Barry Nelson, the first actor to play James Bond onscreen in the 1954 television adaption of Casino Royale, has passed away.
Nelson died on 7 April while traveling in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, his wife, Nansi Nelson, said Friday. The cause of death was not immediately known, she said.
The First James Bond – Barry Nelson
In 1954, Nelson became the first (and only American) actor to portray Ian Fleming’s James Bond onscreen when he appeared in the one-hour television adaption of Casino Royale; part of the CBS CLIMAX! Mystery Theater series. In this adaption, Nelson’s Bond was referred to as ‘Card Sense Jimmy Bond’ as he appears opposite Peter Lorre’s Le Chiffre. Linda Christian played Bond girl Valerie Mathis.
In comparison to the Eon-produced James Bond films that wouldn’t come about for roughly a decade later, this Casino Royale adaption stands out considerably with the absense of typical 007 trademarks: the gunbarrel, ‘Bond, James Bond’ line, martinis and more. And even with only one hour to translate Fleming’s novel to the screen (with nearly the entire story based in a casino), many of the elements from the novel are present, including the torture sequence in an edited form. Still, the show left little impact and was forgotten until the 1980s when it was first issued on VHS (and later as a special feature on the MGM DVD of the 1967 Casino Royale). In the 90s, a Spy Guise & Cara Entertainment VHS Collector’s Edition was released–the only version to include the finale of the original broadcast. All other versions omit the final confrontation between Nelson’s Bond Lorre’s Le Chiffre.
Barry Nelson was born Robert Haakon Nielsen on 16 April 1920, in Oakland, California. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1941, Nelson was soon signed to MGM Studios. His early work included Shadow of the Thin Man and Dr. Kildare’s Victory, before eventually earning the lead role in the 1942 war film A Yank on the Burma Road.
Nelson entered the Army during World War II and then went on the road to make his debut on Broadway in the play Winged Victory in 1943. One year later, the play was made into a film in which also starred Nelson.
After playing the role of James Bond in Casino Royale, Nelson made other appearances in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilght Zone. In the 1960s, he starred in such television films as The Borgia Stick and Seven in Darkness. Broadway appearances included Seascape, Mary, Mary and Cactus Flower opposite Lauren Bacall. His role in The Act in 1978, which also starred Liza Minnelli, earned him a Tony nomination.
Some of his final film roles included Airport, Pete ‘n’ Tillie and The Shining. Much more frequent were his appearances on television, which included episodes on Taxi, Dallas, Magnum, P.I., Fantasy Island and Murder, She Wrote.
Nelson’s first wife was actress Teresa Celli (divorced). He married his second wife, Nansi Nelson, on 12 November 1992 and the two had homes both in New York and France.
‘He was a very naturalistic, believable actor,’ said his agent, Francis Delduca. ‘He was good at both comedy and the serious stuff.’ Nelson had planned to write about his time in Hollywood and on stage.
CBn wishes the best to his wife and close friends.