Ed Nelson may not be a household name, but the daytime vet has appeared on TV shows too numerous to mention, as well as CAPITOL and the groundbreaking PEYTON PLACE. (Check out his IMDb listing here and you’ll see what we mean.)The 80-plus-year-old actor is as lively as ever and recently talked to Soap Opera Weekly about his career. “Do you know they still recognize me from PEYTON PLACE? Incredible. My gray hair, my wrinkles, all of that,” says Nelson. “But yes, they do. A lot of them don’t know from what show, necessarily. ‘You’re an actor.’ I’ll say, ‘Yeah.’ ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Ed Nelson.’ ‘Ed Nelson, yeah, right, I saw you in a lot of shows.'”
PEYTON PLACE brought the continuing drama format to prime time twice a week, which was a new concept. Nelson discusses that show and his illustrious career in the autobiography “Beyond Peyton Place: My Fifty Years on Stage, Screen, and Television.”
During a recent trip, Nelson had a chance to view the DVDs of PEYTON PLACE, in which he played Dr. Mike Rossi. “I don’t remember having been such a mysterious character, so to speak,” he smiles. “In the first one, all of a sudden, I’m standing in the park at night, and you wonder why he came from this big city, New York, to a small town. And I could see, after I saw that, why they did it that way. In reality, Mike Rossi was the high school principal in the book and also in the movie. When we sent out the pilot, the unbiased audience said, ‘I’d like to see more of him.’ So they made me the doctor, because Ryan O’Neal (Rodney), Barbara Parkins (Betty) and Mia Farrow (Allison) were graduating from high school, and there wouldn’t be any reason to have the principal of the high school around.”
PEYTON PLACE launched the careers of Farrow, O’Neal and Parkins, by the way. And it was while Farrow was on the prime-time soap that she married Frank Sinatra. Talk about life imitating art!
But don’t call PEYTON PLACE a soap to Nelson. “We never refer to it as that, for a lot of reasons. We were outside so much and driving cars around the square, so we were film. And soaps are not film. And that’s a big thing that is different. We called it a continuing story in prime time. When I did soaps for five years, the differences were so apparent. There were so many differences. You hardly ever went outside. You hardly ever saw anybody in a car driving around. The pilot of CAPITOL, we shot on film in the Washington, D.C., area. That’s one of the reasons why (executive producer) John Conboy got so many film actors. You have to make a lot of exceptions in soaps that you don’t do in film, because [in film,] you can shoot it again and you can make changes.”
Nelson was on PEYTON PLACE for the entire run of the show, from 1964-’67. In 1984, he played Senator Mark Denning on CAPITOL, which wasn’t his favorite gig: “I had to get off — it was driving me crazy. So much changed during the early days of CAPITOL.”
After CAPITOL, Nelson went on to play in many prime-time shows, as well as a feature film now and then. But soaps? Nope.
Want to win an autographed copy of the book “Beyond Peyton Place” and a set of PEYTON PLACE DVDs? Click here.