George Nader

Friday 08 February 2002 01:00 GMT

George Nader, actor: born Pasadena, California 9 October 1921; died Los Angeles 4 February 2002.

Brawny and handsome, George Nader was a film star of the Fifties who made a fresh career in Europe after his Hollywood stardom was brought to an end when he was outed as a homosexual.

He had been a contract player at Universal, where he took fourth place in their male roster behind Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson and Jeff Chandler, spending almost as much time posing for beefcake photographs (he kept fit by swimming and weight-lifting) as he did acting. In Europe, he achieved particular popularity in a series of action thrillers about an FBI agent, Jerry Cotton, slickly made in anamorphic black-and-white but notable for the glaringly obvious use of back projection shots of American locations when Cotton was driving in his car. He later returned to Los Angeles, where his acting career was curtailed by a serious car accident in the mid-Seventies. He was able to spend his last years in luxury after being left the major part of Rock Hudson's $27m estate. Tony Curtis said, "George was one of the kindest and most generous men I've ever known."

Born in 1921 in Pasadena, California, Nader studied for a BA in theatre arts at Occidental College and, after serving as a communicatons officer with the US Navy from 1943-46, he spent four years acting at the Pasadena Playhouse before his good looks attracted Hollywood. He made his screen début as an American airman who falls in love with a Swedish girl (Anita Bjork) in Memory of Love (1949) and starred in the adventure Monsoon (1952), but most of his early roles were negligible parts in major films (Two Tickets to Broadway, Take Care of My Little Girl) or larger ones in lesser movies such as Sins of Jezebel (1953) with Paulette Goddard.

He had his first starring role in the cult sci-fi adventure Robot Monster (1953), filmed in 3-D and a big money-maker though it is frequently listed among the worst films of all time. Its monster, the actor George Barrows in a monkey suit with a diving bell on his head, is one of the most ludicrous in film history. Made outdoors in four days at a cost of only $16,000, Robot Monster was the first science-fiction movie to be made with stereophonic sound and, because of its 3-D photography, made more than a million dollars.

Universal then signed Nader to a contract and, after putting him in a Rory Calhoun western, Four Guns to the Border (1954), gave him the key role of a cop who takes a paternal interest in a juvenile delinquent (Tony Curtis) in Six Bridges to Cross (1955). He received a Golden Globe award as "the most promising newcomer of 1954", and was then given leading roles opposite Jeanne Crain in The Second Greatest Sex (1955), a musical western based on Lysistrata with the women going on strike until their cowboy sweethearts abandon their violent life style, and Maureen O'Hara, in Lady Godiva (1955), an ineffectual account of the famous ride made through the streets of 11th-century Canterbury by the wife of a Saxon nobleman (Nader).

He also starred with Jeff Chandler in the Second World War adventure Away All Boats (1956) and was leading man to Esther Williams in The Unguarded Moment (1956), Julie Adams in Four Girls in Town (1957) and Phyllis Thaxter in Man Afraid (1957). In the risibly bad The Female Animal (1958) he was a film extra lusted after by a fading film star (Hedy Lamarr) and her daughter (Jane Powell). Then, abruptly, his Hollywood career was over.

Sal Mineo, who made his film début playing Tony Curtis's character as a boy in Six Bridges to Cross, stated later that he was surprised at the open homosexual affairs going on in Hollywood, known to all the film community but not to the public at large, one of the most prominent being the relationship between Nader and Rock Hudson. In the late Fifties, scandal magazines began to trade in such "revelations" and it has frequently been alleged that Nader's own studio sacrificed him by making a deal to keep their far bigger star, Rock Hudson, free from such notoriety.

Nader left for Europe, where he made one film in the UK, a bleak but gripping film noir, Nowhere to Go (1958), co-starring Maggie Smith. In the US, he starred in two television series, Ellery Queen (1958-59) and Man and the Challenge (1959-60), but most of his later career as an actor was spent in Europe, where he had particular success when he took on the role of the smooth FBI agent Jerry Cotton in Der Tod in roten Jaguar ("Death in a Red Jaguar", 1968), the first of a highly profitable series. Though little shown outside their country of origin, the eight Jerry Cotton films were enormously popular with German audiences and are now staples of German television.

Nader's last film role was in Eddie Romero's fantasy about a lost civilisation, Beyond Atlantis (1973), filmed in the Philippines. He was a guest-star in several television shows including The FBI, but, when a car accident in the mid-Seventies resulted in an eye injury which left him unable to bear the bright glare of arc-lights, he turned to writing. In 1978 he wrote a highly praised science-fiction novel, Chrome, hailed in particular for its ground-breaking treatment of a homosexual romance between two robots. Publishers' Weekly said, "This seems aimed at, and may well find, an audience other than the usual sci-fi reader." He also wrote a novel, soon to be published, called The Perils of Paul, about the gay community in Hollywood.

Nader himself had lived for many years with Mark Miller, formerly Rock Hudson's secretary, and the two of them remained close friends of Rock Hudson. They were described by Hudson's biographer Sara Davidson as "Rock's family for most of his adult life". When Hudson died with Aids in 1985, he left them a large fortune in a will contested by Hudson's former lover Marc Christian, who after a long battle was award $5.5m. Nader spent his final years living with Miller in Palm Springs.

Although he rarely made public appearances in later years, Nader came out of retirement in April 2000 when he attended a Jerry Cotton retrospective in Germany.

Tom Vallance

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