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Abilene’s Nelson Coates shares Hollywood stories, more at fundraiser


There was talk before Saturday, centering on this question: What would Nelson Coates wear to the event honoring his career achievement in Hollywood?

Stylish trainers offset the sharkskin slacks of Nelson Coates suit during Saturday's dinner at the Center for Contemporary Arts May 1, 2021.

He has been seen in snazzy outfits, especially those worn at events tied to his 2018 hit “Crazy Rich Asians.”

It was the Abilene version of red carpet anticipation, though Saturday that carpet would’ve been soaked by rain.

The honoree for “In the Heights of Hollywood,” an Abilene Culture Affairs Council fund-raiser for the HeARTS for the ARTS program, arrived in a shiny silver sharkskin suit with a maroon shirt. 

Very McMurry, really, for the 1984 Abilene Christian University who, since 1990, has lived on the West Coast and become an acclaimed and go-to production designer.

He did not wear dress shoes but trainers.

So Hollywood.

Welcome back gifts

At the Paramount Theatre, Coates was presented gifts aplenty, including a Texas flag and a basket perhaps filled with other goodies.

Decades ago, he performed on the Paramount stage and later filmed a pilot for a kids’ show called “Gerbert.”

In between, he has done dozens of movies, some —  2012’s “Flight” starring Denzel Washington, for example — even for a studio called Paramount.

Nelson Coates laughs, having just arrived at The Center for Contemporary Arts and the dinner in his honor Saturday.

Coates was given a lifetime achievement award and also was honored by the city, which proclaimed May 1 to be Nelson Coates Day. City Councilmember Donna Albus read and presented the proclamation, saying she was able to get Mayor Anthony Williams out of town (San Antonio) so she could have the honors.

The Abilene ISD also honored Coates, who is a graduate of Abilene High. He jokingly noted the case for his award was the color of Cooper High blue. 

But that was OK. After all, he was in silver and maroon.

ACU theater department head Dawne Meeks also joined the cast of presenters.

“This is so overwhelming,” said Coates, all smiles.

Do tell, Nelson

But what attendees came for, besides a nice meal, piña coladas and dessert on the Paramount stage was to hear Coates talk about Hollywood. 

Like doing Shakespeare in the Park in Dallas with a then-unknown actor named Morgan Freeman. Coates later was production designer on Freeman movies, such as “Kiss the Girls.”

Betty "Poppy" Crowe is greeted by Nelson Coates during Saturday's dinner at CCA.

Coates documented his life’s journey, often mentioning visits back home to see his parents, the late Ed and Jane Coates. 

Once, he took them to the set for crime thriller “Albino Alligator,” shot in 1996. He nicely told them to, well, stay to the side and do not talk to the stars. Yet, he found his mother sharing recipes with Faye Dunaway and his dad talking with M. Emmett Walsh.

The stars came to them, they explained.

The movie also starred Gary Sinise.

The day after seeing the premiere of “Apollo 13” at the El Capitan in Los Angeles, the actor pulled up at the studio lot next to their arriving vehicle. Coates introduced his parents.

“Hi, mom and dad. How are you?” Sinise said.

Coates’ mother, momentarily speechless, blurted, “You brought them home!”



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