Nationality: Canadian. Born: Regina, Saskatchewan, 11 February 1926; nephew of Jean Hersholt (an actor). Education: Attended Victoria High School, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; attended Lorne Greene's Academy of Radio Arts, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse, New York City. Family: Married 1) Monica Bayar (some sources say Boyer), 1950 (divorced 1955, some sources say 1956); 2) Alisande Ullman, 1958 (divorced 1973); 3) Brooks Oliver, 1981 (divorced 1983); (some sources say he was once married to woman named Maura); 4) Barbaree Earl. Career: Worked as a radio announcer in Canada; played General Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox TV series, 1959–60; played Police Lieutenant Price Adams. The New Breed TV Series, 1961–62; played Dr.
The Battle of Gettysburg (as Narrator)
The Opposite Sex (as Steve Hilliard); Ransom! (as Charlie Telfer); The Vagabond King (as Thilbault); Forbidden Planet (as Commander John J. Adams)
Hot Summer Night (as William Joel Partain); Tammy and the Bachelor (as Peter Brent)
The Sheepman (as Colonel Stephen Bedford/Johnny Bledsoe) (Stranger with a Gun)
Night Train to Paris (as Alan Holiday); See How They Run (—for TV) (as Elliott Green)
Dark Intruder (as Brett Kingsford)
The Plainsman (as Colonel George Armstrong Custer); Beau Geste (as Lieutenant De Ruse)
Code Name: Heraclitus (—for TV); Companions in Nightmare (—for TV) (as Dr. Neesden); The Reluctant Astronaut (as Major Fred Gifford); Gunfight in Abilene (as Grant Evers)
Dayton's Devils (as Frank Dayton); How to Steal the World (as General Maximilian Harmon); Hawaii Five-O (—for TV) (as Brent); Rosie! (as Cabot); Shadow Over Elveron (—for TV) (as Sheriff Verne Drover); Counterpoint (as Victor Rice)
Four Rode Out ; How to Commit Marriage (as Phil Fletcher); Change of Mind (as Sheriff Webb); Deadlock (—for TV) (as Lieutenent Sam Danforth); Trial Run (—for TV) (as Jason Harkness)
Night Slaves (—for TV) (as Sheriff Henshaw); Incident in San Francisco (—for TV) (as Lieutenant Brubaker); Hauser's Memory (—for TV) (as Joseph Slaughter); The Aquarians (—for TV) (as Official); Deep Lab (—for TV)
The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler (as Harry Walsh); They Call It Murder (—for TV) (as Frank Antrim)
Columbo: Lady in Waiting (—for TV) (as Peter Hamilton); The Poseidon Adventure (as Captain Harrison)
. . . And Millions Die! ( And Millions Will Die ) (as Gallagher); The Letters (—for TV) (as Derek Childs); Snatched (—for TV) (as Bill Sutter)
Can Ellen Be Saved? (—for TV) (as Arnold Lindsey)
Columbo: Identity Crisis (—for TV) (as Geronimo/A.J. Henderson); Threshold: The Blue Angels Experience (as Narrator); 1976 Brinks: The Great Robbery (—for TV) (as Agent Norman Houston)
Day of the Animals ( Something Is Out There ) (as Paul Jenson); Viva Knievel! ( Seconds to Live ) (as Stanley Millard); Grand Jury (as John Williams); Sixth and Main ; The Amsterdam Kill (as Riley Knight)
Little Mo (—for TV) (as Nelson Fisher)
Institute for Revenge (—for TV) (as Counselor Hollis Barnes); The Return of Charlie Chan ( Happiness Is a Warm Clue ) (—for TV) (as Alex Hadrachi); City on Fire (as Mayor William Dudley); Riel (as Major Crozier); Backstairs at the White House (mini—for TV) (as Ike Hoover/Narrator)
Project: Kill (as Jonathan Trevor); The Night the Bridge Fell Down (—for TV); Airplane! ( Flying High ) (as Doctor Rumack); Prom Night (as Mr. Hammond); OHMS (—for TV) (as Governor)
The Creature Wasn't Nice ( Naked Space , Spaceship ) (as Captain Jamieson)
Foxfire Light (as Reece Morgan); Wrong Is Right ( The Man with the Deadly Lens ) (as Mallory); Creepshow ( Something to Tide You Over ) (as Richard Vickers)
Cave-In! (—for TV) (as Joseph "Joe" Johnson)
Reckless Disregard (—for TV) (as Bob Franklin); Striker's Mountain (—for TV) (as Jim McKay); Blade in Hong Kong (—for TV) (as Harry Ingersoll)
Race for the Bomb (mini—for TV) (as Lewis Strauss); The Patriot (as Admiral Frazer); Soul Man (as Mr. Dunbar)
Home Is Where the Hart Is ; Nightstick ( Calhoun ) (—for TV) (as Thad Evans); Nuts (as Allen Green); Fatal Confession: A Father Dowling Mystery (—for TV) (as Senator erdain)
Dangerous Curves (as Greg Krevske); The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! ( The Naked Gun ) (as Lt. Frank Drebin)
Circus of the Stars #14 (—for TV) (as Ringmaster)
Repossessed (as Father Mayii)
Circus of the Stars #16 (—for TV) (as Ringmaster); Chance of a Lifetime (—for TV) (as Lloyd Dixon); All I Want for Christmas (as Santa); The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (as Lt. Frank Drebin)
Digger (as Arthur); Leslie Nielsen's Bad Golf Made Easier (as Himself); The Unknown Marx Brothers (—for TV) (as Narrator); Surf Ninjas ( Surf Warriors ) (as Colonel Chi)
Bad Golf My Way ( Leslie Nielsen's Bad Golf My Way ) (as Himself); Circus of the Stars Goes to Disneyland (—for TV) (as Ringmaster); S.P.Q.R. 2.000 e 1/2 anni fa ( S.P.Q.R.: 2,000 and a Half Years Ago ) (as Lucio Cinico); Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (as Lt. Frank Drebin)
Dracula: Dead and Loving It (as Count Dracula); Rent-a-Kid (as Harry Haber); Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree (—for TV) (as Willowby's butler)
Harvey (—for TV) (as Dr. Chumley); Spy Hard (as Dick Steele—Agent WD-40) (+ exec pr)
Family Plan (as Harry Haber); Leslie Nielsen's Stupid Little Golf Video (as Himself); Mr. Magoo (as Mr. Quincy Magoo)
Wrongfully Accused (as Ryan Harrison); Safety Patrol (—for TV) (as Mr. Penn)
Camouflage (as Jack Potter); Pirates: 3D Show (as Captain Lucky)
2001: A Space Travesty (Goldstein) (as Marshall Dix) (+ sc)
Duncan, A., "I Don't Have Anything Important to Do—Except Make People Laugh," in Radio Times (London), vol. 281, no. 3664, 2 April 1994.
Sandomir, Richard, "For His Hamlet, a Whoopie Cushion, Not a Skull," in New York Times , 25 August 1993.
Heinz, Rainer, "Ein Kasper auf Verbrecherjagd," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), vol. 49, no. 18, 27 August 1996.
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Leslie Nielsen became a leading comedian with his role in 1980's Airplane! "Surely you can't be serious!" a man demanded of Nielsen's character. "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley!" a straight-faced Nielsen responded. As Airplane! audiences groaned, one of the unlikeliest career transformations in Hollywood history began, almost equal to that autumn's election of a cowboy actor to the presidency. Leslie Nielsen, heretofore known as a consummate dramatic leading man and sidekick of three decades' standing, reinvented himself into a star of over-the-top movie parodies during the 1980s and 1990s.
The Canadian-born Nielsen (whose uncle was screen legend Jean Hersholt) acted in literally hundreds of movies and television programs from the 1950s through the 1970s, invariably in dramatic roles—Commander John J. Adams in the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (1956) and as a crewman in The Poseidon Adventure (1972)—or as the set-up man in light comedies; he was Debbie Reynolds' square-jawed beau in Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), and Bob Hope's romantic rival in How to Commit Marriage (1969). On television, he was best known for dual roles of a doctor and his twin brother on the long-running prime time soap opera Peyton Place. His deep, resonant voice and silvery hair allowed him to play authoritative figures unusually well. Often appearing in low-budget movies, Nielsen was usually the best thing about them; his role as a sleazy drug kingpin lent Viva Knievel! (1977) its sole touch of competence.
Moviegoers were surprised, therefore, to see Nielsen in one of the most uproarious films ever, Airplane! Abrahams and the Zuckers consciously wanted this parody of 1970s disaster films to star such actual 1960s and 1970s TV dramatic stars as Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Peter Graves, deadpanning their way through atrocious puns, double entendres and scatological jokes. "It's like they said to me, 'Leslie, come out and play,"' Nielsen told the New York Times. "Thank God for them." The MAD Magazine/National Lampoon style of humor appealed to filmgoers of all ages; against the much-hyped Caddyshack and The Blues Brothers , Airplane! was the sleeper comedy hit of 1980.
Nielsen worked with the Airplane! trio again on Police Squad! , a brilliant 1982 situation comedy spoofing Dragnet '67 and The FBI. As Lt. Frank Drebin, Nielsen perfectly satirized the genre he'd worked in for so many years; at the end of each episode he'd freeze in mid-laugh while behind (and in front of) him his coworkers (and criminals) went about their work. The series lasted just six epsiodes, but enjoyed a cult following. Nielsen returned to serious work in Creepshow (1982) and Soul Man (1986), but audiences were beginning to expect irreverence from him.
In 1988 Nielsen reprised his role of Frank Drebin in the first of three Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad theatrical movies, produced by Abrahams and the Zuckers. Alongside such B-movie stars as Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy and O. J. Simpson, Nielsen skewered the police movie genre and most others as well, proving equally adept in both physical comedy (practicing safe sex with a full body condom) and verbal jousting (Presley: "Can I interest you in a nightcap?" Nielsen: "No, thank you, I don't wear them"). The Naked Gun films were successful in the theaters, and their rapid-fire style held up well on video and TV, one reason why Naked Gun 2 1/2 (1991) actually outgrossed its predecessor.
The comedic success liberated Nielsen, and he played similarly manic roles in other film spoofs during the 1990s, including Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), Spy Hard (1996) and Wrongfully Accused (1998). If these films weren't as successful as Airplane! , it might have been because by the 1990s, Nielsen was overly familiar as a wacky comedic lead. When he appeared in Airplane! , audiences knew him from dramatic work, and were thus surprised to see him doing comedy. By the late 1990s, audiences already expected him to do comedy. The element of surprise was gone, and so were some of the laughs.
At the turn of the century, Nielsen is also in his mid-70s, and the public might not wish to see a man at his age doing excessive physical shtick. He might now be best suited to doing more cerebral, verbal-based work. Indeed, Nielsen has, in fact, been performing throughout America a one-man show about one of the more cerebral, less ironic figures of the 20th century—Clarence Darrow. Surely, Leslie Nielsen can be serious.