Published: April 17, 2007
Barry Nelson, who was best know in the antiques world as a collector of most anything rather than a former star of both stage and screen, died on Saturday, April 7, at the age of 86 while traveling in Bucks County, Penn., according to his wife Nansi. He was born Robert Haakon Nielson on April 16, 1920, in San Francisco and in 1941 graduated from the University of California, Berkley.
A talent scout from MGM spotted Barry while at the university and after reading the soliloquy from Macbeth he was signed to a seven-year contract with the studio. His first film was Shadow of the Thin Man in 1941, followed by 32 other films during a career that lasted 40 years. He appeared in A Guy Named Joe with Spencer Tracy and one time told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that “we got along very well and I learned a lot from him.” In 1970 he made only one film, Airport, with Bert Lancaster, Dean Martin and Helen Hayes, a movie that is often shown on HBO to this day.
He began his stage career in the late 40s, first appearing in Moss Hart’s Light Up The Sky. He appeared in three Broadway shows with Barbara Bel Geddes, including The Moon is Blue, and with Lauren Bacall in Cactus Flower.
In 1948 he took his first steps in television and in 1988 he had his final venture in TV, appearing in an episode of Monsters. Among his 45 appearances on TV was the first portrayal of James Bond in an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. He said later, when it comes to sangria, he prefers it “stirred, not shaken.”
He met Nansi, whom he married in 1992, in Detroit. She was among the fans gathered outside a theater where Barry was performing and, in a heavy rain storm, offered him a ride. “I took it,” he said, ” and have never had to drive since.” In his signature black trousers, long coat, wide-brimmed hat covering his shoulder-length hair, and colorful shirts, he traveled the antiques show circuit with Nansi, buying countless things to fill their homes, which were scattered about the United States and France.
“I have never been typed,” Barry told Antiques and The Arts Weekly a few years ago, “and consequently my acting roles have been varied to the point that one day I said ‘have been there, done that,’ and it is time to let my other interests grow.” And indeed they did, traveling about 60,000 miles per year by car and becoming a fixture at antiques shows from coast to coast. Barry and Nansi became friends of countless dealers and amassed collection after collection. His warm smile and friendship will be missed by the antiques community.
Information about services and interment was not available at press time.
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