ZUI this article from the Washington Post:
Barry Nelson, an MGM contract player during the 1940s who later had a prolific theater career and was the first actor to play James Bond on screen, has died. He was 89.
Nelson died on April 7 while traveling in Bucks County, Pa., his wife, Nansi Nelson, said Friday. The cause of death was not immediately known, she said.
After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1941, Nelson was signed to MGM after being spotted by a talent scout. He appeared in a number of films for the studio in 1942, including "Shadow of the Thin Man," "Johnny Eager" and "Dr. Kildare's Victory." He also landed the leading role in "A Yank on the Burma Road," playing a cab driver who decides to lead a convoy of trucks for the Chinese government.
The "first actor to play James Bond on screen"? Yep. Casino Royale, 1954 - eight years before Sean Connery's first Bond Movie, Dr No, and 13 years before David Niven's appearance in the better-known version of Casino Royale.
From the News-Tribune:
Barry Nelson, a Broadway leading man who launched his career at MGM in the 1940s and earned a niche in show business history as the first actor to play British secret agent James Bond – as an American named Jimmy Bond – in a live television production of “Casino Royale” in the 1950s, has died. He was 89.
He later played opposite Debbie Reynolds in the 1963 movie comedy, “Mary, Mary,” a role he originated on Broadway with co-star Barbara Bel Geddes. He also appeared in the films “Airport,” “Pete ’n’ Tillie” and “The Shining.”
But Nelson had some of his greatest successes on Broadway, including appearing in “Light Up the Sky” and “The Moon Is Blue” in the 1940s, “Cactus Flower” opposite Lauren Bacall (in the ’60s) and “The Act” opposite Liza Minnelli (for which he received a Tony Award nomination as best actor in a musical in 1978).
“He was a charming light comedian with a wonderful boyish face and a lovely youthful quality,” Miles Kreuger, president of the Institute of the American Musical in Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
You can read more about his career at IMDb and at IBDB.
I know him primarily from Airport, in which he played Dean Martin's co- pilot, though the really memorable (for me, at least) roles in that film were played by Martin, Helen Hayes, Burt Lancaster and George Kennedy. But I see Amazon is offering Casino Royale - Nelson's version - on VHS. I may have to order a copy....