Gene Nelson

Active - 1943 - 1983  |   Born - Mar 24, 1920   |   Died - Sep 16, 1996   |   Genres - Musical, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

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Nineteen-year-old Leander Berg billed himself as Gene Berg when he made his professional debut as a skater in Sonja Henie's LA-based ice show. He was still Gene Berg when, while serving in World War II, he was featured as a dancer in the 1942 Broadway revue This is the Army. It wasn't until the 1948 stage musical Lend an Ear that Gene Berg reemerged as Gene Nelson. Signed to a 20th Century-Fox contract in 1947, Nelson co-starred in several of that studio's Technicolor song-and-dance fests, then moved on to the musical unit at Warner Bros. His best-known filmusical assignment was as high-kickin' cowpoke Will Parker in the 1955 superproduction Oklahoma. After briefly attempting to establish himself in dramatic roles, Nelson turned to directing. He called the shots in several Sam Katzman productions of the 1960s, notably the Elvis Presley vehicles Kissin' Cousins (1963) and Harum Scarum (1965), and the 1965 Hank Williams Sr. biopic Your Cheatin' Heart. He also directed dozens of TV episodes, working on such weeklies as The Rifleman, The Donna Reed Show and Mod Squad. There was talk that a serious injury in the mid-1950s had forced Gene Nelson to forego dancing in favor of directing; if so, he was sufficiently recovered in the 1970s, displaying his still-impressive terpsichorean skills in the Broadway musicals Follies and Good News.

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