Jerry LesterComedianJerry Lester, an ebullient comedian...


March 26, 1995

Jerry Lester


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 of complications of Alzheimer's disease Thursday in Miami. He was 85.

Mr. Lester appeared in 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.

Appearing as a guest on a talk show with Tex McCrary and Jinx Falkenburg, 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," his television 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. Mr. Lester's most famous cast member was Dagmar, a voluptuous woman whose deadpan reactions to him were a hallmark of his early shows.

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