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Willie Best
Born William Best
May 27, 1916(1916-05-27)
Sunflower, Mississippi, U.S.
Died February 27, 1962 (aged 45)
Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other name(s) Sleep 'n' Eat
Occupation Actor
Years active 1930 – 1955

William "Willie" Best (May 27, 1916 – February 27, 1962) was an American television and film actor. Best was one of the first well-known African-American film actors, although his work, like that of Stepin Fetchit, is today sometimes reviled because he was often called upon to play stereotypically lazy, illiterate, and simple-minded Black characters in films. Best's characterization of the stereotype of the lazy Black man earned him the stage name "Sleep 'n' Eat"; many of his films bill him under this name, if he was billed at all.



A native of Sunflower, Mississippi, Best had arrived in Hollywood as chauffeur for a vacationing couple, and began his performing career with a traveling show in California. He became a regular character actor in Hollywood films after a talent scout discovered him on stage. Best was alternately loved as a great clown, then reviled, then pitied, finally virtually forgotten. Hal Roach called him one of the greatest talents he had ever met. In a similar gesture, Bob Hope acclaimed him as, "the best actor I know,"[1] as the two worked together on The Ghost Breakers in 1940. He appeared in more than one hundred films of the 30s and 40s.

Like many black actors of his era, he was usually cast in supporting film roles of janitor, valet, elevator operator or train porter. He became known to early TV audiences as Charlie, the elevator operator on My Little Margie.

He also played the servant and close friend of the title character of The Trouble with Father, which aired from 1950-1955.


Best died on February 27, 1962 at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California, of cancer, at age forty-five. He was buried (by the Motion Picture Fund) on March 5, 1962 at Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery.

Selected filmography

Year Film Role Notes
1930 Deep South
Feet First Janitor Credited as Sleep 'n' Eat
1931 The Virtuous Husband Luftus Alternative title: What Wives Don't Want
Up Pops the Devil Laundryman Uncredited
1932 The Monster Walks Exodus Credited as Sleep 'n' Eat
1934 Little Miss Marker Dizzy Memphis Uncredited
West of the Pecos Jonah Credited as Sleep 'n' Eat
1935 Murder on a Honeymoon Willie, the Porter Credited as Sleep 'n' Eat
Annie Oakley Second Cook Uncredited
The Littlest Rebel James Henry, a Cary slave
1936 The Bride Walks Out Smokie - at marriage bureau
Mummy's Boys Catfish
1937 Breezing Home Speed Credited as William Best
The Lady Fights Back McTavish
Deep South short film
1938 Merrily We Live George W. Jones
Youth Takes a Fling George
Vivacious Lady Train Porter
1939 Nancy Drew... Trouble Shooter Apollo Johnson
Miracle on Main Street Duke
1940 The Ghost Breakers Alex
Who Killed Aunt Maggie? Andrew
1941 Scattergood Baines Hipp
Nothing But the Truth Samuel
The Smiling Ghost Clarence
1942 Whispering Ghosts Euclid White Brown
The Hidden Hand Eustis the Chauffeur
1943 Cabin in the Sky Second Idea Man
Thank Your Lucky Stars Soldier Uncredited
1944 The Adventures of Mark Twain George, Twain's Butler Uncredited
The Girl Who Dared Woodrow
1945 Hold That Blonde Willie Shelley
The Red Dragon Chattanooga Brown
1946 The Bride Wore Boots Joe
Dangerous Money Chattanooga Brown Alternative title: Charlie Chan in Dangerous Money
1947 Suddenly, It's Spring Porter on train
The Red Stallion Jackson
1948 Smart Woman Train Porter Uncredited
1949 Jiggs and Maggie in Jackpot Jitters Willie Uncredited
1950 High and Dizzy Wesley
1951 South of Caliente Willie
Year Title Role Notes
1950-1955 The Stu Erwin Show Willie, The Handyman 30 episodes
1951-1952 Racket Squad Janitor
Cleaning Man
2 episodes
1952-1955 My Little Margie Charlie Unknown/unclear
1954-1955 Waterfront Billy Slocum/Willie Slocum 18 episodes


  1. ^ Son of Golden Turkey Awards, pg.28, Harry and Micheal Medved, Angus and Robertson Publishers, Australia, 1986

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