Ed Nelson was one of only two Peyton’s Place cast members to appear in the entire run of American television’s first peak-time soap opera, which featured murder, divorce, wife-beating, teenage pregnancy, rape and blackmail in a fictional New England coastal town and attracted up to 60 million viewers in the programme’s home country alone.
As the honest and moral Dr Michael Rossi Nelson was keeper of the small-town secrets in the serial based on Grace Metalious’s scandal-filled 1956 book, which was banned in Canada and some American states but was still the 20th century’s biggest-selling novel at the time.
Nelson’s character was a high school principal in the original story, but producer Paul Monash made him a doctor arriving in Peyton Place to set up his practice for the television version (there had also been a film, in 1957). During Nelson’s 436 episodes (1964-69), Michael had several relationships but never married. He was involved with the town’s bookshop owner, unmarried mother Constance Mackenzie, but they parted when he admitted he could not commit to marriage.
Peyton Place made stars of Mia Farrow (Constance’s daughter, Allison) and her screen boyfriend, Ryan O’Neal (as Rodney Harrington). Farrow and Malone left before the final series and O’Neal never quite made it to the end, so Nelson and Barbara Parkins, who acted Betty Anderson – vying with Allison for Rodney’s affections – had the distinction of appearing throughout the soap’s entire run. Nelson revived his character in the TV films Murder in Peyton Place (1977) and Peyton Place: The Next Generation (1985). When the serial was in production, the actor drove 100 miles home each evening to help with his children’s homework. In 1968 he was named Father of the Year.
Nelson was born in New Orleans. Following service with the US Navy as a radio operator he started a media arts course at Tulane University in New Orleans, but left to study direction and production at the New York School of Radio and Television Technique then worked as an assistant director at WDSU-TV in Louisiana.
In 1950 Nelson joined Roger Corman’s unofficial repertory company. He acted in the director’s low-budget horror films such as Swamp Women (1956), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) and The Cry Baby Killer (1958).
This was followed by dozens of character roles in popular television series before and after Peyton Place. Nelson also played Senator Mark Denning in the daytime soap opera Capitol (1983-84) and President Harry S Truman in the one-man stage play Give ’em Hell Harry! on tour (1975-77), the TV movie Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb (1980) and the film Brenda Starr (1989).
He finally completed his degree at Tulane University in 2000, then wrote an autobiography, Beyond Peyton Place (2008). He died of congestive heart failure.
Edwin Stafford Nelson, actor: born New Orleans 21 December 1928; married 1950 Patricia Miller (two sons, four daughters); died Greensboro, North Carolina 9 August 2014.Reuse content