James Nelson Dead: Sound Editor, Producer Dies at 82

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James Nelson, a sound editor, supervising sound editor and producer for film and television with more than 180 credits, including “Easy Rider,” “Five Easy Pieces,” “The Exorcist” and “American Graffiti,” has died. He was 82.

Director Monte Hellman, on whose classic 1971 film “Two-Lane Blacktop” Nelson worked, said, “He was one of my closest, dearest friends. He’s worked on all my movies. His first work was in sound editing and he did that on all my movies and even on the last one, ‘Road to Nowhere,’ he came in as a consultant just to make sure everything was right because I just wouldn’t do anything without his approval.”

Nelson was the supervising sound editor, often uncredited, on some of the classics of 1960s and ’70s cinema: Richard Rush’s film “Psych-Out” and Rafelson’s classic “Head,” both in 1968; “Easy Rider” in 1969; Rafelson’s “Five Easy Pieces”; Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun”; Jack Nicholson’s directing debut, “Drive, He Said”; Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show”; Bob Fosse’s “Cabaret”; Michael Ritchie’s “The Candidate”; Bob Rafelson’s “The King of Marvin Gardens”; William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist”; George Lucas’ “American Graffiti”; and Terrence Malick’s “Badlands,” among others.

Nelson was said to have been a producer on “Star Wars” but was said to have had a fight with Lucas and have pulled his name from the credits.

Nelson was the uncredited sound effects editor on the 1956 film “Rock Around the Clock,” starring Bill Haley and the Comets, and on a number of other rock ‘n’ roll themed movies in the late ’50s and early ’60s, as well as on the 1958 film “The Girl Most Likely,” starring Jane Powell; John Frankenheimer’s 1962 “Birdman of Alcatraz” (on which he was credited for special sound effects); 1963 musical adaptation “Bye Bye Birdie”; a number of the so-called beach party movies.

His feature producting credits include an associate producer credit on James Bridges’ nuclear meltdown thriller “The China Syndrome,” starring Jane Fonda.

TV series credits include “Circus Boy” in 1957, “The Frank Sinatra Show,” “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin,” “Father Knows Best,” “Naked City,” “Dennis the Menace,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Hazel” (on which he was credited as the supervising sound editor on all 114 episodes), “The Andy Griffith Show” (credited sound editor for 30 episodes), “Get Smart” (credited supervising sound editor on 30 episodes), “The Monkees” (credited on 58 episodes); “Tarzan” (59 episodes); and “The Brady Bunch” (49 episodes).

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  1. Terry Chambers (Editor Writer Producer 2nd unit Director says:

    He was a friend for over 20 years but I was never sure if he liked me or tolerated me. He was a talented man in many areas of post production. He was a hybrid everything, and I know for a fact that his dispute with Lucas who got in trouble with the studio because the budget went from 18 million to 20. Considering the movie made zillions, and Jimmy had a a couple % of the net, he must have regretted tearing up his contract. At one time on BADLANDS he had 10 to 20 Moviolas connected in series to preview the sound effects. Something of a screwball who drove a Rolls Royce junker. Terry Chambers

  2. Sean Clark says:

    I have known some of Jim’s extended family for several years and know that he was a true character, a true Angelino, and a good man. His contributions were significant although, as it stated, some of his most memorable work was not credited to him, which tells you, in our business, what a good man he was.

  3. Linda Lewis says:

    I had the privilege to know Jim for nearly 40 years – he was a wonderful, kind & gentle man with so much talent. Jim was the most generous person in Hollywood, giving help or advice to anyone who needed guidance. Hollywood and the world at large was a better place because of Jim’s big spirit, he will be missed.

  4. Steven Gaydos says:

    Jim Nelson was one of the finest, smartest, funniest pros i have ever encountered in this biz. He must have had a sense of humor because he brought me in to audition for the role of Luke Skywalker back when George Lucas was casting the first film. I will picture the stars in the Colorado sky and remember him as a true Westerner with dignity in a biz much smaller than his boot size.

  5. Babylon Slim says:

    It seems somehow a little sad that there are no comments. I didn’t work with or know the man but some of the films he worked on I not only saw but watched more than once.
    I always thought i’d have a career in film, just turned 60 so i guess it is too late.
    For all the episodic afternoons and prime time, the pivotal and seminal Movies I know from experience you donated your sweat and blood to, Thank You.
    Good luck in the Bardo.

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