Gene Nelson


Gene Nelson: dancer/actor-turned-director, born 24 March 1920, Seattle Washington; died: 16 September 1996, Los Angeles California. On screen 1947 – 1987, TV and B-grade movie director from 1960. Biography and photo below.

Final directing credit: Dan August: The Jealousy Factor (Telemovie 1980) with Burt Reynolds. Obituary after the photo.

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Gene Nelson Is Dead at 76; Athletic Hollywood Dancer
New York Times 18 September 1996

Gene Nelson, who played Will Parker, the blond, boyish, high-stepping lasso dancer in the 1955 film version of ”Oklahoma!,” died on Monday at a hospital in Calabasas, Calif. He was 76 and lived in Los Angeles.

He had been suffering from cancer, said his daughter, Victoria Gordon.

Mr. Nelson, who was also a choreographer, performed as second lead in numerous Broadway and Hollywood musicals. He was an athletic dancer who in the course of his career danced on ships, up a banister and over a Volkswagen.

In ”So, This Is Paris” with Tony Curtis, he leaped high in the air while a bicycle zipped under his jack-knifed legs. Clive Barnes of The New York Times praised his ”flashily effective 30’s-style acrobatic dance solo” in the 1971 Broadway production of ”Follies,” for which he won a Tony.

Though Mr. Nelson was considered to have a good, light singing voice, he was frequently overshadowed by Gordon MacRae, with whom he appeared in ”Oklahoma!,” ”Tea for Two,” and ”Three Sailors and a Girl.” Mr. Nelson rarely got the girl; that honor usually went to MacRae.

Mr. Nelson, whose original name was Eugene Berg, was born in Seattle. His family moved to Los Angeles, where he was a gymnast and ice skater in high school. He once said that a Saturday afternoon spent at the movies as a teen-ager watching Fred Astaire dance in ”Flying Down to Rio” changed his life and made him want to become a performer.

In 1937, he joined the Sonja Henie Hollywood Ice Revue and made his first appearance at the Center Theater on Broadway in ”It Happens on Ice.”

During World War II, Mr. Nelson toured with Irving Berlin’s all-male ”This Is the Army,” entertaining American troops in Europe. Then he moved back to Los Angeles, where he won a two-year contract with 20th Century Fox playing roles in ”I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” and ”Gentleman’s Agreement.”

In 1948 he appeared in Gower Champion’s production of ”Lend an Ear,” which got him a three-year contract with Warner Brothers. There he appeared with Doris Day in ”Lullaby of Broadway” and ”Tea for Two,” which also starred MacRae. He appeared with James Cagney in ”The West Point Story.”

As Mr. Nelson aged — at least in the terms of the dance world — he tried his hand at serious dramatic roles. Failing to find success, he began directing films, including two with Elvis Presley, ”Kissin’ Cousins” and ”Harum Scarum.” Mr. Nelson also directed episodes of numerous television series. He liked to tick them off on his fingers. ”Eight ‘Riflemans,’ ” he told The San Francisco Chronicle in an interview in 1992, ”32 ‘Donna Reeds’ ” and ”24 ‘Mod Squads,’ ” to name but a few.

He was married three times, to Miriam Franklin, Marilyn M. Fields and Jean Martin. All of the marriages ended in divorce.

In addition to his daughter, of Manhattan, he is survived by two sons, Christopher, of Burbank, Calif., and Douglas, of Los Angeles, and three grandchildren, all of Los Angeles.


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3 Responses to Gene Nelson

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