Leonard King "Len" Lesser (December 3, 1922 – February 16, 2011) appeared as Billy Pendergast, one of Archie's old Army platoon buddies during WWII, in the episode "Success Story" in Season 1. He was known for a key role in the Clint Eastwood movie Kelly's Heroes and his recurring role as Uncle Leo in the NBC-TV series Seinfeld, which began during the show's second season in "The Pony Remark" episode.
Lesser was born in The Bronx, NY. His father, a grocer, was a Jewish immigrant from Poland. Lesser received his bachelor's degree from the City College of New York (CCNY) in 1942 at the age of 19. Lesser enlisted in the United States Army the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and served in the China Burma India Theater during World War II.
Lesser worked for years in film, TV and on stage. His résumé included projects with Clint Eastwood, Barbra Streisand, Lee Marvin, Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen. Lesser appeared on American television steadily since 1955 on scores of TV classics such as The Monkees, Have Gun-Will Travel, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Get Smart, Family Affair, Quincy M.E., The Rockford Files, The Amazing Spider-Man, Mad About You, Seinfeld, All in the Family, Boy Meets World, Smart Guy, The Munsters, and, most recently, Castle. He appeared in a variety of films such as The Outlaw Josey Wales and the 1977 cult classic Supervan.
Len also had a recurring role on the CBS-TV series Everybody Loves Raymond as "Garvin", a friend of Frank Barone, who always lifted his arms in excitement whenever he saw Ray (as Lesser did in Seinfeld as "Uncle Leo" whenever he saw his nephew, Jerry). He was most recently on stage in Jeff Seymour's critically acclaimed stage production of Cold Storage at the University of Toronto's George Ignatieff Theatre.
Jerry Seinfeld, after Lesser's death, said of him, "Len was one of our favorites. We always loved having him on the show. I'll never forget when Uncle Leo was in prison and tattooed 'Jerry Hello' on his knuckles. He was a very sweet guy." Other Seinfeld castmate Jason Alexander tweeted,
Thanks to all of you for your kind remarks re: Len Lessor (sic). Tonight was the opening of Gigi at my beloved Reprise Theater Company and I've only returned at this late hour to hear the news.
Len was a tremendous guy. He was a smart actor/comedian who knew exactly what he was doing in the creation of Uncle Leo. I enjoyed many wonderful conversations with Len who was so openly grateful to be part of our show and so humble about his stunning contribution to it. I am so happy to have known him and my sympathies go to his family. But his was a fun life and he leaves many fans behind and many who will be enjoying his work for years to come.
"Hellooo" Uncle Leo. And goodbye. Sleep well. Much love.
- Uncle Leo. seinfeldonline.com. Retrieved on 17 February 2011.
- Weber, Bruce. Len Lesser, Uncle Leo on ‘Seinfeld,’ Dies at 88. The New York Times. 2011-02-17.
- Obituaries: Len Lesser, Sidney Harth, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, Santi Santamaria, T.P. McKenna, Howard Lucraft. Los Angeles Times. 2011-02-17.
- "The Ticket". Seinfeld. Season 4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URSiLj8RF-0.
- First Person: Len Lesser on Uncle Leo’s new life. National Post.
- Allen, Floyd. "Len Lesser dies at 88, due to cancer-related pneumonia", ibtimes.com, 18 February 2011. Retrieved on 19 February 2011.
- Seinfeld's 'Uncle Leo' dead at 88. CNN. 2011-02-16.
- Zakarin, Jordan. "Uncle Leo's 'Seinfeld' Scenes: Jerry Remembers His Favorite", Huffington Post, 17 February 2011.