Gary Nelson, Get Smart And Freaky Friday Director, Dies At 87

Director Gary Nelson, whose credits include live-action Disney films like "The Black Hole" and the original "Freaky Friday," as well as numerous TV episodes, has died of natural causes at the age of 87. Nelson's son confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter on Friday that Nelson had passed away in his Las Vegas home several months ago, on May 25, 2022, though the news is only just now coming to light.

Nelson was born in Los Angeles on October 6, 1934, and he first came up in Hollywood as an assistant director. Among his earliest credits are the classic James Dean film "Rebel Without a Cause" and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1955 film adaptation of the Broadway musical "Guys and Dolls," both of which were nominated for multiple Academy Awards. He followed this up with further AD work on two more Oscar-nominated Westerns, "The Searchers" and "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," before crossing over into television.

TV work and Disney movies

It was on the CBS Western series "Have Gun, Will Travel" that Nelson met his future wife, the late actress Judi Meredith, who was in demand at the time and who agreed to guest star in the episode "Memories of Monica" on the condition that he direct. In the mid-to-late 1960s, Nelson became a TV regular, helming five more episodes of "Have Gun, Will Travel," single or double episodes of "Gunsmoke," "F Troop," "The Andy Griffith Show," and its spin-off "Gomer Pyle: U.S.M.C.," along with 14 episodes of "The Patty Duke Show," eight episodes of "Gilligan's Island," and nine episodes of "The Doris Day Show." His biggest contribution to classic sitcoms of the era was "Get Smart," where he was behind the camera for 23 episodes from 1966 to 1969.

Nelson continued working in television in the 1970s, directing episodes of "Happy Days," "Nanny and the Professor," "Kojak," and "Police Story," among others. In 1976, he scored a feature-film hit with the Disney body-swap comedy "Freaky Friday," starring Barbara Harris and a young Jodie Foster. It was nominated for three Golden Globes and would be remade in 2003 with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsey Lohan in the mother and daughter roles.

1977 brought the Watergate TV miniseries, "Washington: Behind Closed Doors," all six episodes of which Nelson directed. His next film, the sci-fi adventure "The Black Hole," became the first PG-rated movie from Walt Disney Productions in 1979.

Nelson returned to CBS, the network where he got his start, to executive produce and direct 19 episodes of the Kyle Chandler drama "Early Edition" from 1996 to 2000. He is survived by his sons Garrett and Blue.