Jane (1993–2005, divorced)
Mark Lester (born Mark A. Letzer; 11 July 1958) is an English former child star and actor known for playing the title role in the 1968 musical film version of Oliver! and starring in a number of other British and European films of the 1960s and 1970s and in a number of television series.
Lester 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.
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.
Career as child actor
In 1964, at the age of six, Lester was cast in Robert Dhery's film Allez France! (English title The Counterfeit Constable) with Diana Dors (who appeared in the 1948 film version of Oliver Twist). He played a small part as the second schoolboy in Fahrenheit 451.
In 1967, at the age of eight, Lester was cast in the title role in the film version of Lionel Bart's musical Oliver!. The multiple Academy Award-winning adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel co-starred Jack Wild, Ron Moody, Shani Wallis and Oliver Reed and was directed by Sir Carol Reed. Since Lester could not sing, all of his singing in the movie was dubbed by Kathe Green, daughter of the film's music arranger Johnny Green. Lester was good friends with Wild throughout the making of the film and their friendship continued after production with Lester describing Wild as a "long lost brother". When Wild was nominated for an Academy Award for the film, they were flown together to the United States for the ceremony.
These two child actors later reunited for Melody (1971), which depicted British schoolchildren in love. Tracy Hyde played the role of Melody in the film, which used music from the Bee Gees and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
In 1969, Lester received critical acclaim for his portrayal of a dysfunctional and withdrawn only child in Run Wild, Run Free, starring opposite John Mills, and then as a disturbed child in the first regular episode of Then Came Bronson. Lester's acting roles peaked as he starred in Eyewitness (1970), with Susan George, Night Hair Child with Britt Ekland, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?, with Shelley Winters, Melody and a film version of Black Beauty (all 1971). After this period, his acting roles in the UK would begin to wane as he found good roles harder to come by. He extended his range with roles in a series of films in Italy including Redneck (1972) with Telly Savalas and the Western Scalawag (1973) with Kirk Douglas. The final film of his Italian-based career was in 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.
Lester wrapped up his British film career with the lead role in the all-star film Crossed Swords aka The Prince and the Pauper (1977), starring Raquel Welch, Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison, George C. Scott, and Oliver Reed, who had played Bill Sikes in Oliver!.
After the poor reception of Crossed Swords Lester gave up acting at the age of 19. He took his A Levels at the age of 28 and became an osteopath, studying at the British School of Osteopathy. In 1993, Lester opened the Carlton Clinic, an acupuncture clinic in Cheltenham.
He married in January 1993 and with his wife had 4 children but divorced in 2005. In 2006 he remarried, to Lisa, a psychiatric nurse.
He is a patron of the theatre charity The Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America.
Lester was a close friend of Michael Jackson. In August 2009, Lester gave an interview to the British tabloid newspaper News of the World, claiming that he could be the biological father of Paris Katherine Jackson, 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. 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."
Return to acting
- 1964: The Counterfeit Constable aka Allez France as Gérald
- 1965: Spaceflight IC-1: An Adventure in Space as Don Saunders
- 1966: Fahrenheit 451 as a schoolboy (uncredited)
- 1967: Our Mother's House as Jiminee
- 1968: Oliver! as Oliver Twist
- 1969: Run Wild, Run Free as Philip Ransome
- 1970: The Boy Who Stole the Elephant as Davey (TV movie)
- 1970: Eyewitness as Ziggy
- 1971: Melody as Daniel Latimer
- 1971: Black Beauty as Joe Evans
- 1971: Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? as Christopher Coombs
- 1972: Night Hair Child as Marcus
- 1973: Redneck as Lennox Duncan
- 1973: Little Adventurer as Mike Richard
- 1973: Scalawag as Jamie
- 1975: The First Time on the Grass aka La prima volta sull'erba as Franz Schmidt
- 1977: Crossed Swords as Prince Edward/Tom Canty
- 2015: 1066 as King Harold II (pre-production)
- TV series
- 1964: The Human Jungle (TV series as a small boy in episode "The Twenty-Four Hour Man")
- 1966: Danger Man (TV series as a boy in episode " Someone is Liable to Get Hurt)
- 1966: Court Martial (TV series as Paolo Stevens in episode "Retreat from Life")
- 1969: Then Came Bronson (TV series in episode "The Runner" as John Beaman)
- 1969: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir (TV series as Mark Helmore in episodes "Puppy Love" and "Spirit of the Law")
- 1970: Disneyland as Davey (film in two parts)
- BFI | Film & TV Database | LESTER, Mark
- McNeill, Ruby Simonson (1982). Cain Connections. ISBN.
- "BFI Screenonline: Oliver! (1968)". Screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
- ABC News: "Oliver Twist's voice dubbed by girl: report", 19 December 2004. Accessed 6 November 2013
- "Carlton Clinic". Carlton Clinic. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
- [dead link]
- "Jackson friend claims paternity". BBC News. 10 August 2009. Retrieved 9 August 2009.
- "Michael Jackson lawyer rejects Mark Lester claims he is Paris' father". The Daily Telegraph (London). 10 August 2009. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
- "Former child star Mark Lester brings son Felix along for his first role in 30 years". This Is Gloucestershire. 19 March 2013.