EXPIRED: 11/03/09 – Carl Ballantine, 92, best known for his role as sailor Lester Gruber on the 60’s TV series McHale’s Navy, was born Meyer Kessler in Chicago, Illinois.
He started out as a magic act but soon discovered he was better at making audiences laugh than at dazzling them with trickery. Something always went wrong, but it was always funny. And as the tricks got deliberately lousier, he got more and more successful.
His best trick was at reinventing himself. Kessler took a look at a bottle of Ballantine Beer, and “Presto” – new name, new act.
Billing himself as “Ballantine the Great” or “The Amazing Ballantine,” He took his wisecracking magic act to The Ed Sullivan Show, the Steve Allen Show and to Las Vegas. In fact, he is said to have been the first performer ever to play the Strip with anything even resembling a magic act.
Ballantine then went on to play Marcus Lycus opposite Phil Silvers in the 1972 revival of the Broadway musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He also won Tannen’s “Louie Award” and the 1985 AMA Performing Fellowship.
Carl also did commercials, including one for the California Raisins in which he supplied the voice for a Claymation™ character that looked like…who else, Carl Ballantine.