Gene Nelson

An actor, director and athletic dancer in the Gene Kelly style who was in several musicals in the 50s.
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Artist Biography

b. Leander Eugene Berg, 24 March 1920, Seattle, Washington, USA, d. 16 September 1996, Woodland Hills, California, USA. An actor, director and athletic dancer in the Gene Kelly style who was in several popular musicals of the 50s. Nelson grew up in Los Angeles and attended the renowned Fanchon and Marco dancing school there. After graduating from high school when he was 18, he took up ice-skating and joined Sonja Henie’s touring company and appeared in two of her films, Second Fiddle and Everything Happens At Night. After enlisting in the US Signals Corps early in World War II, he became a member of the cast of Irving Berlin’s celebrated wartime musical This Is The Army, which opened on Broadway in 1942 and was then filmed before touring the UK and US military bases throughout the world. Following his discharge, Nelson went to Hollywood in 1947 and made the musical, I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now, with June Haver. Ironically, it was while he was starring in the hit Broadway revue Lend An Ear (1949), that Nelson was noticed by a representative of Warner Brothers Pictures. After playing a minor role in The Daughter Of Rosie O’Grady, he was signed to a long-term contract and given the third-lead to Doris Day and Gordon MacRae in Tea For Two (1950). From then on, he appeared in a string of musicals for the studio, including The West Point Story, Lullaby Of Broadway (his first starring role, opposite Doris Day), Painting The Clouds With Sunshine, She’s Working Her Way Through College, She’s Back On Broadway, Three Sailors And A Girl, So This Is Paris, and Oklahoma! (1955). In the latter film he had the best role of his career - and two great numbers, ‘Kansas City’ and ‘All Er Nothin’’ (with Gloria Grahame as Ado Annie).

In the late 50s Nelson appeared on television until he suffered a horse-riding accident that put an end to his dancing - at least for a while. He turned to directing, and in the 60s worked on some melodramas, and two musical films starring Elvis Presley, Kissin’ Cousins (which he also co-wrote) and Harum Scarum. He also directed Your Cheatin’ Heart, a film biography of country singer Hank Williams. In 1971 he was back on Broadway with other veteran entertainers such as Yvonne De Carlo and Alexis Smith in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. Nelson played Buddy Plummer and performed one of the show’s outstanding numbers, the rapid-fire ‘Buddy’s Blues’. He continued to direct in the 70s and 80s, mostly for television, and worked on the top-rated series Washington Behind Closed Doors. In 1993 his projects included staging a US provincial production of Richard Harris’ popular comedy Stepping Out. Nelson died from cancer in 1996.