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The American James Bond – Who was Barry Nelson?

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Born on April 16th 1917, Barry Nelson was an American actor and was the first actor to play James Bond. Nelson was born Haakon Robert Nielsen in San Francisco, California and was in-fact, the son of Norwegian immigrants, Betsy and Trygve Nielsen.

Nelson began his acting when he was in school, and because of those efforts when he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1941, Nelson found himself signed to a motion picture contract by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

Nelson’s big screen debut was in the role of Paul Clark in the movie Shadow of the Thin Man in 1941. The film starred William Powell and Myrna Loy, he then went on to play Lew Rankin in a film noir crime/drama called Johnny Eager in 1942. Johnny Eager starred Robert Taylor and Lana Turner.

Nelson got to play the lead in MGM’s second feature war film A Yank on the Burma Road (also in 1942).

It wasn’t until 1954 that Nelson played the very first James Bond on screen, in an adaption of Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royal on the television anthology series Climax! This was a full eight years before Sean Connery played Bond in Dr No.

It is thought that Nelsons portrayal of James Bond was considered as a pilot for a James Bond television series. The episode also starred Peter Lorre as the villain, Le Chiffre.

At that time no one had even heard of James Bond, and the agent Nelson played was American who some called Jimmy, apparently Nelson had not even read the book, and Bond only became popular in the US when President John F. Kennedy listed From Russia with Love in his ten favourite books in a Life Magazine article.

Nelson is sometimes described as the ‘forgotten Bond’ and Casino Royale was adapted for screen a further two times, once in 1967 with David Niven playing ‘Sir James Bond,’ and then in 2006 when Daniel Craig played the iconic MI6 agent.

Set at the beginning of Bond’s career, as agent 007, and just as he is earning his license to kill, Casino Royale is packed full of the action we came to love, and although we won’t find a bond at a casino in every movie, they are commonly associated with the fictional secret agent.

This is possibly because Ian Fleming made Bonds favourite game Chemins-de-fer, a variation of Baccarat, although he has been seen playing the odd game of Texas Hold’em too.

The casinos that James Bond frequented had strict dress codes, and you could almost smell the money and feel the opulence of the rich and famous, the need to play now was very real and James Bond did so with his usual class and refinement, something his adoring public came to expect in all of his films.

In 1978, he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Dan Connors in the Broadway musical The Act (1977) with Liza Minnelli.

He starred in many other plays, films and TV shows, but many of us will know him as the manager of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. He is the one who interviews Jack Nicholson.

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