Tom Lester

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For the American football coach, see Tom Lester (American football).
Tom Lester
Born Thomas William Lester
(1938-09-23) September 23, 1938 (age 77)
Laurel, Mississippi, U.S.
Occupation Actor and Evangelist
Religion Christian

Thomas William "Tom" Lester (born September 23, 1938) is an American actor and evangelist. He is best known for his role as Eb Dawson, farmhand to Oliver Wendell Douglas (played by Eddie Albert) on the television series Green Acres, and he appeared in two feature animal films Gordy and Benji.

Early life[edit]

Lester was born in Laurel, Mississippi, the first of two children (both sons) of Pat Lester (1913-2009), a bookkeeper with Gulf Oil, and Mary Sue (Thornton) Lester (1914-2009).[1] A young boy in 1948, Tom became a Born-again Christian and became involved in the Baptist church.[2] 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.[3]

After he graduated from Laurel High School, he attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, where he received a B.S. degree in Chemistry and Biology. He also briefly attended graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, but acting became his main interest.

After college, he taught school in Purcell, Oklahoma, but he left for Los Angeles, California. In his early 20s, he attended the First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills, California.[4]

"Eb Dawson" role[edit]

After moving to Hollywood, Lester met 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.[5]

In the early 1960s, Lester performed in a play with CBS producer Paul Henning's daughter Linda Kaye (Betty Jo of Petticoat Junction), and Lester soon found himself auditioning for the role of Eb on "Green Acres". Lester beat out 400 other young actors to play the character after a screen test.[6]

His recurring role soon became a regular character, thanks to both the character's and the show's popularity, which combined made Lester a household name. Green Acres was the 11th-rated show in its debut season of 1965-66, according to the Nielsen ratings, climbed to #6 in 1966-67, and was #16 and #19, respectively, the following two seasons.[7] And because the Green Acres characters also appeared in episodes of CBS series Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies, Lester as Eb Dawson also occasionally appeared on those shows.

Even during the show's height of popularity, Lester lived simply in a small apartment atop a garage in the San Fernando Valley. During the show's summer hiatus each year, he would travel the country and speak at churches, youth rallies and revival meetings and at one time was part of the Rev. Billy Graham's organization.[8]

Lester appeared in nearly every Green Acres episode between 1965–71, with the exception of the first half in the 1967–68 season when he suffered mononucleosis. So the story line 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".[9]

After Green Acres[edit]

After Green Acres, Lester was forever typecast as Eb Dawson. In 1990, Lester reunited with Albert and Gabor to reprise his Eb Dawson role in Return to Green Acres.[10]

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.

Lester is a farmer and for many years has been a Christian speaker who travels the nation, preaching a message of faith and obedience.[11][12] He still participates in autograph shows and fan forums, often dressed as Eb Dawson.[13][14] In 1997, Lester was the recipient of Mississippi's "Wildlife Farmer of the Year" award.[15]

Lester was married for the first and only time in July 2007 at the age of 68. He and his wife Kaylie live on the 250-acre family farm in Vossburg, Mississippi.[16]

With the death of Mary Grace Canfield on February 15, 2014, Lester is the only surviving regular cast member of Green Acres.[17]

Friendship with Eddie Albert[edit]

At age 26, he traveled from Mississippi to Hollywood to audition for a co-starring role on Green Acres, opposite iconic movie actor Eddie Albert, who was referred to by the young actor as his 'surrogate father' off the set. The two had a wonderful on- and off-screen chemistry for six years, and became very popular. It should also be noted that Albert also taught Lester how to eat right, as well. The two also guest-starred on The Beverly Hillbillies, which featured Albert's good friend, Buddy Ebsen, for one episode. When Green Acres was finally canceled in 1971, both Albert and Lester remained close friends and continued to stay in touch until Albert's death in 2005.[18]

In 1990, Lester along with Albert and Eva Gabor, would be reunited for one last time to star in Return to Green Acres,. Both Albert and Lester attended Gabor's funeral in 1995. A decade later, on May 26, 2005, Albert died of complications from Alzheimer's disease. Lester was the only Green Acres star not to attend Albert's funeral.[19]


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