Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois
1939 Rudy Vallee Hour
1941 Kraft Music Hall
1942 Adolf Hitler's Mock Birthday Party
1943 Jerry Lester Show
1944 Radio Hall Of Fame
1944 Mail Call
1945 Command Performance
1950 Cloak and Dagger
1951 Stars On Parade
|From the March 26th 1995 edition of the Los Angeles Daily News:
JERRY LESTER, COMEDIAN, PIONEER OF LATE-NIGHT TV:
Jerry Lester, an ebullient comedian and former song-and-dance man who became the host of the first successful late-night network television talk and variety show, died Thursday in a Miami nursing home. He was 85.
His wife, Alice, said the cause was complications of Alzheimer's disease.
Lester appeared in a number of Broadway musicals and a few Hollywood films in the 1940s. He also was familiar to radio audiences, but he broke into late-night television in 1950 almost by mistake.
Asked to appear as a guest on a talk show with Tex McCrary and Jinx Falkenburg, Lester almost refused until he was assured that a movie he and his wife planned to see that night had a later showing.
His shameless mugging, corny jokes and irrepressible energy lighted up the NBC telephone switchboard, prompting Pat Weaver, the president of NBC, to offer the comedian a show of his own on the spot.
Called "Broadway Open House," the show began in May 1950, and for the next year it introduced viewers new to television to the kind of late-night entertainment vehicle - featuring comedy, music and famous guests - that ultimately made stars of Steve Allen, Jack Paar and Johnny Carson.
Lester's most famous cast member was Dagmar, a voluptuous blonde whose deadpan reactions to his mugging were a hallmark of his early shows.
Jack Gould, television critic of The New York Times, called Lester the master of low comedy and a performer who never gave up on a joke.
Even Lester called himself the "heckler of all hecklers."
Lester never failed to be surprised by his initial television success. In an interview in 1950, he said his aim was to make the audience like him, no matter what, and that talent was not so important.
"If they like you, you don't have to worry whether every gag goes over big or if every sketch is the best thing they've ever seen," he said. "And if it isn't, I don't beat the audience over the head. I never tell them they're wrong. I just apologize."
Lester was born in Chicago, where his father was a music critic. As a boy he entered Charleston and tap-dancing contests and performed in music halls and nightclubs. After studying at Northwestern University, he embarked on a career in show business that included music halls, nightclubs, Broadway, Hollywood, radio and finally television.
In the 1940s, he appeared in a number of Broadway shows, including George Abbott's "Beat the Band" and "Jackpot."
In 1965, he renewed his tie to Abbott and appeared in the road production of Abbott's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." In 1969, he played the wheeler-dealer Seabee, Luther Willis, in a Jones Beach production of the musical "South Pacific."
Lester's wife said he was stricken with Alzheimer's disease in 1975 and never performed again.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by three children from an earlier marriage: a son, Jay, of Tucson, and two daughters who reside in the Southland, Judy Stein of Calabasas and Joan Busler, of West Hills; four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
From the March 26th 1995 edition of the Galveston Daily News:
Dead at 85
MIAMI--Jerry Lester, a host of the early '50s TV show "Broadway Open House," the forerunner of the "Tonight Show," has died after a long illness. He was 85. Lester died Thursday at a nursing home, said his widow, Alice. He had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for several years.
"Broadway Open House," a vaudeville-style mixture of music and jokes, ran for 15 months on NBC in 1950-51, becoming hte first network late-night show.
Lester was host three nights a week, splitting the chores with comic Morey Amsterdam. Amsterdam went on to TV fame on "The Dick Van Dyke Show." NBC later refined the late-night concept, and "Tonight" premiered in 1954.
Lester also was a regular on the '50s game show "Pantomime Quiz," and other variety shows like "Saturday Night Dance Party" and "Cavalcade of Stars."
Lester worked with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and others in various comedy shows during his radio days, Mrs. Lester said.
He was also part of Don Ameche's weekly program for several years.
Before embarking on a broadcasting career, he worked as a comedian and performed in night clubs across the united States, Europe and Australia, Mrs. Lester said. He also acted in several movies and appeared on Broadway.
He performed off and on until 10 years ago. At a New Year's Eve performance at a Miami hotel, he forgot his lines because of Alzheimer's. "It was terrible to see him struggle," Mrs. Lester said tearfully. "I told him, 'Darlin', don't ever get on stage again."'
Survivors include a brother, Buddy Lester, of Los Angeles; three children; and several grandchildren.