The man known as Eb was born in Laurel, Mississippi. More than acting and being a farmer was Tom Lester’s faith in God.
When I was a teenager, our family’s black-and-white television set was in a corner of our living room. Back then, we didn’t have dens, nor did we have a remote control. I was the remote control when my father needed the channel changed. I might add there were only three channels.
A few of my favorite shows were Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. I had to beg to watch the last two shows. Do you remember the introductory songs? If not, and just for fun, take a moment and sing along with the Petticoat Junction Theme Song and “Green Acres” Opening and Closing Theme Song. Now, wasn’t that nostalgic?
Why do I mention these two television programs? Because a young man from Mississippi became an actor in both productions. You might remember him best as Eb Dawson, a farmhand for Oliver Wendell Douglas (the character played by Eddie Albert) on Green Acres. And who is the man behind the character Eb Dawson?
From Laurel, Mississippi, to Hollywood, California
The man known as Eb is Thomas William Lester (Tom). He was born in Laurel, Mississippi, on September 23, 1938. His parents, Pat and Mary Sue (Thornton) Lester, worked as an accountant and store manager, respectively. Tom had one brother.
Tom attended Laurel High School. During his senior year, a dream was planted deep within himselfhis heart.. He knew that he needed to move to Hollywood, California. People were puzzled by this decision; he describes it this way:
My friend asked me what I wanted to do for a living. I told him I wanted to go to Hollywood, California, to become an actor. My friend said, “Oh my goodness, you’ll never make it. You’re too tall. You’re too skinny. You’re too ugly. You got a southern accent, and you don’t look like Rock Hudson.”
I thought, well, if I’ve got to look like Rock Hudson to get in the motion picture business, I might as well stay in Laurel, Mississippi. I graduated from high school, thought about becoming a doctor, went to the University of Mississippi, and graduated with a degree in chemistry and biology. (He also attended the University of Southern Mississippi briefly.) But I knew this was not what God wanted for me. Then, I taught school for a year. It’s a wonderful profession, but I knew it was not what God wanted me to continue to do. I felt in my heart that God wanted me to go out to Hollywood and become an actor. I told my mom and dad, I’m going out to Hollywood, and I’m going to try to get in the movies. If I don’t make it, that’s okay; at least I’m going to try. And folks, I’d rather go out there, try and fail, than never to have gone at all.
I went to Hollywood with no job, no place to stay, and I didn’t know anything about the motion picture business. But I knew that this was what God wanted for me.YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umS3XM3xAPk
Making a Home in Hollywood
Tom Lester did make his way to Hollywood in the early 1960s. He attended a small Baptist church there and became friends with Lurene Tuttle, a drama coach. Bluntly, she told him that he needed work regarding his acting and encouraged him to become involved with the North Hollywood Playhouse, known for short plays and showcases.
At the North Hollywood Playhouse, a woman named Linda Kaye Henning, the daughter of television producer Paul Henning, was involved in most of the showcases.. Paul produced The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. Tom and Paul met and became friends. Later, in the Beauty and the Beast production, Tom played the part of a wizard, and Linda Kaye Henning also had a part. Her father came to see the play and afterward spent time visiting with Tom, telling him he liked his accent and perhaps there might be a spot to act in The Beverly Hillbillies.
Tom began to pray that if God wanted him to be an actor, something would open by Christmas. If nothing became available, he would quit his day job working for a chemical lab and return to Mississippi. Weeks passed, and Tom received a phone call from Paul Henning’s wife telling him to try out for the part of Eb Dawson on Green Acres. She said he shouldn’t get his hopes up because they wanted an older man, and 400 men had auditioned before him.
Next came a screen test with Eddie Albert, and by the end of the week, he had the part of Eb Dawson. No prior experience, and out of the thousands who applied, a young man from Mississippi had the part. The episodes of Green Acres ran from 1965 to 1971.
He appeared in the Return to Green Acres in 1990. Additional television or movie roles were guest spots in Marcus Welby, M.D., Love, American Style, Little House on the Prairie, and Knight Rider. In the 1991 movie The Pistol: The Birth of a Legend, he played Pete Maravich as an adult. Tom Lester acted in other movies and traveled around the country doing autograph shows and speaking engagements.
A Mississippi Farmer & Evangelist
Lester eventually returned to Laurel and purchased a farm near Vossburg, in Jasper County, Mississippi. It is a beautiful spot with fishing and hunting land, pine and hardwood timberland, and a house. He was awarded the Mississippi Wildlife Farmer of the Year in 1997. After his death, the land was listed as being 355 acres.
In July 2007, atage 68, Tom Lester married actress Kaylie Lester. Little is known about their relationship other than they dated for several years before getting married, a first marriage for both.
Tom Lester died on April 20, 2020, due to complications of Parkinson’s disease. He is buried at Hickory Grove Cemetery in Laurel. On his tombstone, you will find these words, “Eb of Green Acres.” More than acting and being a farmer was Tom Lester’s faith in God. In a video recorded sometime around December 2014 with Pastor Dewey Moede, you can watch Tom “Eb” Lester’s Testimony.
For years, Tom traveled across the country as a Christian speaker. At least three times, he was a guest speaker with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusades. You can watch his presentation at the Dallas, Texas, crusade here.
Tom Lester’s life is an incredible example of a man who followed his God-given dream. He moved forward in faith and through open doors of opportunities that would give him a way to impact people lives in ways he could have never imagined.