From "Dead End" Kid to Bigshot Producer
Harold Ribotsky was the youngest of seven children born to Polish -Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York. His father was a property developer who lost his fortune in the 1929 market crash. Chester began his long and industrious career as a delivery boy, Wall Street runner, newsboy, magician's assistant, and painter before trying his hand at acting. He appeared in the Broadway premier of Dead End using the stage name "Hally Chester" as one of the "Dead End Kids," and later turned up in the 1937 film by the same name.
For the remainder of the 1930s, Chester played various street urchins, thugs, and petty criminals in B serials as a "Little Tough Guy" or an "East Side Kid." Shortly after WWII, Chester purchased the rights to Joe Palooka, a popular comic strip, and made the switch from film actor to producer, changing his name to the more adult sounding "Hal E. Chester." He cranked out 11 Joe Palooka pictures between 1946 and 1951 and went on to produce a number of B crime dramas, including The Underworld Story (1950) with my pal, Dan Duryea, and Crashout (1955) with William Bendix and my girlfriend, Beverly Michaels.
Chester also produced the science fiction classic, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), which featured an atomic-test-generated giant lizard thingy (precursor to the highly trademarked Japanese version whose name I can't afford to mention) and Ray Harryhausen's stop motion animation.
In 1955, Chester moved to England to work on internationally co-produced films, which included the very spooky Jacques Tourneur film Night of the Demon in 1957 and a number of well-regarded comedies.
Hal E. Chester retired in 1970 and remained in London until his death on March 25, 2012 at the age of 91. His was an interesting, varied, and oddly prolific career.
Trailer: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms