John Lester Johnson (John Leslie Johnson)
Photos with John Lester Johnson
BiographySuffolk, Virginia, USA
John Lester Johnson was born in Suffolk, Virginia (his death certificate states South Carolina) on August 13, 1893. His middle name was Leslie, according to an "Ebony" magazine article about Johnson (January 1960), but he changed it to to Lester when he left Virginia in 1910 for New York City, hoping to make a career in boxing. He had been fighting since his early teens. Johnson's first professional fight was in 1911 against Joe Jeannette in New York, but he lost the 10-round event on a decision. Read more... hulking ton of coal", he really was just a good-sized light-heavyweight. His fighting weight varied between 173 and 185 pounds. The Harlem Sporting Club in New York City was the scene of what may have been the first integrated professional boxing event, on July 13, 1916. Johnson's opponent was Jack Dempsey, who was still unknown at that time, but had been attracting some attention in the Western states. During the fight, Johnson proved to be a very worthwhile match against Dempsey, for in the second round, he broke three of Dempsey's ribs. The fight did continue, however, for a total of ten rounds, with no decision. Some of the sportswriters gave Dempsey the winning title, but Dempsey himself denied winning. He said, "I didn't know how to fight then, and he (Johnson) did. I think he won, and he taught me more that night than I had ever dreamed before". For the bout, Dempsey was paid $100, Johnson $200. Johnson continued boxing for several more years, eventually making his way to California. Denied his chance at the championship, he drifted into boxing obscurity. He helped support himself by taking bit parts in motion pictures. He also worked as a night watchman for the Armed Forces General Services Center in Maywood, Los Angeles. John Lester Johnson appeared in many movies of the 1930s and 1940s, in small parts, usually as a doorman, a slave, a criminal, a witch doctor, and at least once as a policeman. He did have one "starring" role, however, in the Our Gang 1933 short, "The Kid From Borneo". In this movie, he played Bumbo, "The Wild Man from Borneo". As Bumbo, he had a craving for candies, and every time he saw some, he'd say in a low, growling-like voice, "YUM-YUM! EAT' EM UP!" Johnson suffered a series of disabling strokes in the late 1950s, he resided at the Veterans Administration Hospital in West Los Angeles until his death, at age 74, on March 27, 1968. His wife, the former Lulu Dill, survived. Johnson is interred at the Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles.