Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Barry Nelson, R.I.P.

Well, I certainly couldn't let the passing of the very first actor to portray James Bond on screen go without comment.

Back around '83, I got a hold of Steven Jay Rubin's The James Bond Films, the first of many books I would buy on the subject over the next few decades. The first chapter detailed the earliest, pre-Dr. No attempts to get Ian Fleming's character onto the silver screen. That chapter also examined the CBS television production of Casino Royale on the anthology series Climax! in 1954, starring American actor Barry Nelson as U.S. secret agent "Card-Sense Jimmy" Bond.

Being the Bond fan I was (and still am), seeing that version of Royale became something of a major life goal for me (sad, huh?).

It was another ten years or so until I stumbled onto a cheap EP VHS tape of the kinescope of that live production in a bargain bin, but by then – now that I knew to look for him – I had seen Nelson in a number of TV shows, including The Twilight Zone, Battlestar Galactica and even Magnum P.I.

Nelson was a a fairly prolific second-leading man/guest star type who appeared in close to a hundred movies and television shows. He's probably best known now as the ghostly bartender in the Stanley Kubrick version of The Shining and – among diehard Bondophiles and trivia buffs – as the first actor to play James Bond.

Considering the shoestring budget and the limitations of live TV in the fifties, the Climax! version of Casino Royale isn't that bad. The adaptation is pretty fair, actually. Having to truncate the novel to fit it into an hour timeslot actually makes it move along at a nice clip (unlike the new version, which is at least 20 minutes too long), and Nelson's "American" Bond isn't the travesty it could have been. Sure, Nelson's a little shaky in the beginning, but he rises to the challenge and delivers a fairly decent, if seemingly under-rehearsed, performance. Of course, he's lucky to have Peter Lorre as his LeChiffre. Lorre's clearly slumming in the show, but he brings his usual reptilian menace to the role, and it works. It's not Nelson's finest performance, but it's not anything to be ashamed of, either.

Barry Nelson passed away on April 7th.

Rest in peace, "Card-Sense Jimmy."

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