UPDATE: Well, I screwed up big time with this one: David Nelson died on Jan. 11, 2011; exactly three years before the day I wrote this. I have no idea what happened; I can’t even remember if a reader misinformed me, but of course I bear the responsibility for not even looking at the date on the L.A. Times article. Well, I stand corrected, and, at any rate, if you don’t know about Ozzie and Harriet, you can still learn something by reading this belated obituary.
And so the last member of the immensely popular television show, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” has left the stage: according to the L. A. Times, David Nelson died of colon cancer yesterday at age 74.
If you never watched the show, or listened to the music of its most famous cast member, Ricky Nelson (an extraordinarily handsome musician who, for some people more concerned with appearance than music, rivaled Elvis), you can ignore this, but their television show was watched by millions, and ran for an extraordinarily long period: 14 years (1952-1966)! Wikipedia notes that “It is the longest-running live-action sitcom in US television history.” I watched many episodes.
During that time, Rick Nelson became a pop star. The lines between the real family—Ozzie orignally was famous as a bandleader and Harriet Hilliard as a singer—and the t.v. family were blurry, which added to the show’s appeal. It was, in a sense, a precursor to today’s reality shows.
The show strove for realism and featured exterior shots of the Nelsons’ actual southern California home at 1822 Camino Palmero Street in Los Angeles as the fictional Nelsons’ home. Interior shots were filmed on a sound stage recreated to look like the real interior of the Nelsons’ home. Like its radio predecessor (which finally ended in 1954), the series focused mainly on the Nelson family at home, dealing with run-of-the-mill problems. As the series progressed and the boys grew up, storylines involving various characters were introduced. Many of the series storylines were taken from the Nelsons’ real life. When the real David and Rick got married, to June Blair and Kristin Harmon respectively, their wives joined the cast of Ozzie and Harriet, and the marriages were written into the series. What was seldom written into the series was Ozzie’s profession or mention of his lengthy and successful band-leading career. The popular joke about his career was that the only time he left the house was to go buy ice cream.
The Times reports more on David Nelson’s career:
During the ’50s and early ’60s, David Nelson also had roles in the movies “Peyton Place,” “The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker,” “The Big Circus,” “Day of the Outlaw,” “30” and “The Big Show.”
For “The Big Circus,” he learned to be a catcher in a trapeze act and later appeared professionally as a catcher.
Nelson acted only sporadically after “Ozzie and Harriet” ended; his final acting credit was as the father of Wanda ( Traci Lords) in “Cry-Baby,” writer-director John Waters’ spoof of the ’50s.
Ozzie Nelson died of liver cancer in 1975. Rick Nelson died with six others in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1985. And in 1994, Harriet Nelson died of congestive heart failure.
Here are Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky in 1952 and 1960; David was the older brother, at left in the bottom picture:
And if you want a specimen, here’s an episode from later in the show (I don’t know the year): “Ricky’s blind date” (if you can’t see it, the URL is here).