Barry Nelson’s Birthday: What to Know About the First James Bond Actor’s Military Service

by Keeli Parkey
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Barry Nelson, the man who first portrayed James Bond on screen, was born on this day (April 16) in 1917. And, while he only played the famous spy on the small screen, his turn as the secret agent should be remembered.

According to IMDb.com, Nelson initially played James Bond in a 1954 episode of the television show “Climax!” That episode was titled “Casino Royale,” which, as Bond fans will know, was the title of a future James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig as James Bond. (There was also another “Casino Royale” film released in 1967. However, this film was a spoof of the genre and wasn’t really a true James Bond movie.) “Casino Royale” is also a novel written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

Much like the Daniel Craig movie version of the “Casino Royale” story, the “Climax!” television plot for “Casino Royale” put Bond up against the villain Le Chiffre. Unlike the Craig movie, the secret agent James Bond played by Nelson was an American, not an Englishman. He also went by “Jimmy,” not James.

But, before Barry Nelson faced off against Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale” he spent several years serving in the United States Army during World War II. And, according to reports, his military service allowed him to perform on the Broadway stage.

That show was the 1943 production of “Winged Victory.” It was a show created by the legendary playwright Moss Hart. Nelson played the character Bobby Grills in the show.

After His Military Service Ended, Barry Nelson Continued Acting Career

Five years after he appeared in “Winged Victory,” Barry Nelson returned to the Broadway stage to perform in another Moss Hart play. This production was titled “Light Up the Sky.” Nelson played the character Peter Sloan in the show.

Barry Nelson was given the name Haakon Robert Nielsen when he was born on April 16, 1917, in San Francisco, California. His successful acting career got its start thanks to his early interest in the craft. He also learned about acting at the University of California-Berkley.

In 1941, he earned his degree from the famous school. And, thanks to his acting studies, he was sought out by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and given a contract.

His first professional role came that same year when he played Paul Clark in the film “Shadow of the Thin Man.” Other film roles soon followed. These included “Johnny Eager” in 1942 and “A Yank on the Burma Road” that same year.

Nelson also had many other film, stage, and television roles during his decades-long career. According to IMDb.com, his film roles included an appearance in the famous Stanley Kubrick film “The Shining.” He also appeared in the television shows “The Love Boat,” “Dallas,” “Taxi,” and “Magnum, P.I.,” just to name a few.

The actor died on April 7, 2007, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. His cause of death is not known. He is buried in Beechwood Cemetery, Hulmeville, Pennsylvania.

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