Tom Lester, a devoted evangelist who starred as friendly farmhand Eb Dawson on the 1960's series “Green Acres,” died today in the Nashville due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 81.
The Jackson, Mississippi and raised on his grandfather’s farm. He had big dreams of becoming an actor in Hollywood, but few people from his rural community believed he would find success, because he was too tall, too skinny, too ugly, had a Southern accent, and looked nothing like Rock Hudson.
How did a young man from Mississippi without a credit to his name accomplish this feat, co-starring alongside the prolific Eddie Albert and the showstopper Eva Gabor? It happened by chance. After being told he looked nothing like Rock Hudson, he read an interview with Don Knotts who was asked how he got into movies, because he didn’t look anything at all like Rock Hudson. His reply was "I figured everybody in Hollywood was good-looking and had a good physique. I figured they needed somebody a little bit different."
So, with that being said, he moved to Hollywood believing the Lord was leading him to become an actor. He found a job and along the way, met a drama coach who helped him get cast in plays that put him onstage with Linda Kaye, the daughter of Paul Henning, creator of “Petticoat Junction." One of the things Henning liked about Tom was, get this - his 'accent.'
"Golly, Mr. Douglas!"
Reportedly, Lester beat out 400 other actors for the role of Eb because he knew how to milk a cow. His character wasn’t supposed to be a major part in the show, however, Lester’s performances in early episodes were so popular among audiences that he quickly became a regular on the show that ran from 1965 to 1971.
Lester grew up simple knowing a simpler way of life and it was no different for him in Hollywood. Upon his arrival there, he began attending the Beverly Hills Baptist Church. Even at the heighth of his TV show fame he continued to live in a rented apartment above a garage in the San Fernando Valley. After the show ended, he moved back to Mississippi, where he bought a large timber farm that he named "Green Acres." He won Mississippi’s “Wildlife Farmer of the Year” award in 1997. He also traveled the country sharing his Christian faith at church gatherings and youth rallies and his life was a testimony to all who knew him.
Eb Dawson: Morning! Breakfast ready?
Lisa Douglas: Yes.
Eb Dawson: Well, let's have the hotcakes and get it over with.
Lisa Douglas: We're not having any hotscakes this morning.
Oliver Douglas: No hotcakes?
Lisa Douglas: I've made something different.
Oliver Douglas: Hey, wonderful!
Eb Dawson: Let's not go off half-cocked till we get a look at it.
Oliver Douglas: Knock it off, anything's better than the hotcakes.
Lisa Douglas: Here we are. [Holds up what looks like a long, lumpy pastry on a baking sheet]
Eb Dawson: Any hotcakes left over from yesterday?
Lisa Douglas: You don't like it?
Eb Dawson: I don't know. What is it?
Lisa Douglas: Well what does it look like?
Oliver Douglas: It looks like a boa constrictor with lumps.
Lisa Douglas: That's the last time I ever cook you a spanish omelette.
Lester was the last surviving regular cast member of Green Acres.
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