Gene Nelson (Leander Eugene Berg)

Gene Nelson

Born Leander Eugene Berg in Astoria, Oregon, he moved to Seattle when he was one year old. He was inspired to become a dancer by watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films when he was a child. After serving in the Army during World War II during which he also performed in the musical This Is the Army, Nelson landed his first Broadway role in Lend an Ear, for which he received the Theatre World Award. He also appeared on stage in Follies, which garnered him a Tony Award nomination, and Good News. Nelson’s longtime professional dance partner during the 1950s was actress JoAnn Dean. Gene Nelson co-starred with Doris Day in “Lullaby of Broadway” in 1951. He played Will Parker in Oklahoma! and also starred as Buddy in the 1971 Broadway musical Follies, for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor. The iconic production featured a score by Stephen Sondheim and was co-directed by Michael Bennett (also choreographer) and Harold Prince (also producer); the cast also included Alexis Smith, Yvonne de Carlo, Dorothy Collins, Ethel Shutta, and John McMartin. Gene Nelson appeared on the 17 March 1960 episode of “You Bet Your Life”, hosted by Groucho Marx. He and Groucho’s daughter, Melinda, performed a dance number together. Nelson directed episodes of the original Star Trek, the first season of I Dream of Jeannie, Gunsmoke, The Silent Force, and The San Pedro Beach Bums. In 1959, he appeared with Keith Larsen and Buddy Ebsen in the NBC adventure series Northwest Passage as a young man trying to prove his innocence in a murder case. Gene Nelson also directed the Elvis Presley films Kissin’ Cousins (1964) and Harum Scarum (1965). He also co-wrote the Kissin’ Cousins screenplay for which he received a WGA award nomination for best written musical. He also taught in the Theater Arts Department at San Francisco State University in the late 1980s. For Nelson’s contribution to the motion picture industry, in 1990, he was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Nelson’s star is located at 7005 Hollywood Boulevard. Gene Nelson died of cancer, aged 76, in Los Angeles. He was survived by three children, Douglas, Victoria and Chris.

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  • March, 24, 1920
  • USA
  • Astoria, Oregon


  • September, 16, 1996
  • USA
  • Los Angeles, California

Cause of Death

  • cancer


  • Cremated

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