Nelson was born Robert Haakon Nielsen in San Francisco, California, of Norwegian ancestry, the son of Betsy (nee Christophsen) and Trygve Nielsen. (His year of birth has been subject of some debate, but his 1943 Army enlistment record and his 1993 voter registration records certify 1917 as the correct year of his birth.) He began acting in school at the age of fifteen. He graduated from the University of California Berkeley in 1941 and, because of his theatrical efforts in school, was almost immediately signed to a motion picture contract by Metro-Golden-Mayer Studios.\
Nelson was an actor of stage and screen. He began working in Hollywood in 1938 and appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows before he was cast as James Bond.
Nelson was the first actor (and the first non European before George Lazenby who was the second) to play James Bond on screen, in a 1954 adaptation of Ian Fleming's novel Casino Royale on the television anthology series Climax!. He preceded Sean Connery's interpretation of Bond in Dr. No by eight years. Reportedly this was considered a pilot for a possible James Bond television series, though it's not known if Nelson intended to continue playing the character. Nelson played James Bond as an American who some characters call "Jimmy".
- "At that time, no one had ever heard of James Bond ... I was scratching my head wondering how to play it. I hadn't read the book or anything like that because it wasn't well known."
- ― Nelson in a 2004 interview with Cinema Retro.
After Climax! Nelson continued to act until the late 1980's. He is best known for appearing in the films The Shining, Airport, and the 1941 film Shadow of the Thin Man.
Nelson had two wives, actress Teresa Celli, married in 1951 and later divorced, and Nansilee ("Nansi") Hoy, to whom he was married until his death. Nelson and his second wife divided their time between homes in New York and France. Until his death, Nelson could be seen publicly at American Civil War shows across America. He was a close friend of tenor Mario Lanza.
According to his widow Nansi, Barry Nelson died on April 7, 2007, while traveling in Bucks County, Pennsylvania nine days before his 90th birthday. The cause of death was not disclosed.
- Barry Nelson at IMDb