Frank Nelson (actor)
Frank Nelson in The Jack Benny Program episode, "Jack Does His Christmas Shopping" (1954)
Frank Brandon Nelson
May 6, 1911
|Died||September 12, 1986 (aged 75)|
Frank Brandon Nelson (May 6, 1911 – September 12, 1986) was an American comedic actor best known for playing put-upon foils on radio and television, and especially for his "EEE-Yeeeeeeeeesssss?" catchphrase.
He made numerous guest appearances on television shows, including The Addams Family, The Jack Benny Program, I Love Lucy, The Real McCoys, Alice, and Sanford and Son. He also provided voices for animated series such as The Flintstones, Mister Magoo, The Jetsons, Dinky Dog, and The Snorks.
Life and career
Nelson began his entertainment career in radio, and later moved into television and movies. In 1926, at age 15, Nelson played the role of a 30-year-old man in a radio series broadcast from the then-5,000-watt KOA (AM) radio station serving the Denver, Colorado market.
In 1929, Nelson moved to Hollywood, California and worked in local radio dramatic shows, usually playing the leading man. The first sponsored radio show he appeared in to reach a national market was Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel, a situation comedy radio show that aired from November 28, 1932, to May 22, 1933, starring two of the Marx Brothers, Groucho and Chico, and written primarily by Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman.
Work with Jack Benny
Nelson first found fame as the put-upon foil to Jack Benny on Benny's radio show during the 1940s and 1950s. Nelson began to appear on Benny's radio show in the late 1930s, doing various roles, but his eventual character began to take form around 1942. Nelson, whose character was never given a name, typically portrayed a sales clerk, dentist or customer service worker, and Benny's character would run into him seemingly out of nowhere. For example, needing airline tickets, Benny would call the ticket agent, "Oh Mister? Mister?" Nelson would then deliver his catchphrase, a bellowed "EEE-Yeeeeeeeeesssss?" The two men would banter, with Nelson gleefully delivering insulting one-liners such as, "Is that a hairpiece or did someone plant moss on your head?", and sarcastic responses like, after being asked at an airport ticket counter if he was the ticket clerk, "No, I'm a 747 with a moustache." Whatever his occupation in a particular episode, Nelson's character would usually be polite and patient with all of his customers except for Jack Benny. An especially noteworthy example occurred on the episode that aired Jan. 8, 1950. Early in the show, announcer Don Wilson mispronounced columnist Drew Pearson's name as "Poo Drearson," which got a big laugh. The writers made a quick change to the script, and later, when Benny approached Nelson and asked if he were the doorman, the latter replied, "Well, who do you think I am in this uniform? Poo Drearson?" Benny, who collapsed in laughter (as did the audience), later cited it as one of the longest laughs ever on his show.
Nelson also appeared on Benny's television show beginning in 1950, doing the same "rude clerk" shtick. His other catchphrase, that would be worked into every routine, would have Benny asking something mundane, such as, "Do these shirts come in a medium?", and Frank would bellow, "Oo-oo-oo-ooh, DO they!" Nelson's sudden appearances usually led to spontaneous laughter or applause on the part of the audience.
Nelson performed on a number of Hollywood-based radio shows during this time, including Fibber McGee and Molly, and did radio work well into the late 1950s, on the few shows that remained on the air, including dramatic roles on such programs as Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.
After Jack Benny, Nelson continued to work in sitcoms in similar roles, most notably in The Hank McCune Show and I Love Lucy. Nelson appeared as various characters during all seasons of I Love Lucy (most notably game show host Freddie Fillmore) before beginning the recurring role as the character Ralph Ramsey, after the Ricardos moved to Westport, Connecticut in 1957. He further appeared in The New Phil Silvers Show and The Addams Family in the 1960s, and Sanford and Son during the 1970s.
Later years and death
Toward the end of his life, Nelson enjoyed some newfound stardom among a younger generation of fans. From 1981 to 1986, he appeared in a string of popular commercials for McDonald's doing his trademark "EEE-Yeeeeeeeeesssss?" catchphrase, as part of the fast-food chain's highly successful "You Deserve a Break Today" vacation sweepstakes promotional campaign, in which he played an over-the-top passport agent. He also did a cameo appearance on the December 5, 1981 episode of Saturday Night Live as a newsstand vendor, when Tim Curry was the guest host. Garfield in Paradise, in 1986, was the last recorded time he used his signature phrase.
In addition to his onscreen work, Nelson was an in-demand voiceover artist for animated cartoons. In 1954, he narrated Walter Lantz's cartoon short Dig That Dog. In television cartoons, he made several appearances on The Flintstones, Calvin and the Colonel, The Jetsons, and (as Governor Wetworth) on The Snorks, among other programs. Between 1978 and 1979, he provided the voice of Uncle Dudley on Dinky Dog. He also served as national president of AFTRA (a performers union) between 1954 and 1957.
Nelson was not as prolific in motion pictures as he was in radio and television, but he occasionally appeared in variations of his oily clerk characterization. One of his larger roles is in Down Memory Lane (1949), in which he plays the apoplectic manager of a TV station. He also appears memorably in So You Want to Know Your Relatives, a Joe McDoakes spoof of This Is Your Life; Nelson plays the master of ceremonies, happily ushering unsavory guests onstage.
Nelson was diagnosed with cancer during the late summer of 1985. After a year-long battle with the disease, he died in Hollywood on September 12, 1986 at the age of 75. He was entombed in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale. Nelson shares a columbarium niche with his longtime friend and fellow radio actor, Hanley Stafford, both men having been married to radio actress and singer Veola Vonn.
His distinctive appearance and manner of saying "yes?" has been parodied frequently in film, radio and television, most notably with the character on The Simpsons called the "Frank Nelson Type" (aka "Yes Guy"). Nelson's appearance and mannerisms were also parodied multiple times in the Disney Afternoon series TaleSpin, with Nelson represented by a large hippopotamus in a suit. The Daily Show often featured a Nelson impression by host Jon Stewart after a setup clip, often "Yeeesss?" or "Go onnnnnnn ..." followed by another clip which serves as the punchline. He was also parodied in the Merrie Melodies cartoon "Canary Row".
- Fugitive in the Sky (1936) as Radio Announcer (uncredited)
- Gang Bullets (1938) Radio Announcer (uncredited)
- Down Memory Lane (1950 film) (1950) Mr. Jefferds
- The Milkman (1950) Mr. Green
- Bonzo Goes to College (1952) Dick
- It Should Happen To You (1954) Harold At Macy's (uncredited)
- The Malibu Bikini Shop (1986) Richard J. Remington (final movie role, film released after his death)
- "Regular on Jack Benny Show, Radio and TV Actor Frank Nelson Dies". Los Angeles Times. September 15, 1986. p. 2. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
Frank Nelson, a regular on the Jack Benny radio and television shows for more than 30 years and a professional actor for six decades, died Friday at his home in Hollywood after a long illness. He was 75. ...
- Barson, Michael, ed. (1988). Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel: The Marx Brothers' Lost Radio Show. Pantheon Books. p. viii, ix. ISBN 0-679-72036-7.
- Leff, Laura (2004): 39 Forever - Volume 1: Radio May 1932 - May 1942. p. 326.
- Leff, Laura (2004): 39 Forever - Volume 1: Radio May 1932 - May 1942. p. 492.
- Josefsberg, Milt (1977): The Jack Benny Show. New Rochelle: Arlington House. p. 113.
- Classic TV Archive The New Phil Silvers Show (1963-64)
- "Classic SNL Review: December 5, 1981: Tim Curry / Meat Loaf & The Neverland Express (S07E07)". August 7, 2010.
- "Frank Nelson". The New York Times. September 16, 1986. Retrieved February 10, 2009.
Frank Nelson, an actor on Jack Benny's radio and television shows for 38 years and a former national president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, died Friday of cancer at his home in Hollywood. He was 75 years old.
- "Regular on Jack Benny Show Radio and TV Actor Frank Nelson Dies". Los Angeles Times. September 15, 1986. Retrieved September 7, 2020.
AFTRA national President Frank Maxwell said Friday that Nelson "fought fiercely for the things he believed in. ... His devotion to the welfare of his fellow members will leave its stamp on AFTRA for as long as the union lasts." Nelson is survived by his wife, actress Veola Vonn; son Doug Nelson, and daughter, Bonnie Esther.
- Groening, Matt and McCann, Jesse L.: The Simpsons—One Step Beyond Forever, page 54.
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- "Chalk One Up to Experience". June 23, 2009.