Leonard King “Len” Lesser (December 3, 1922 – February 16, 2011) was an American actor.
He was known for a key role in the Clint Eastwood movie Kelly’s Heroes and his recurring role as Uncle Leo in Seinfeld, which began during the show’s second season in “The Pony Remark” episode.
Lesser was also known for his role as Garvin on Everybody Loves Raymond.
Lesser was born in The Bronx in 1922. His father, a grocer, was a Jewish immigrant from Poland. Lesser received his bachelor’s degree from the City College of New York 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 Untouchables, Peter Gunn, Mr. Lucky, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Get Smart, Family Affair, The Monkees, Quincy, M.E., The Rockford Files, The Amazing Spider-Man, Mad About You, Seinfeld, All in the Family, Boy Meets World, Smart Guy, My Favorite Martian, The Munsters, and, most recently, Castle.
He appeared in a variety of films such as Birdman of Alcatraz, Kelly’s Heroes, Blood and Lace, Papillon, Truck Stop Women, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Moonshine County Express.
He had a recurring role on 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.
On February 16, 2011, Lesser died of cancer-related pneumonia in Burbank, California, at the age of 88.
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.