Gene Nelson

Gene Nelson

Prolific actor/director Gene Nelson appeared in more than 60 productions and helmed another 50 in a career that spanned five decades, but his first ambition was to become a dancer after he saw Fred Astaire's musical comedy "Flying Down to Rio." Nelson spent three years of touring with the Sonja Henie Ice Show, did a stint in the Army during World War II, and then made his way to Broadway and into movies. He began with small parts, but his film acting career took off in the 1950s with a notable role in the Doris Day musical romantic-comedy "Tea for Two," which won him a Golden Globe award for Most Promising Newcomer. He went on to appear regularly in film and television throughout the decade, but by the early 1960s, he'd found a new interest--directing--and helmed several episodes of the action-packed Western "The Rifleman." Nelson would make the occasional guest appearance into the 1980s, and a brief foray into screenwriting earned him a Writers Guild Award nomination in 1965 for the Elvis Presley musical "Kissin' Cousins," but his main focus was directing. Although his directing career never earned him the kind of praise he'd seen as an actor or a screenwriter, Nelson worked steadily through the 1960s and '70s, helming a variety of programs, from the magic-infused sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie" to the chic spy drama "The Mod Squad." By the 1980s he had retired, and little was heard from him prior to his death from cancer in 1996.