Entertainer. Fondly remembered for his role as ‘Lester Gruber’ in the television series “McHale’s Navy” (1962-1966). Born Meyer Kessler in Chicago, he would strive to become a magician at an early age after he was impressed by his barber who performed magic tricks for him. not long into his career which began during the early 1940’s would he emphasize more on his comedic ability rather than the magic itself. He took his stage name after seeing a Ballantine Whiskey bottle now billing himself as “Ballantine the Great” (and other similar titles), he created a vaudevillian-style act of clever dialog and unsuccessful on purpose magic tricks that audiences responded well to. Beginning in the 1950’s, his popularity grew with appearances on such programs as “The Milton Berle Show”, “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” along with performances at Las Vegas venues. He would have humorous guest acting roles in such programs as “That Girl”, “The Monkees”, “Love, American Style” and “The Cosby Show”. In addition, he provided his voice in the animated series “Garfield and Friends”. Among his big screen credits are “Penelope” (1966), “The Shakiest Gun in the West” (1968), “The World’s Greatest Lover” (1977), “Just You and Me, Kid” (1979) and “Mr Saturday Night” (1992). In 1972, he co-starred with Phil Silvers in the Broadway revival “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”. He was married to actress Ceil Cabot and was the father of actress Sara Ballantine.
- September, 27, 1917
- November, 03, 2009