|Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea character|
Richard Basehart as Admiral Nelson on the TV series
|First appearance||Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea 1961 film
"Eleven Days to Zero" (1964) (TV series pilot)
|Last appearance||"No Way Back" (1968) (TV series finale)|
|Created by||Irwin Allen|
|Portrayed by||Walter Pidgeon (film)
Richard Basehart (TV series)
|Occupation||Admiral, USN Ret.|
Admiral Harriman Nelson was a fictional character first played by Walter Pidgeon in the 1961 science fiction film, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and later played by Richard Basehart in the 1964-1968 ABC television series of the same title. Both the film and the series were set in the near-future of the 1970s and 1980s, with the series generally using dates between 1973 and 1984. Since this era was depicted from the vantage point of a decade earlier, their version of the decade obviously differs considerably from the one that actually took place.
In the film, both of the rank markings on Nelson's uniform indicated that he was a four-star admiral: he wore four stars on the collar of his shirt and four stripes on the sleeves of his jacket (three half-inch stripes above a two-inch stripe, if they complied with U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations). In the television series, Nelson wore conflicting rank markings in most of the episodes of the first season: the stripes on the sleeves of his jacket were the same as in the film, but he wore the three stars of a Vice Admiral on his shirt collar. "The Last Battle" (season one, episode 17) was the first episode (in the order the episodes were broadcast) in which he wore four stars. He went back to three stars in the next two episodes (in the order they were broadcast), and then wore four stars for the rest of the season.
Nelson, as depicted in the original movie, was a career naval officer, about age 65 or so. He was strong willed, forceful, and not used to being questioned about his decisions. The TV iteration of Nelson was a bit younger - about 50 - and considerably more energetic, as more generally befits the protagonist in an action/adventure series. The younger version of Nelson preferred cigarettes to cigars, and chain smoked for the first several years of the series. In both versions, Nelson is one of the world's most brilliant scientific minds. He's cited as being "One of the world's foremost marine biologists" in both versions, and also apparently holds high degrees in Nuclear Physics as well. The TV series added that he was also one of the brightest minds in computer engineering alive at that time. He also won the Nobel prize in Biology for 1976 (as explained in the episode, "Cyborg").
In the series, Nelson is a lifelong bachelor (see "The Ghost of Moby Dick", season one, episode 14). His only living blood relative, a sister who was 'kidnapped' (although later it is found out that the person was actually an intelligence agent impersonating his sister) and held hostage in an attempt to get Nelson to release top-secret information. His place of birth is unknown, however his accent implies that either he or perhaps his parents were New Englanders. In author Theodore Sturgeon's novelization of the film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Nelson is described as being part of a family involved in banking and philanthropy. His one known ancestor was an 18th-century New England captain, who was of Irish ancestry, of a slave ship. Nelson has an extremely close relationship with Commander Lee Crane, which is alternately describes as "Father/son" or "Brotherly." The two trust each other implicitly, except when the script says differently.
It is perhaps only coincidental that his surname is the same of the great British naval hero of the Battle of Trafalgar - Admiral Horatio Nelson, and that his first name also begins with an H; or perhaps Irwin Allen thought the reference appropriate as the real Nelson is perhaps the most famous naval character in history. Maybe he is supposed to be a descendant of the 1800s seafarer?
Nelson's naval record is never expressly stated; however it is known that he has extensive naval combat experience, both in submarines and in the surface fleet, and he's an extremely experienced aviator as well. It is known that he commanded USS Nautilus (SSN-571), the world's first nuclear powered submarine, at some point in the late 1950s, and that Lee Crane first met the Admiral when he served on that ship's crew. It is also known that he has served as an instructor at the United States Naval Academy on occasion, teaching marine biology and chemistry (see "Doomdsay," season one episode 19). He also spent a sabbatical teaching marine biology at at least one co-educational university (see "The Ghost of Moby Dick"). He has some background in Counterintelligence (Office of Naval Intelligence, or ONI), and evidently speaks fluent Russian as he is occasionally seen on assignment under cover in the Soviet Union. His credentials as a scientist and explorer are above repute, and although he is mentioned as being "Always controversial," he is held in generally high regard by the scientific and military communities, despite his mercurial temper, and is popular in the media, probably because of said temper.
Nelson retired from the active-duty Navy at some point prior to the beginning of the series (and the film), and formed the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, which is headquartered in Santa Barbara, California. In this capacity, he designed and built the 400+ foot Seaview (USOS Seaview in the film, and later designated as SSRN Seaview in the TV series), which is the world's only privately owned and operated Nuclear Submarine. Theodore Sturgeon wrote a novelization of the film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, in which Seaview's bow windows are described as "... oversized hull plates which happen to be transparent." They are incredibly strong because they are made of "X-tempered herculite", a top secret process developed by Nelson. In the film, he stated his hope that the bow windows would afford "sights never before seen by Man, and by seeing, solve some of the mysteries of the deep." Marine research is intended to be the primary mission of USOS Seaview (for United States Oceanographic Survey, and in the motion picture, under the authority of the Bureau of Marine Exploration). However, she is listed as a Naval Reserve vessel, and is automatically drafted into active service as the US Navy deems necessary. As such, her crew is composed entirely of retired or reserve naval personnel.
Nelson has always felt it was his duty to be strictly apolitical, and refused to ever voice an opinion publicly on a political matter. In the second season, however, he was forced to take a different stance when he discovered that a leading candidate for Secretary of Defense was actually an enemy agent. Despite his apoliticism, Nelson is extremely close friends with fictional US President Henry Talbot MacNeil, and was counted as one of the president's poker buddies.
Nelson's religious beliefs are a subject of some debate. He is obviously a rational - if moody - intellect, and clearly believes in evolution; however, he has also memorized lengthy passages of the Bible, which he recites on occasion, and he seemed condescending towards a visiting Soviet dignitary's vocal atheism on at least one occasion. That said, despite his several paranormal experiences, Nelson appears, on balance, to be Deistic or else guardedly irreligious.
A closer look at the "text" - i.e. the actual episodes - suggests a decidedly Christian bent to the Admiral's complex personality. As noted above, Nelson frequently quotes Scripture, "Cradle of the Deep (1965)", "Jonah & the Whale (1965)". More examples tend to indicate the Admiral's familiarity with Scripture went beyond that of simply a well-read man. In "The Cyborg (1966)," he flashes a clearly disgusted look at a mad genius who had quoted Genesis 1:27 to glorify his own creative work (that being a race of synthetic "humanoids.") In both "Jonah & the Whale" and "The Terrible Toys (1967)," he suggests prayer to a Soviet scientist and Crane (respectively) on occasions of dire peril. In two burials at sea - one for a "People's Republic" officer in "The Exile" (1965) and another for ghostly U-Boat Captain Krueger in "The Phantom Strikes" (1966) - Nelson and his friend Captain Lee Crane refer to "the Resurrection" and their belief "those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." It is certainly true, however, that Nelson's religious/Christian denomination - if he had one - was never mentioned in the television series.
Awards and decorations
The list below contains all of Nelsons's known awards and decorations. The names are given in order of precedence, according to SECNAVINST 1650.1F and the U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations (NAVPERS 1566.5G).
- Sturgeon, Theodore. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Pyramid Books, 1961. Page 6.
- Sturgeon, Theodore. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Pyramid Books, 1961. Page 10.