R.I.P. Tom Lester, friendly farmhand Eb Dawson of Green Acres
The humble Mississippi native and farmer was 81.
Image: The Everett Collection
In an interview with a radio show called "Faith Forward," Tom Lester explained how very few people from his hometown seemed to believe he could make it as an actor in Hollywood.
Lester said, "I told them I was going out to Hollywood to become an actor and they all said, 'You’re crazy. You’ll never be able to do that. You’re too tall, too skinny, too ugly. You’ve got a Southern accent and you’ll never make it in the motion picture business. You don’t look like Rock Hudson.'"
These pessimistic voices were so persuasive, Lester actually stopped pursuing his acting dream and started to become a doctor, earning degrees in chemistry and biology from the University of Mississippi. But acting was what he was truly pulled to do, and one day, he picked up a magazine that would affirm for him that he could maybe make it in Hollywood after all. Lester said:
"I might not make it, but at least I’m going to try. And I would’ve rather gone out there and tried and failed then to never have gone out there at all. And I read an article once where they asked Don Knotts who was Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, 'How in the world did you ever get into movies?' Because he didn’t look anything at all like Rock Hudson. And he said, 'I figured everybody in Hollywood was good-looking and had a good physique. I figured they needed somebody a little bit different.' And he was."
Tom Lester was not your typical Hollywood star. You know him as the friendly farmhand Eb Dawson on Green Acres. A Mississippi native, Lester remained a country boy at heart. It is said that Lester beat out 400 other actors for the role of Eb because he actually knew how to milk a cow.
At the peak of his fame, in the late 1960s, Green Acres was a Top 20 show. Lester earned a lot of laughs with his "Golly, Mr. Douglas" demeanor. But the actor, then about 30 years old, lived "in an apartment above a garage in the San Fernando Valley," according to a 1969 newspaper profile.
After Green Acres ended in 1971, Lester returned home to Laurel, Mississippi. (Coincidentally, the same hometown as Ray Walston, who played the Uncle Martin, a character who lived above a garage on My Favorite Martian.) He moved back in with his parents.
Lester continued to act, appearing in Benji (1974) alongside Frances Bavier and fellow Hootervillean Edgar Buchanan. He would reprise his role as Eb in the 1990 made-for-TV movie Return to Green Acres.
Meanwhile, he became the owner of a 250-acre timber farm in Vossburg, Mississippi. In 1997, he was the recipient of Mississippi's "Wildlife Farmer of the Year" award. We're talking about a humble man here.
Lester rented the place furnished — even his dated black-and-white television set was donated by a friend. He still managed to maintain a close tie to nature.
"Each morning he goes into the spacious yard that surrounds his apartment and feeds the birds which he's trained to perch on his hand," the UPI wrote.
Following the death of Mary Grace Canfield (Ralph Monroe) in 2014, Lester became the last surviving regular cast member of Green Acres. Now, sadly, there are no more.
According to TMZ, Lester died Monday, April 20. He was 81 years old.