Ralph Nelson

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For the American football player, see Ralph Nelson (American football).
Ralph Nelson
Portrait of Ralph Nelson
Born (1916-08-12)August 12, 1916
Long Island City, New York, U.S.
Died December 21, 1987(1987-12-21) (aged 71)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Years active 1950-1979
Spouse(s) Celeste Holm (1936–1939)[1]
Beatrice Bahnsen
Barbara Powers
Children Ted Nelson (b. 1937)
Ralph Nelson (b. 1946)
Peter Nelson (b. 1955)
Meredith Nelson (b. 1956)

Ralph Nelson (August 12, 1916 – December 21, 1987) was an American movie and television director, producer, writer, and actor.

Life and career[edit]

Nelson was born into a Swedish-American family in Long Island City, New York in 1916. He became interested in the theater while attending high school, and won an oratory contest sponsored by the "New York Times" in 1932. His interest in the theater lead him to Broadway, where he worked as an errand boy before making it onto the stage. He made his Broadway debut on January 15, 1934 in "False Dreams, Farewell," and followed it up with parts in "Romeo & Juliet," "Othello," "Macbeth," and "The Taming of the Shrew" through 1940. His last Broadway play before the outbreak of World War II was "There Shall Be No Night," also in 1940, for which he also served as stage manager. During this pre-war period, Nelson worked with such legendary performers as Katharine Cornell, Leslie Howard, and the Lunts.

In World War II, Nelson joined the Army as an air cadet. He was assigned to the stage company that put on Irving Berlin's "This Is the Army" on Broadway, and his award-winning one-act play "Mail Call" was part of a Broadway showcase "Army Play by Play" in 1943, while he was serving with the Air Corps. He eventually was promoted to captain while serving as a flight instructor, and on June 14, 1945, his first full-length play, "The Wind Is Ninety," was presented on Broadway while he was still attached to what was now called the Army Air Force. The play won an award from the National Theater Conference. Although Nelson appeared on Broadway again as an actor in the musicals "Cabaret" and "Follies," staged the comedy The Man in the Dog Suit" in 1958, and produced the musical "Look to the Lilies" in 1970, it was the visual media that beckoned. He entered the nascent television industry as an actor, but made the transition to director.[2]

Nelson directed the acclaimed episode A World of His Own of The Twilight Zone" (he should not be confused with The Twilight Zone's production manager, Ralph W. Nelson). He also directed both the television and film versions of Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight.

He directed Charly, the 1968 film version of Flowers for Algernon, for which Cliff Robertson won an Academy Award, as well as several racially provocative films in the 1960s and early 1970s, including the Academy Award-winning Lilies of the Field,[3] ...tick...tick...tick..., Christmas Lilies of the Field, The Wilby Conspiracy, and Soldier Blue. The starring role in "Lilies" led to Sidney Poitier winning the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Nelson also directed the Cary Grant comedy Father Goose, the offbeat Soldier in the Rain with Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen, the crime story Once a Thief, and Rita Hayworth's last film, The Wrath of God. He both directed, and briefly appeared in, Duel at Diablo, starring James Garner and Sidney Poitier.

Nelson's other credits include several episodes of TV's Starsky & Hutch, the '70s camp horror classic Embryo, and A Hero Ain't Nothin' But A Sandwich.

A television drama about mounting the live show of Requiem for a Heavyweight called The Man in the Funny Suit was made in 1960, with Nelson both writing and directing. Nelson, Serling, Red Skelton, Keenan Wynn and Ed Wynn appeared in it as themselves.[citation needed] He returned to TV in the late 1970s with a string of TV movies, including a sequel to Lilies of the Field which starred Billy Dee Williams.

The last feature film Nelson ever directed was Because He's My Friend, released in 1978.


He died in Santa Monica, California, aged 71. He was the father of Project Xanadu (precursor and main inspiration of the World Wide Web's HTML format and HTTP protocol) inventor Ted Nelson (by his first wife, actress Celeste Holm), and, by his other marriage(s): Ralph, Peter, and Meredith Nelson.


External links[edit]