Directors: Nelson, Ralph–Background, Career, Awards (Lilies of the Field) (Underestimated)

Ralph Nelson (August 12, 1916 – December 21, 1987), the American film and television director was best known for helming Lilies of the Field (1963), Father Goose (1964), and Charly (1968), films which won Oscar Awards (in different categories).

Born in Long Island City, New York, Nelson served in the Army Air Corps as a flight instructor in World War II.

Before the war ended, he had play on Broadway, “The Wind Is Ninety,” which ran from June to September 1945, in which Kirk Douglas appeared.

Nelson directed the acclaimed episode “A World of His Own” of The Twilight Zone. He also directed both the television and film versions of Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight.

He directed Charly, the 1968 film version of Flowers for Algernon, for which Cliff Robertson won an the Best Actor Oscar.

Nelson made several racially provocative films in the 1960s and early 1970s, including the Oscar-winning Lilies of the Field, …tick…tick…tick…, Christmas Lilies of the Field, The Wilby Conspiracy, and Soldier Blue.

The starring role in Lilies of the Field earned Sidney Poitier the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Nelson also directed the Cary Grant comedy Father Goose, the offbeat Soldier in the Rain with Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen, the crime story Once a Thief, and Rita Hayworth’s last film, The Wrath of God.

He both directed, and briefly appeared in, Duel at Diablo, starring James Garner and Sidney Poitier.

Nelson’s other credits include several episodes of TV’s Starsky & Hutch, the 1970s camp horror classic Embryo, and A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But A Sandwich.

A TV drama about mounting the live show of Requiem for a Heavyweight called The Man in the Funny Suit was made in 1960, with Nelson both writing and directing. Nelson, Serling, Red Skelton, Keenan Wynn and Ed Wynn appeared in it as themselves.

He returned to TV in the late 1970s with a string of TV movies, including a sequel to Lilies of the Field called Christmas Lilies of the Field which starred Billy Dee Williams, Maria Schell, and Fay Hauser.

He died in 1987 in Santa Monica, California at the age of 71.

Filmography (Director)

Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)
Lilies of the Field (1963)
Soldier in the Rain (1963)
Fate Is the Hunter (1964)
Father Goose (1964)
Once a Thief (1965)
Duel at Diablo (1966)
Counterpoint (1968)
Charly (1968)
…tick…tick…tick… (1970)
Soldier Blue (1970)
Flight of the Doves (1971)
The Wrath of God (1972)
The Wilby Conspiracy (1975)
Embryo (1976)
A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich (1978)

Television
Playhouse 90 – “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1956)
Blood Money (1957)
A World of His Own (1960)
The Farmer’s Daughter (1963)
The Man Who Bought Paradise (1965)
Lady of the House (1978)
Because He’s My Friend (1978)
Christmas Lilies of the Field (1979)
You Can’t Go Home Again (1979)

Actor
Stump Run (1959)
Lilies of the Field (1963) – Mr. Ashton (uncredited)
Duel at Diablo (1966) – Col. Foster
Counterpoint (1968) – Belgian Officer (uncredited)
Charly (1968) – Convention Speaker (uncredited)
…tick…tick…tick… (1970) – New York driver caught in speed trap (uncredited)
Soldier Blue (1970) – Agent Long
The Wrath of God (1972) – Executed Prisoner (uncredited)