James Bond: Meet Barry Nelson, the American Veteran Who First Played 007

by Suzanne Halliburton

What’s this? The original James Bond was an American? And some folks even called him Jimmy Bond. We ask, where is the sexy, international intrigue of 007 if he goes by Jimmy?

This was all back in 1954 when CBS paid author Ian Fleming $1,000 for the rights to Casino Royale, the first-ever James Bond book. Two screenwriters condensed the book into a one-hour screenplay. And it was all part of Climax! an anthology series. It debuted in October 1954 as the third episode of the series. Nelson, who served in the Army during World War II, played James Bond.

And Barry Nelson/ James Bond could turn a phrase. When someone asks him, “Aren’t you the fella who was shot?” Nelson’s Bond says, “No, I was the fella who was missed.” And when bad guy Le Chiffre captures Bond, Bond keeps up the bravado. “You’re an ugly little man,” he tells him. Take that!

And, of course, there was casino talk, as Bond proclaims that life is “like any game, you win or you lose.” There were reports that CBS was thinking about a James Bond TV series. But in hindsight, a Bond movie needs the big screen as part of the spectacle. Besides, this was all eight years before Sean Connery became the first movie James Bond in Dr. No. He liked his martinis shaken, not stirred. And if life is like a game, he never lost.

Take a look at this video from the first James Bond, with Jimmy sporting a crewcut and California pedigree. Then stick around for some more Barry Nelson details.

The First James Bond Had Appearances in Classic TV Staples

If you’re not familiar with Nelson’s work, maybe you’ll recognize him from the horror movie The Shining. He was there at the first of the movie, playing Stuart Ullman, the polite manager of the Overlook Hotel. He tells Jack Nicholson’s character about how the hotel can get so isolated in the winter. And he told Jack about a former caretaker named Grady who went mad and killed himself and his family. If only Jack had listened, but then again, The Shining wouldn’t have been the same movie.

Nelson also made appearances on several episodes of classic TV. He played Sue Ellen Ewing’s compassionate lawyer on Dallas for three episodes. Nelson, as Arthur Elrod, represented Sue Ellen in her battle with J.R. as they squared off for custody of their son, John Ross. And maybe there was some chemistry between Nelson and Barbara Bel Geddes, aka Miss Ellie. Nelson and Bel Geddes starred together on Broadway in “The Moon is Blue.”

Casino Royale hit the big screen in 2006 with Daniel Craig playing James Bond for the first time. (China Photos/Getty Images)

Nelson, almost three decades after James Bond, also appeared in Magnum P.I. with Tom Selleck. Here’s a bit of trivia. Did you know Selleck thought Magnum might be too much like James Bond? And he did the staples like Love American Style, Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. All those shows needed a handsome man of a certain age for their stories.

Meanwhile, Casino Royale made it to the big screen. Twice. In the first, which wasn’t an Eon film, David Niven portrayed James Bond. Then in 2006, the movie series relaunched with Daniel Craig playing everyone’s favorite 00 agent.