R.I.P. Lori Nelson, costar of both Barbara Eden and the Creature from the Black Lagoon
This Svengoolie favorite also played the daughter of Ma and Pa Kettle. She was 87.
"I played opposite Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Jimmy Stewart, Dean Martin and Audie Murphy," Lori Nelson once declared in the book The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy (Tom Weaver, 2014). "But who's the leading man everybody wants to ask me about? The Gill Man!" Nelson was one of three bathing beauties who lured the iconic Creature from the depths in the three Universal horror classics. Julie Adams starred in the original Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Nelson slipped on the swimsuit for the sequel, Revenge of the Creatures (1955). Leigh Snowden played the damsel in distress in The Creature Walks Among Us (1956).
Revenge of the Creature was the only 3D sequel to a 3D film released in the golden age of the eye-popping format, the Fifties. It also happened to feature the screen debut of a young aspiring actor named Clint Eastwood. Nelson's swimming skills came in handy in 1955, as she also appeared that year in the Howard Hughes adventure Underwater! with Jane Russell.
A contract player with Universal-International Studios, Nelson also twice starred as Rosie, the daughter of country humor stalwarts Ma and Pa Kettle, the sort of spiritual forerunners to The Beverly Hillbillies, in the films Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair and Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki.
Nelson's career as a Fifties starlet cast her alongside several television idols. As the title character and headliner in Hot Rod Girl (1956), she shared top billing with Chuck Connors. She was Barbara Stanwyck's daughter in Douglas Sirk's All I Desire. Her own television debut landed her on It's a Great Life, the sitcom starring Frances Bavier in her major pre-Aunt Bee incarnation.
Two years later, Nelson would nab her greatest television gig, as one of the leads in How to Marry a Millionaire. The 1957 sitcom was an adaptation of the 1953 romcom starring Marilyn Monroe. The small-screen version cast relative newcomer Barbara Eden in the Monroe role, as the myopic ditz. Nelson's character, Greta Hansen, had the brains. Nelson left the series after the first season.
"I felt that I was the biggest of the three actresses in terms of star status…. I felt that I needed to move on. I didn't need to be stuck in that little series that was in syndication," she said in the book Lost Laughs of '50s and '60s Television: 30 Sitcoms That Faded Off Screen (David Tucker, 2010). However, other reports (and her costars) claimed she was fired.
Nelson continued to pop up on TV here and there, in episodes of Wagon Train, Laramie and Bachelor Father. Her final significant appearance came on Family Affair. Nelson died on August 23, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 87.
Watch Svengoolie on MeTV!
Saturdays at 8 PM*available in most MeTV markets
How to Marry a Millionaire was generally well received by critics and audiences and a second, abbreviated season was ordered. However, Lori Nelson's character was written out and a new character, Gwen Kirby (Lisa Gaye), was added to the cast. Nelson later said she chose to quit the show stating, "I felt that I was the biggest of the three actresses in terms of star status...I felt that I needed to move on. I didn't need to be stuck in that little series that was in syndication." However, Nelson's co-star Merry Anders said that Nelson was fired. According to Anders, the series' entire first season, 39 episodes, was shot before the series debuted on television. While promoting the series shortly before its debut, Nelson gave an interview in which she said that was disappointed with her role. She stated she felt her role was not as well defined as her co-stars' who were more clearly based on their movie counterparts (Mike McCall was patterned after Lauren Bacall's role while Barbara Eden's character was a combination of the Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe role). Anders stated that when the series' production company, National Telefilm Associates, got wind of Nelson's remarks, they fired her.