1950s Hollywood star Lori Nelson dies at 87

Lori Nelson attends a 1955 event in Los Angeles.
(Earl Leaf / Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Lori Nelson, an actress who appeared with some of Hollywood’s biggest names in film and television in the 1950s, died Aug. 23 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, her daughter Jennifer Mann confirmed. Nelson was 87.

She began her career as a contract player at Universal-International, costarring with James Stewart and Rock Hudson in the 1952 Anthony Mann western “Bend of the River,” starring opposite Donald O’Connor in “Francis Goes to West Point” and playing Rosie Kettle in two Ma and Pa Kettle films: “Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair” and “Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki” (though shot back-to-back, the latter was not released in the U.S. until 1955).

For the record:

12:43 p.m. Aug. 27, 2020

An earlier version of this article said that Lori Nelson costarred in TV’s “How to Marry a Millionaire” in 1959. She was on the series from 1957 to 1958.

Later, the blond-haired, blue-eyed actress was Jack Palance’s love interest in 1955’s “I Died a Thousand Times,” and appeared in the 1956 comedy “Pardners” with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Agnes Moorehead. Nelson also had leading roles in “Mohawk” (1956) , “Hot Rod Girl” (1956, with Chuck Connors) and “Untamed Youth” (1957, with Mamie Van Doren). From 1957 to 1958, she costarred in TV’s “How to Marry a Millionaire” with Barbara Eden and Merry Anders and regularly had guest roles in other television series into the early 1960s.


Nelson, a great-grandniece of General of the Armies John J. Pershing, was born Dixie Kay Nelson in Santa Fe, N.M., on Aug. 15, 1933. She was raised in the San Fernando Valley, where she won the title of Miss Encino when she was 17.

She dated Tab Hunter and was engaged to Burt Reynolds in the 1950s. Nelson married composer Johnny Mann in 1960 and they had two daughters, Lori Susan and Jennifer, before divorcing in 1973. A decade later, Nelson married former Los Angeles Police Sgt. Joseph J. Reiner; they remained married until her death.

“My mom was my first love,” said Jennifer Mann. “She had the most welcoming smile! Her kindness made everyone fall in love with her, from fellow movie stars to every little mongrel dog who was lucky enough to cross her path. In those days, you couldn’t have both so she chose a family over a skyrocketing film career and never looked back. In my opinion her Academy Award-winning performance was that of ‘Mom.’”

Lori Nelson was surrounded by family in her Porter Ranch home when she died. She is survived by her husband, four children and seven grandchildren.