Gene Nelson
Nelson in 1953.
Leander Eugene Berg

(1920-03-24)March 24, 1920
DiedSeptember 16, 1996(1996-09-16) (aged 76)
Other namesGene Berg
Eugene E. Nelson
OccupationActor, dancer, screenwriter, director
Years active1938–1980
(m. 1941; div. 1956)

Marilyn Morgan
(m. 1958; div. 1974)

Jean Martin
(m. 1990; div. 1994)

Gene Nelson (born Leander Eugene Berg, March 24, 1920 – September 16, 1996) was an American actor, dancer, screenwriter, and director.[1][2][3]


Born Leander Eugene Berg in Astoria, Oregon, he and his family moved to Seattle when he was one year old. He was inspired to become a dancer by watching Fred Astaire when he was a child. After serving in the Army during World War II, during which he also performed in the musical This Is the Army, Nelson landed his first Broadway role in Lend an Ear, for which he received the Theatre World Award. He also appeared onstage in Good News. Nelson's longtime professional dance partner during the 1950s was actress JoAnn Dean Killingsworth.[4]

Nelson co-starred with Doris Day in Lullaby of Broadway in 1951. He played Will Parker in the film Oklahoma![5]

In 1959, he appeared in Northwest Passage as a young man trying to prove his innocence in a murder case. Nelson appeared on the March 17, 1960 episode of "You Bet Your Life", hosted by Groucho Marx. He and Groucho's daughter, Melinda, performed a dance number together.[6]

Nelson directed eight episodes of The Rifleman in the 1961-62 season. He also directed episodes of the original Star Trek, I Dream of Jeannie (the first season), Gunsmoke (and starred in “Say Uncle” [Season 6, Episode 4]), The Silent Force, and The San Pedro Beach Bums. Nelson directed the Elvis Presley films Kissin' Cousins (1964), which screenplay he wrote, and Harum Scarum (1965). For the Kissin' Cousins screenplay he received a Writers Guild of America award nomination for best written musical. Later, in the late 1980s, he taught in the Theater Arts Department at San Francisco State University.

He starred as Buddy in the 1971 Broadway musical Follies, for which he received a 1972 Tony Award nomination for Featured Actor in a Musical. The production featured a score by Stephen Sondheim and was co-directed by Michael Bennett and Harold Prince.[7]

In 1990, for contributions to the motion picture industry, Nelson was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His star is located at 7005 Hollywood Boulevard.


Nelson died of cancer, aged 76, in Los Angeles. He was survived by his three children, Douglas, Victoria and Chris.[2]




Awards and nominations

Year Award Result Category Film
1951 Golden Globe Award Win Most Promising Newcomer Tea for Two
1965 Writers Guild of America Award Nominated Best Written American Musical Kissin' Cousins (Shared with Gerald Drayson Adams)


  1. ^ Hal Erickson (2009). "The New York Times". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on May 3, 2009. Retrieved February 8, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Smith, Dinitia (September 18, 1996). "Gene Nelson Is Dead at 76; Athletic Hollywood Dancer". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Crowther, Bosley (July 10, 1952). "'She's Working Her Way Through College,' With Virginia Mayo, New Bill at Paramount". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Chawkins, Steve (June 25, 2015). "JoAnn Dean Killingsworth dies at 91; Disneyland's first Snow White". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  5. ^ Crowther, Bosley (October 11, 1955). "'Oklahoma!' Is Okay; Musical Shown in New Process at Rivoli". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "You Bet Your Life #59-26 My, how Melinda has grown. . . ('Door', Mar 17, 1960)". YouTube. March 17, 1960. Retrieved September 15, 2016.
  7. ^ " Follies Broadway" Playbill (vault), accessed November 20, 2016