Dorr (left) with fellow actor Huey White in Union Depot (1932)
Harry Lester Dorr
May 8, 1893
|Died||August 25, 1980 (aged 87)|
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Spouse(s)||Grace L. Painter|
(1920–1980; his death)
Lester Dorr (born Harry Lester Dorr; May 8, 1893 – August 25, 1980) was an American actor who between 1917 and 1975 appeared in well over 500 productions on stage, in feature films and shorts, and in televised plays and weekly series. His extensive filmography attests to his versatility as a supporting actor and reliability as a bit player. Although Dorr's screen roles are at times credited, the great majority of his work is uncredited, consisting of characters who have limited dialogue or appear briefly as extras.
Early life and stage work
Harry Lester Dorr was born in Massachusetts in 1893, the oldest of 11 children of Mary E. (née McGinnis) and Edward Peter Dorr. Documents in Cambridge record that Dorr was born there, but his parents soon moved to the nearby town of Lynn, where his father worked as a shoemaker or "laster". By 1900, the growing Dorr family moved from Lynn into Boston. Little more is known about Lester's early life until 1917, when the United States entered World War I and Dorr registered for the military draft. He was living then in Chicago, and on his registration papers he identified his occupation as "Theatre Producer", indicating that he was already involved in or was pursuing a career in entertainment by that time. Dorr's identification of himself, however, as a producer might be attributed to youthful exaggeration or was an unrealized intention, for no subsequent references have been found that credit him or even mention him in that behind-the-scenes occupation during his career.
Dorr married in 1920 and during the late 1920s—before moving to California to act in films—he worked in stage productions in New York, including in Broadway dramas and musicals. He performed, for example, assorted roles in the 1927 revue Rufus LeMaire's Affairs; and the following year he portrayed Captain DeJean in the operetta The New Moon, which premiered at the Imperial Theatre in Manhattan on September 19, 1928.
The federal census of 1930 documents that Dorr was in Los Angeles by April that year, working there as an "actor/motion pictures" and residing in a rental house with his wife and mother-in-law. He soon was cast in two Hollywood comedy shorts, both released by Pathé Exchange (RKO) in 1930: All Stuck Up and Ride 'em Cowboy. For the remainder of the 1930s, Dorr demonstrated his abilities at portraying an array of characters, such as hotel clerks, police officers, reporters, office workers, elevator operators, salesmen, bank employees, cowboys, mob henchmen, prisoners, truck drivers, train crewmen, soldiers, sailors, and hospital personnel. He was cast, often under contract as a "day player", in more than 250 films in just the 1930s alone, remarkably averaging a different role in a different film every two weeks for ten straight years. A very small sampling of those motion pictures include Riders of the Purple Sage, Union Depot, Central Airport, Helldorado, The Mighty Barnum, Murder in the Clouds, The Case of the Missing Man, Show Them No Mercy!, She Gets Her Man, Love Before Breakfast, Sinner Take All, Snowed Under, The Firefly, Expensive Husbands, Big City, Criminals of the Air, Dangerous Holiday, It's All Yours, Captains Courageous, Missing Witnesses, Pardon Our Nerve, The Cisco Kid and the Lady, Test Pilot, Penitentiary, The Main Event, The Crowd Roars, Coast Guard, Sued for Libel, Gone with the Wind, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He also performed in several installments of the 1939 serial Mandrake the Magician, portraying Gray, one of many criminals battling the title character.
Dorr continued to appear regularly in studio productions throughout the 1940s, but with reduced frequency when compared to the preceding decade; nevertheless, he still added more than 140 Hollywood films to his résumé in that decade. His work on the "big screen" decreased even further in the 1950s as acting opportunities increased on television. He was, though, cast in at least 45 feature films and shorts during the 1950s, including small roles in some notable productions, such as Ace in the Hole, The Greatest Show in Earth, and East of Eden. In another, far more modest film-noir production from that period, Quicksand, Dorr portrays “Baldy”, a smooth-talking jeweler. His on-screen sales pitch in that role, in which he convinces the story's leading character Dan (Mickey Rooney) to buy a wristwatch, is typical of the concise, quick-study performances that defined Dorr’s career and made him so popular in cost-conscious studio casting offices. Dorr’s film work, however, began to draw to a close by the 1960s, when he served in bit parts in only five films. Then, in 1975, he appeared in his final role, playing a doorman in the musical romantic comedy At Long Last Love.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s, programming in the rapidly expanding medium of television attracted the talents of many experienced personnel in the film industry, including Dorr. His earliest work on television was in two 1951 episodes of the televised crime drama Boston Blackie, starring Kent Taylor. Dorr's supporting role as Tommy in an episode of that series titled "Blind Beggar" is formally credited, although his other role in "Oil Field Murder" is uncredited. As with his film career, Dorr’s 15 years of being cast in television series consisted predominantly of brief appearances on screen and portraying characters who had relatively few lines. Yet, his characterizations on television, like in films, were highly diverse and can be seen in at least 84 episodes of Westerns, crime and detective series, courtroom and hospital dramas, adventure programs, and sitcoms of the period. Examples of Dorr's television appearances can be viewed today in video copies of full episodes from classic series, as well as clips from related productions that are available on line. Among those is his performance on The Jack Benny Program in 1961. In a sketch in an episode titled “Main Street Shelter”, he plays a weathered, finicky “patron” of a homeless shelter who complains that the facility has only doughnuts as free snacks and stresses his preference for cinnamon buns and crullers. Five years after that appearance on The Jack Benny Program and subsequent work on several other series, Dorr made his last television performance on the sitcom Green Acres in “I Didn't Raise My Pig to Be a Soldier”. He has a considerable speaking part in that episode as “Mr. Collins”, a local draft board official.
Personal life and death
Lester Dorr was married once, to Grace L. Painter, a native of Louisiana, Missouri. They were wed in Lucas, Ohio, on June 28, 1920, and remained together for 60 years, until Lester's death in Los Angeles in 1980. His remains were cremated and scattered at sea.
- Danger Ahead (1940)
- Stand By All Networks (1942)
- East of Eden (1955) - City Official at the parade (uncredited)
References and notes
- The figure "well over 500 productions" is a conservative number regarding the totality of Dorr’s work in the theatre, in films, and on television during his 58-career in entertainment. By cross-referencing his available filmographies, considering the timeline and references to his largely undocumented pre-Hollywood stage performances (1917-1929), and factoring in his uncredited work as a crowd extra in productions not included in his filmographies, Dorr's total appearances in the cited media no doubt far exceed 500 productions.
- "Twelfth Census of the United States: 1900", Boston, Ward 22, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, June 2, 1900; Bureau of the Census, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C.; digital copy of original enumeration page available at FamilySearch, archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
- "Massachusetts Births, 1841-1915”, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1893, volume 431, Harry Lester Dorr, May 8, 1893, Massachusetts Archives, Boston; digital copy of original page from birth registry, FamilySearch. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
- The federal census of 1930 documents Dorr as a non-veteran, so after registering with the draft in 1917, he never served in the military during World War I. Later, in 1942, the 49-year-old Dorr registered again with the draft as a “free-lance actor”, but the record of his extensive work in Hollywood films between 1942 and 1945 attests that he also did not serve militarily in World War II, most likely due to his age.
- “Lester Dorr”, Internet Movie Database (IMDb), a subsidiary of Amazon, Seattle, Washington. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
- “Lester Dorr”, Internet Broadway Database (IBDB), The Broadway League, New York, N.Y. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- "The Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930", Los Angeles City, "Block No. 55, Los Angeles County, California, April 5, 1930; FamilySearch. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
- "Lester Dorr", partial filmography, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Broadcasting System, a subsidiary of Time Warner, Inc., New York, N.Y. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
- "Lester Dorr", catalog, American Film Institute (AFI), Los Angeles, California. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
- Eder, Bruce. "Lester Dorr", filmography, AllMovie, a subsidiary of All Media Network, San Francisco, California. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
- “Mandrake the Magician”, 1939 serial, 12 episodes. IMDb. Retrieved October 26, 2018.
- Eder, Bruce. "Lester Dorr", biography, AllMovie. Retrieved March 9, 2018.
- “Lester Dorr”, TV.com, CBS Interactive, San Francisco, California. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
- “The Main Street Shelter”, The Jack Benny Program (S11E25), episode originally broadcast April 9, 1961; YouTube, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc., Mountain View, California. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- “I Didn't Raise My Pig to Be a Soldier”, Green Acres (S02E03), originally broadcast September 28, 1966; IMDb. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
- "Ohio Marriages, 1800-1958", marriage registration of Lester Dorr and Grace Painter, Ohio, June 28, 1920, reference P546-36831; transcribed copy, FamilySearch. Retrieved March 9, 2018.
- "California Death Index, 1940-1997", death of Harry Lester Dorr, August 25, 1980; California Department of Public Health, Sacramento, California; FamilySearch. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
- Philbin, Gordon (2011). "Lester Dorr", Find a Grave, memorial 76516923, established September 14, 2011; a subsidiary of Ancestry.com, Lehi, Utah. Retrieved March 8, 2018.