Tough guy Bruce Lester escaped a Nazi jail to help keep a chemical formula out of their hands, physician Bruce Lester took care of victims of the Mau Mau Revolt of the 1950s, and British aristocrat Bruce Lester killed a Nazi agent who tortured his Austrian fiancée!
Bruce Lester was born Bruce Somerset Lister in Johannesburg on June 6, 1912. His family moved to England where he graduated from Brighton College. He was so skilled at tennis he contemplated being a professional player but his friends explained to him that acting would bring him better money (and in those days, it did!). Between the years 1934 and 1938 he appeared using his real name and was in many mostly forgotten romantic comedies for Teddington Films (Warner Brothers’ British production arm) and Phoenix Films.
His first film with a good budget, To Be A Lady, and another film, Badger’s Green (about cricket), are on the British Film Institute’s “75 Most Wanted” list of missing and possibly lost British motion pictures. Lister changed his name to Lester upon arrival in the United States and worked in many “A” films during the later 1930s and early 1940s, among them the 1938 costume drama If I Were King for Paramount Pictures. It looked for a time that the handsome South African actor might have a future as a famous star, since he landed the prominent role of the wealthy and eligible Mr. Bingley in the popular MGM adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, pursuing Maureen O’ Sullivan. He was Inspector Withers in the Warner Brothers thriller of 1940, The Letter. Bette Davis is Mrs. Crosbie, the wife of a rubber plantation owner in Singapore who shoots a man in cold blood after sending him a letter inviting him to visit her when her husband is working on the plantation. Dead lovers tell no tales! Bruce Lester had a brief affair with superstar Davis, but it did not last long, and soon after Lester met and married his future wife Jane.
Lester realized that Europe and much of the world was in peril and he briefly returned to England and asked to join the Army. He was told he would help the Allied cause better if he appeared in films promoting victory over the Axis powers, so he worked in the United States in films such as A Yank in the RAF and the Errol Flynn wartime adventure for Warner Brothers, Desperate Journey. In 1943 he worked in the MGM spy film Above Suspicion, in which he plays a piano and almost immediately afterward kills a Nazi! Lester then joined the British services and served to the end of World War II. The largest part he was able to land in an A-picture in Hollywood after his return was Paramount’s Golden Earrings (1947) in which he and Ray Milland go undercover in Germany just before the war to get a chemical formula from a sympathetic scientist before the Nazis could do it. Lester returned to Europe and appeared in a film about the Dutch Resistance, But Not in Vain (1948), filmed in the Netherlands.
He then returned to the United States where he worked for Columbia and Paramount as a story analyst. He liked it, since he had a talent for writing, and only occasionally worked in front of the camera afterward. Bruce Lester was a doctor who treated Kenyan farm owners after the Mau Maustabbed them during their rebellionin Something of Value (MGM, 1957) and as the decade wound down Lester found a number of small parts like his role as a bad guy in the 1958 Gordon Scott Tarzan adventureTarzan and the Trappers. He decided to retire from acting after the Tarzan film to devote more time to his wife and to the sports of cricket and tennis. Lester passed away on June 13, 2008 at the age of 96 in Los Angeles, California. All but a handful of his over sixty films are available for us to enjoy.