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Gary Nelson, who directed the Disney films Freaky Friday and The Black Hole, served as the in-house helmer on the first two seasons of Get Smart and called the shots for scores of other shows, has died. He was 87.
Nelson died May 25 in Las Vegas of natural causes, his son Garrett Nelson told The Hollywood Reporter.
His father was Sam Nelson, who served as an assistant director on such landmark films as The Lady From Shanghai (1947), All the King’s Men (1949), Some Like It Hot (1959) and Experiment in Terror (1962) and was a co-founder, along with King Vidor and others, of what would become the DGA.
Gary Nelson started out as an A.D., too, working on films including Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) and John Sturges’ Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), before he got a big break thanks to his future wife, late actress Judi Meredith.
Nelson was known on set for his dry, deadpan sense of humor, and Get Smart star Don Adams nicknamed him as “The Iceman” because the writers and actors on the comedy, created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, could rarely get him to smile. (He directed 23 episodes of the 1965-70 series.)
In addition to Freaky Friday (1976), starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, and The Black Hole (1979), the first PG-rated film from Disney, Nelson directed Molly and Lawless John (1972), featuring Vera Miles and Sam Elliott; Santee (1973), starring Glenn Ford; Jimmy the Kid (1982), starring Gary Coleman; and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986), starring Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone.
He also helmed all six episodes of the acclaimed 1977 ABC miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors, which covered 12 1/2 hours and won Robert Vaughn an Emmy.
Born in Los Angeles on Oct. 6, 1934, Nelson enjoyed a breakthrough year in 1955, when he worked as an A.D. on Rebel Without a Cause, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Guys and Dolls and installments of The Millionaire, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and The 20th Century-Fox Hour.
He met Meredith, a sought-after actress in ingenue roles, on the set of Have Gun — Will Travel in the 1950s, and when producers wanted her for a 1962 episode of the CBS Western, she signed on — but only if Nelson were allowed to direct. He got the chance, helming her in the episode “Memories of Monica” in 1962.
Nelson went on to direct installments of The Andy Griffith Show, Gunsmoke, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Patty Duke Show, F Troop, Gilligan’s Island, Captain Nice, Good Morning World, Gomer Pyle: USMC, The Doris Day Show, Love, American Style, Room 222, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, Nanny and the Professor, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, McMillan & Wife, Kojak and Police Story.
He retired after directing and serving as a co-executive producer on the 1996-2000 CBS drama Early Edition, starring Kyle Chandler.
He and Meredith were married for 52 years until her death in 2014. Survivors include his sons, Garrett and Blue.
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