This handsome, light-haired actor of Scandinavian heritage entered films in 1941 as a supporting player and second string lead. Nelson evolved into a dashing TV lead in the 50s and 60s and found his greatest success on the Broadway stage in a series of hit comedies and musicals. He proved adequate and good-humored in his often limited film roles, usually cast as the requisite male lead who provided support to his established leading ladies including Ginger Rogers in "The First Traveling Saleslady" (1956), Ann Sothern in "Undercover Maisie" (1947), Margaret O'Brien in "Tenth Avenue Angel" (1948) and Debbie Reynolds in "Mary, Mary" (1963).
TV afforded Nelson better star treatment in the 50s beginning with roles in several live dramatic anthologies of the period including "The Chevrolet Tele-Theater," "Pulitzer Prize Playhouse" and Starlight Theater. He is reputed to be the first actor to portray super secret agent James Bond--albeit as an American--in a TV adaptation of Ian Fleming's novel "Casino Royale" on the late 50s anthology series "Climax!." Nelson headlined his own series, playing US government agent Bart Adams, a suave master of disguises, on the Cold War-themed "The Hunter" (CBS, 1952; syndication, 1952-54). He proved even more adept as a sitcom lead on "My Favorite Husband" (1953-55). Nelson continued popping up on the small screen in dramatic anthologies, specials, TV-movies and guest shots, though with decreasing frequency since the mid-70s. He has been in only a few features since 1970, receiving his last significant exposure in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" (1980) as the hotel executive who hires Jack Nicholson as a caretaker.
In contrast, Nelson had been a theater staple since the late 40s, with Broadway credits including "Light Up the Sky," "The Rat Race," "The Moon is Blue" and "Cactus Flower." He was nominated for a 1978 Tony for his lead role in "The Act," a Broadway musical directed by Martin Scorsese and co-starring Liza Minnelli. The mid-80s found Nelson in the national and Broadway companies of "42nd Street."
Cast (Feature Film)
Film Production - Main (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Entered features directly after college; soon appeared in three films
First significant supporting role "Shadow of the Thin Man"
First feature lead, "Undercover Maisie" with Ann Sothern
Broadway debut, "Light Up the Sky"
Acted on Broadway in "The Rat Race"
Appeared in the hit Broadway comedy "The Moon is Blue"
Supported Ginger Rogers playing an eccentric inventor in the Western comedy, "The First Traveling Saleslady"
Reprised his Broadway role in the film of "Mary-Mary" opposite Debbie Reynolds"
Starred in the busted sitcom pilot "Heaven Help Us" on CBS's "Vacation Playhouse"
TV-movie debut, "The Borgia Stick", a crime drama
Co-starred wth Janet Leigh in the unsold CBS comedy pilot "My Wives Jane"
Directed by Martin Scorsese in "The Act", a Broadway musical starring Liza Minelli; garnered a Tony nod for "Outstanding Performance By An Actor In A Broadway Musical"
Acted opposite Jack Nicholson in a small role in "The Shining"
Last film appearance, "Island Claws/Night of the Claw"
Acted in a L.A. revival of "Light Up the Sky"
Starred in the national company of the comedy "Lend Me a Tenor"