Ed Nelson, Actor on TV's 'Peyton Place,' Dies at 85

Ed Nelson - H 2014
20th Century Fox/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Ed Nelson - H 2014

He played Dr. Michael Rossi on the ABC primetime drama for a whopping 436 episodes

Ed Nelson, a character actor with scores of film and television credits who was best known for portraying Dr. Michael Rossi on the hugely popular 1960s ABC primetime soap opera Peyton Place, has died. He was 85.

Nelson died Saturday in Greensboro, N.C., his daughter-in-law told The New York Times.

Nelson played Rossi, who arrives from New York City in the very first episode to set up his practice in the titular small town, on Peyton Place, the first primetime serialized drama on U.S. television.

The half-hour show ran for five seasons — and three times a week at its peak — on ABC from 1964-69. (That gave Nelson the opportunity to appear in a whopping 436 episodes.) Peyton Place was one of the first TV series to deal frankly with sex and as such didn't air until 9:30 p.m.

Starring Oscar winner Dorothy Malone as overprotective mother Constance MacKenzie (Mia Farrow played her daughter early on), Peyton Place was based on the sensational 1956 novel of the same name by Grace Metalious and preceded by a 1957 movie that starred Lana Turner as Constance. (Lee Philips played the character of Rossi, a high school principal, in the television show and film.)

In a 2010 interview with Soap Opera Digest, Nelson said the cast and crew never referred to Peyton Place as a "soap opera."

They didn't "for a lot of reasons," he said. "We were outside so much and driving cars around the square, so we were film. And soaps are not film. And that's a big thing that is different. We called it a continuing story in primetime."

He wrote a 2008 book, Beyond Peyton Place: My Fifty Years on Stage, Screen, and Television.

Among the many shows that Nelson appeared in included Have Gun — Will Travel, Highway Patrol, Bat Masterson, Tombstone Territory, Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Thriller, Maverick, The Untouchables, The Rifleman, Lou Grant, Barnaby Jones and Murder, She Wrote. He often showed up in multiple episodes, but as different characters.

After Peyton Place ran its course, he had a regular role opposite Lynda Day George in Aaron Spelling's short-lived ABC crime drama The Silent Force.

A native of New Orleans, Nelson got his start in such low-budget films as Swamp Women (1956), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and The Brain Eaters (1958).

His last film or TV credit came in the adaptation of the John Grisham novel Runaway Jury (2003).

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