Most people only remember Leslie Nielsen for his work in parody movies. However, the Canadian actor had three decades' worth of dramatic television and film work before getting into the comedy game. The 1950s were an especially prolific decade for Nielsen, as he appeared in dozens of television shows. The actor worked his way onto the big screen in 1956's Ransom! and continued to receive serious parts in everything from adventure films to westerns.
A couple of his more early popular films include Forbidden Planet and The Poseidon Adventure. He additionally co-starred with Debbie Reynolds in the 1957 romantic comedy Tammy and the Bachelor. The actor would also continue his prolific dramatic television work. He appeared in episodes of Rawhide, The Untouchables, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Peyton Place, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and The Virginian, among many others.
Then, a funny thing happened. The handsome character actor with that distinguished sheen of white hair was cast in the spoof movie Airplane! in 1980. Nielsen's role as Dr. Rumack in the classic disaster parody movie showed the world his impressive and soon-to-be trademark deadpan delivery.
Nielsen made the second act of his Hollywood career a massive success playing dimwitted but lovable characters who definitely are not in on the joke. In 1982, the actor starred as Det. Frank Drebin in the spoof police television drama Police Squad! The show only lasted one season, though Drebin was soon resurrected on celluloid. Nielsen received an Emmy nod for his performance.
In 1988, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! hit the big screen. Nielsen reprised the role of the incompetent Drebin, and the absurd comedy filled with sight gags and ridiculous one-liners became a huge box office success. Two sequels followed - The Naked Gun 2 1⁄2: The Smell of Fear and Naked Gun 33 1⁄3: The Final Insult. Both films were hits at the box office, the first sequel even managing to bring in more money than the original. The three movies combined for a total box office gross of over $226 million.
Nielsen spent the next several years bringing his perfectly timed dry delivery to other spoof movies. He also starred in The Exorcist parody Repossessed, the 2001: A Space Odyssey spoof 2001: A Space Travesty, and The Fugitive parody Wrongfully Accused.