Ralph Nelson

Active - 1957 - 1979  |   Born - Aug 12, 1916   |   Died - Dec 21, 1987   |   Genres - Drama, Adventure, Western

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Born in New York City, Ralph Nelson first became interested in theater while attending Bryant High School, and won a New York Times oratorical contest in 1932. He came to Broadway as an errand boy and ascended to the stage, working with Katharine Cornell, Leslie Howard, and the Lunts during the '30s. He was part of the stage company of Irving Berlin's This Is the Army during World War II, and managed to write an award-winning one-act play while serving as an Army Air Force flight instructor. His first full-length play, The Wind Is Ninety, also won an award from the National Theater Conference. Nelson came to early television as an actor, but quickly moved into the director's chair, and it is estimated that he was director and/or producer for upwards of 1000 presentations during the next decade. He was hired to direct the premiere telecast of Playhouse 90 -- where he earned an Emmy for his direction of Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight (which he later directed on screen), and was also a mainstay of such drama shows as G.E. Theater and Lux Theater. In 1963, Nelson directed the topical drama Lillies of the Field, which earned Sidney Poitier an Oscar as Best Actor. His subsequent films, including Fate Is the Hunter, Soldier in the Rain, and Father Goose, were all successful and remain interesting to look at, despite the fact that only the last has aged well. Nelson moved into serious westerns earlier than almost any other American filmmaker of the 1960's with Duel at Diablo (1966), but his major film of this period was Charly (1968), a drama for which Cliff Robertson won an Oscar. He moved back toward topical political subjects with the racial drama ...Tick...Tick...Tick... (1970) and Soldier Blue (1970), and made the only serious drama ever to come out of Hollywood about South Africa and apartheid, The Wilby Conspiracy (1975), starring Poitier and Michael Caine. Nelson's later films, including A Hero Ain't Nothing but a Sandwich (1977) were passionate and finely made, but embraced subjects to which the public in the post-Watergate era failed to connect. He returned to directing for television during the final years of his career, and scored a modest success with Christmas Lillies of the Field (1979), a follow-up to his 1963 hit.

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