Nelson in 1962
Robert Haakon Nielsen
16 April 1917
|Died||7 April 2007 (aged 89)|
(m. 1951; div. 1965)
(m. 1992; his death 2007)
Nelson was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Norwegian immigrants, Betsy (née Christophersen) and Trygve Nielsen His year of birth has been subject to some debate, but his 1943 Army enlistment record and his 1993 voter registration records list 1917 as the year of his birth. He began acting in school at the age of 15. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1941 and, because of his theatrical efforts in school, was almost immediately signed to a motion picture contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
With MGM, Nelson made his screen debut in the role as Paul Clark in Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, with Donna Reed. He followed that with his role as Lew Rankin in the film noir Johnny Eager (1942) starring Robert Taylor and Lana Turner. He played the lead in A Yank on the Burma Road (1942).
During his service in the United States Army in World War II, Nelson debuted on the Broadway stage in Moss Hart's play Winged Victory (1943) in the role of Bobby Grills. His next Broadway appearance was as Peter Sloan in Hart's Light Up the Sky (1948). He appeared on Broadway with Barbara Bel Geddes in the original Broadway production of The Moon Is Blue. During the play's run, he also starred in a CBS half-hour drama called The Hunter, premiering in July 1952. He played Bart Adams, a wealthy young American whose business activities involved him in a series of adventures. He also appeared with Lauren Bacall in the Abe Burrows comedy Cactus Flower in 1965 and with Dorothy Loudon in The Fig Leaves Are Falling in 1969. Another Broadway role, that of Gus Hammer in The Rat Race (1949), kept Nelson away from the movies again, but after it closed, he starred in the dual roles as Chick Graham and Bert Rand in The Man with My Face (1951).
He was the first actor to play James Bond on screen in a 1954 adaptation of Ian Fleming's novel Casino Royale on the television anthology series Climax! (preceding Sean Connery's interpretation in Dr. No by eight years). Reportedly this was considered a pilot for a possible James Bond television series, though it is not known if Nelson intended to continue playing the character. Nelson played James Bond as an American agent whom some in the program call "Jimmy". In 2004, Nelson said, "At that time, no one had ever heard of James Bond...I was scratching my head wondering how to play it. I hadn't read the book or anything like that because it wasn't well-known." Bond did not become well known in the U.S. until President John F. Kennedy listed From Russia, with Love among his 10 favorite books in a March 17, 1961, Life article.
The program also featured Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre, the primary villain. Nelson later noted the opportunity to work with Lorre was the reason he took the role. Originally broadcast live, the production was believed lost until a kinescope emerged in the 1980s. It was released to home video and is currently available on DVD as a bonus feature with the 1967 film adaptation of the novel.
Nelson appeared as Grant Decker in "Threat of Evil", a 1960 episode of The DuPont Show with June Allyson. His additional television credits include guest appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Ben Casey, The Twilight Zone (episode "Stopover in a Quiet Town"), Dr. Kildare, and later years played a hobo on an episode of The Ropers . He appeared regularly on television in the 1960s, having been one of the What's My Line? mystery guests and later serving as a guest panelist on that popular CBS quiz show. From 1963 to 1966, he hosted portions of the NBC Radio program Monitor. Nelson appeared in both the stage and screen versions of Mary, Mary.
In 1978, he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Dan Connors in the Broadway musical The Act (1977) with Liza Minnelli. His final appearance on Broadway was as Julian Marsh in 42nd Street (1986).William Goldman, in his 1968 book The Season, called Nelson a consummately professional actor.
"He was a very naturalistic, believable actor," said his agent, Francis Delduca. "He was good at both comedy and the serious stuff."
Among his other film credits were Airport and The Shining (as the hotel manager who interviews Jack Nicholson for a job opening), and he also appeared on television series such as Murder, She Wrote, Dallas, Cannon and Magnum, P.I.
Nelson was married twice -- first to actress Teresa Celli, from whom he was divorced in 1951 (according to his New York Times obituary), and later to Nansilee ("Nansi") Hoy, to whom he was married until his death.
|1938||Comet Over Broadway||Garage mechanic||Uncredited|
|1941||Shadow of the Thin Man||Paul Clark|
|Johnny Eager||Lew Rankin|
|1942||A Yank on the Burma Road||Joe Tracey|
|Dr. Kildare's Victory||Samuel Z. Cutter|
|Rio Rita||Harry Gantley|
|The Affairs of Martha||Danny O'Brien|
|Eyes in the Night||Mr. Busch|
|1943||The Human Comedy||Fat, first soldier|
|A Guy Named Joe||Dick Rumney|
|1944||Winged Victory||Robert Edward 'Bobby' Crills|
|1947||The Beginning or the End||Col. Paul Tibbetts Jr.|
|Undercover Maisie||Lt. Paul Scott|
|1948||Tenth Avenue Angel||Al Parker|
|Command Decision||Cumquat B-Baker Crewman||Voice;|
|1951||The Man with My Face||Charles "Chick" Graham / Albert "Bert" Rand|
|1951||Suspense||Episodes -The Guy from Nowhere (1950), A Pocketful of Murder (1950). The Gentleman from America (1950), My Old Man's Badge (1950), Dead Fall (1951). Tough Cop (1951)|
|1954||Climax!||James Bond||Episode: "Casino Royale"|
|1956||The First Traveling Saleslady||Charles Masters|
|1963||Mary, Mary||Bob McKellaway|
|1964||The Twilight Zone||Bob Frazier||Episode: Stopover in a Quiet Town|
|1964||The Alfred Hitchcock Hour||Dr. James Parkerson||Episode: "Anyone For Murder?"|
|1967||The Borgia Stick||Hal Carter||Made for TV|
|1969||Seven in Darkness||Alex Swain||Made for TV|
|1970||Airport||Capt. Anson Harris|
|1971||My Wives Jane||Nat Franklin||Made for TV|
|1972||Pete 'n' Tillie||Burt|
|Climb an Angry Mountain||Lt. Frank Bryant||Made for TV|
|1974||Fools, Females and Fun||Dr. David Markham||Made for TV|
|1980||The Shining||Stuart Ullman|
|Island Claws||Dr. McNeal|
|1982||Poltergeist||Actor on Television||Uncredited|