Image of Willie Best

Willie Best

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia William "Willie" Best (May 27, 1916 – February 27, 1962), sometimes known as Sleep n' Eat, was an American television and film actor. Best was one of the first African-American film actors and comedians to become well known. In the 21st century, his work, like that of Stepin Fetchit, is sometimes reviled because he was often called upon to play stereotypically lazy, illiterate, and/or simple-minded characters in films. Of the 124 films he appeared in, he received screen credit in at least 77, an unusual feat for an African-American bit player. Willie Best appeared in more than one hundred films of the 1930s and 1940s. Although several sources state that for years he was billed only as "Sleep n' Eat", Best received credit under this moniker instead of his real name in only six movies: his first film as a bit player (Harold Lloyd's Feet First) and in Up Pops the Devil (1931), The Monster Walks (1932), Kentucky Kernels and West of the Pecos (both 1934), and Murder on a Honeymoon (1935). He thereafter usually received credit as "Willie Best" or "William Best". Best was first loved as a great clown, then later in the 20th century reviled and pitied, before being forgotten in the history of film. Hal Roach called him one of the greatest talents he had ever met. Comedian Bob Hope similarly acclaimed him as "the best actor I know", while the two were working together in 1940 on The Ghost Breakers. As a supporting actor, Best, like many black actors of his era, was regularly cast in domestic worker or service-oriented roles (though a few times he played the role echoing his previous occupation as a private chauffeur). He was often seen making a brief comic turn as a hotel, airline or train porter, as well as an elevator operator, custodian, butler, valet, waiter, deliveryman, and at least once as a launch pilot (in the 1939 movie Mr. Moto in Danger Island). Willie Best received screen credit most of the time, which was unusual for "bit players"; most in the 1930s and '40s were not accorded due credit. This also happened to white actors in small roles, but black actors were not credited even when their roles were larger. In more than 80 of his movies, he was given a proper character name (as opposed to simple descriptions such as "room service waiter" or "shoe-shine boy"), beginning with his second film. Best played "Chattanooga Brown" in two Charlie Chan films—The Red Dragon in 1945 and Dangerous Money in 1946. He also played the character of "Hipp" in three of RKO’s six Scattergood Baines films with Guy Kibbee: Scattergood Baines (1941), Scattergood Survives a Murder (1942), and Cinderella Swings It in 1943. (Actor Paul White, who played a young version of Best’s "Hipp" in the first film, went on to play "Hipp" in the next three films. Best returned to the role in the last two.) After a drug arrest ended his film career, he worked in television for a while and became known to early TV audiences as Charlie, the elevator operator on CBS's My Little Margie, from 1953 to 1955. He also played Willie, the house servant/handyman and close friend of the title character of ABC’s The Trouble with Father, for its entire run from 1950 to 1955.

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May 27, 1913 In Sunflower, Mississippi, USA
Movie/TV Credits:
First Appeared:
In the movie Ladies of Leisure 1930-04-05
Latest Project:
Movie TV in Black: The First Fifty Years 2004-01-01
Known For
Poster of Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy
Poster of Breezing Home
Poster of The Monster Walks
Movie TV in Black: The First Fifty Years 2004-01-01
Movie Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? (archive footage) 1975-08-06
Movie Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy Charlie (archive footage) 1962-12-04
Series My Little Margie Unknown 1952-06-16
Series Racket Squad Unknown 1951-06-07
Movie South of Caliente Willie, Stable Boy 1951-10-14
Movie Half Past Midnight Andy Jones 1948-03-01
Movie The Shanghai Chest Custodian (uncredited) 1948-07-11
Movie Suddenly It's Spring Porter on Train 1947-02-13
Movie The Red Stallion Jackson 1947-08-16
Movie The Face of Marble Shadrach 1946-01-19
Movie Dangerous Money Chattanooga Brown 1946-10-12
Movie The Bride Wore Boots Joe 1946-05-08
Movie The Monster and the Ape Flash 1945-04-20
Movie Charlie Chan in The Red Dragon Chattanooga Brown 1945-08-01
Movie Pillow to Post Lucille, Colonial Auto Court Porter 1945-06-09
Movie Hold That Blonde! Willie Shelley 1945-11-23
Movie She Wouldn't Say Yes Porter (uncredited) 1945-11-29
Movie Home in Indiana Mo' Rum (uncredited) 1944-06-15
Movie The Mark of the Whistler Men's Room Attendant (uncredited) 1944-10-09
Movie The Girl Who Dared Woodrow 1944-08-05
Movie The Powers Girl Men's Room Attendant 1943-01-15
Movie Cabin in the Sky Second Idea Man 1943-04-09
Movie The Kansan Bones 1943-09-10
Movie Dixie Steward (uncredited) 1943-06-23
Movie Whispering Ghosts Euclid White Brown 1942-05-17
Movie Juke Girl Jo-Mo 1942-05-30
Movie Maisie Gets Her Man Sam 1942-06-01
Movie The Hidden Hand Eustis the Chauffeur 1942-11-07
Movie Busses Roar Sunshine 1942-08-18
Movie A-Haunting We Will Go Waiter 1942-08-07
Movie Road Show Willie 1941-02-18
Movie High Sierra Algernon 1941-01-25
Movie The Lady from Cheyenne George 1941-04-11
Movie Kisses for Breakfast Arnold 1941-07-05
Movie Breakdowns of 1941 Himself (archive footage) (uncredited) 1941-11-14
Movie Nothing But the Truth Samuel 1941-10-10
Movie The Smiling Ghost Clarence 1941-09-06
Movie Highway West Bub Wellington 1941-08-23
Movie I Take This Woman Sambo 1940-02-01
Movie Blondie on a Budget Newsboy 1940-02-29
Movie The Ghost Breakers Alex 1940-06-21
Movie Who Killed Aunt Maggie? Andrew 1940-11-01
Movie Money and the Woman George Washington Jones 1940-08-17
Movie Mr. Moto in Danger Island Launch Pilot 1939-04-07
Movie Nancy Drew... Trouble Shooter Apollo Johnson 1939-06-17
Movie The Saint Strikes Back Algernon, Simon's Butler 1939-03-10
Movie Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation Driver 1939-07-07
Movie At the Circus Redcap (uncredited) 1939-10-20
Movie Slightly Honorable Art, the Elevator Operator 1939-12-22
Movie Way Down South Chimney Sweep 1939-07-21
Movie Blackmail Bunny - the Janitor 1939-09-08
Movie Merrily We Live George 1938-03-04
Movie Gold Is Where You Find It Joshua 1938-02-12
Movie Everybody's Doing It Jasper - Elevator Operator 1938-01-14
Movie Goodbye Broadway Jughead 1938-04-01
Movie Crashing Hollywood Train Porter (uncredited) 1938-01-07
Movie Vivacious Lady Train Porter 1938-05-10
Movie Spring Madness Porter on Train 1938-11-11
Movie Blondie Porter 1938-11-30
Movie Straight, Place and Show Hannibal 1938-09-30
Movie Youth Takes a Fling George 1938-09-22
Movie Breezing Home Speed 1937-02-01
Movie We Who Are About to Die Airport Porter 1937-01-08
Movie You Can't Buy Luck Airline Porter 1937-04-30
Movie Racing Lady Brass 1937-01-29
Movie Meet the Missus Bootblack 1937-06-04
Movie Super-Sleuth Warts, Martin's manservant 1937-07-16
Movie Saturday's Heroes Sam 1937-10-08
Movie The Lady Fights Back McTavish 1937-10-01
Movie Murder on a Bridle Path 'High-Pockets' 1936-04-17
Movie Two in Revolt Eph 1936-04-03
Movie Thank You, Jeeves! Drowsy 1936-06-30
Movie Silly Billies Excitement 1936-03-20
Movie Night Waitress Black Pedestrian 1936-12-18
Movie The Bride Walks Out Smokie 1936-07-10
Movie Mummy's Boys Catfish 1936-10-02
Movie General Spanky Henry 1936-12-11
Movie Down The Stretch Noah 1936-09-18
Movie The Nitwits Sleepy 1935-06-07
Movie Murder on a Honeymoon Willie 1935-02-22
Movie Jalna Sam, the Janitor 1935-08-09
Movie The Arizonian Pompey 1935-06-27
Movie To Beat the Band Elevator Operator 1935-11-23
Movie The Littlest Rebel James Henry 1935-11-22
Movie Hot Tip Apollo 1935-08-20
Movie Little Miss Marker Dizzy Memphis (uncredited) 1934-06-01
Movie West of the Pecos Jonah (as Sleep 'n' Eat) 1934-12-27
Movie The Monster Walks Exodus (as Sleep n' Eat) 1932-02-10
Movie Up Pops the Devil Laundryman 1931-05-19
Movie Ladies of Leisure George, the Elevator Operator 1930-04-05
Movie Feet First Janitor 1930-11-08