William “Willie” Best was born on May 27, 1916, and was known as “Sleep n’ Eat.” As an African-American actor who appeared in comedian roles, his work is often compared to that of “Stepin Fetchit” because he played roles that were stereotypically lazy, illiterate, and simple-minded.
He appeared in over 120 films, but only received screen credit for around 77. Best was loved but most people viewed him as sort of a “clown around type of guy”. By the late 20thh century, Best was forgotten and pitied by many. However, Hal Roach and Bob Hope referred to him as one of the greatest talents they had ever met.
As a bit player, like many black actors of his era, Best was regularly casted in service-oriented roles. He often was seen making jokes as a hotel, airline or train porter, elevator operator, custodian, butler, waiter—and at least once as a launch pilot (in 1939’s Mr. Moto in Danger Island).
After a drug arrest ended his film career, he worked in television for a while. He became known to early TV audiences as Charlie, the elevator operator on CBS’s My Little Margie, from 1953 to 1955. Best’s “Sleep n’ Eat” moniker surfaced again in the 2000 motion picture satire Bamboozled, directed by Spike Lee.
Best died on February 27, 1962, at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California.