The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet brought us the real-life Nelson family. The show, which is often rated as one of the best sitcoms ever, aired on ABC from 1952 through 1966.
While the Nelson family reigned as television’s perfect poster American family during its time period, fans at the time would have been dumbfounded to know that behind closed doors, the family’s reality appeared quite different than viewers saw on-screen. What audiences didn’t see was that the Nelsons weren’t as perfect as they seemed.
Ozzie Was a Law Student Before He Joined a Dance Band
Oswald George Nelson, also known as Ozzie, was born on March 20th, 1906, New Jersey. In order to make some extra cash as a student, he used to play saxophone in a band and coach football. During his spare time, Ozzie used to organize a dance band that, despite expectations, was very successful. During the Depression era, the success of his band allowed him to quit school in order to focus on a full-time career in music.
Nelson's big break officially came in 1930 after The New York Daily Mirror released a poll to its readers to determine their favorite band. Nelson strategically had his band collect hundreds of newspapers that had been thrown out in order to fill out the ballots in their own favor. Thanks to their cheatery, they beat out Paul Whiteman and were pronounced the winners. Nelson and his band quickly starting gracing full houses at hotels and ballrooms all along the East Coast.
Ozzie Fell in Love With a Showgirl
After their Ozzie’s band experienced their big break in 1930, the Ozzie Nelson Band were signed to record several labels with Brunswick, Vocalion, Bluebird, and Victor. During this time, there was a vaudeville actress named Peggy Lou Snyder who was experiencing her own success in New York City. When Ozzie and Peggy's paths crossed, Ozzie was determined to recruit Peggy to be a part of his band.
He hired her to perform with his band and Peggy changed her name to Harriet Hilliard. Fans went crazy over Harriet's perky vocals which combined beautifully with Nelson's effortless and carefree voice. Harriet contributed to the bad skyrocketing to success. In 1935, the band had a number one hit with "And Then Some." The song was in the number one spot on the U.S. pop singles chart for an entire week.
Harriet Nelson was born as Peggy Lou Snyder in Des Moines, Iowa. Born into a theatrical family, she made her acting debut at the ripe age of three when she first appeared on the vaudeville stage. By her teenage years, the actress was already appearing on Broadway and spending time with a crowd much older than her. This led her to the New York City club scene where she picked up smoking at age 13 and dropped out of high school.
After leaving school, she joined the Corps de Ballet at the Capitol Theater. She later danced in the Harry Carroll Revue as well as worked as a straight woman for comedians Ken Murray and Bert Lahr. Shortly after this gig, she would join Ozzie's band and help bring nationwide success to their band. The two would eventually tie the knot three years later. But, Ozzie wasn't Harriet's first rodeo.
Harriet Was Already In Love
When Harriet met Ozzie, she was still legally married. During her time dancing at the Cotton Club, Harriet (who was then still known as Peggy Lou) was married to a comedian named Roy Sedley. the pair married in 1930. Harriet was only 21 at the time, with Roy 9 years her senior.
Harriet soon saw that hanging around an older crowd wasn't all just fun, games, and clubbing. Roy was reportedly abusive towards Harriet during their entire marriage. After one year of a lousy marriage, the two separated. In 1933, the pair divorced. While these were probably some dark days for Harriet, she was lucky to meet Ozzie and have her entire life turn around. As they say, the rest is history.
Ozzie and Harriet Get Married
When Ozzie and Harriet started performing together, it was obvious that their blended personalities were the perfect match for each other on stage. Harriet was energetic and clever. Ozzie, on the other hand, was cool and laid-back. Their chemistry on stage was obvious to anybody who came to watch them.
However, their on-stage relationship wasn't the only budding relationship. Off the stage, the two couldn't deny their feelings for one another. In 1935, three years after Ozzie hired Harriet to sing in his band, they decided to make their relationship as official as it gets. By the 1950s, they were undeniably America's perfect fantasy couple.
Success on the Silver Screen
Ozzie Nelson and his band proceeded to appear in several feature films and short subjects in the 40s, adding their glamour to the big screen in such musicals like Sweetheart of the Campus, Strictly in the Groove, Take It Big and Honeymoon Lodge. They also had appearances as independent characters, like in Hi, Good Lookin.' Despite their performances on the silver screen, they are most known for their broadcasting initiatives.
In the 1940s, Ozzie started to look for a way to spend more time with his family, especially with his young sons. Him and Harriet became regular guests on the legendary, The Red Skelton Show, an American comedy and variety show which was hosted by entertainer Richard Bernard “Red” Skelton. This would set the foundation for the couple to later have their own show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which Ozzie developed and produced by himself.
The Red Skelton Show
Ozzie and Harriet got their start on radio before the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was born. They made their debut on The Red Skelton Show. The American variety show was hosted by entertainer Red Skelton. It was an iconic radio and television show during its time.
Ozzie and Harriet quickly became the voice of the radio program. Skelton at the time was working hard to get his show on color T.V screen during its running. The regular appearances made by the Nelsons on the show provided a perfect foundation for them to get started with their own radio show.
Red Skeleton Gets Drafted to War
In 1944, Red Skeleton was drafted into the war. This proved to be the perfect opportunity for the Nelsons to secure their own spot on the radio. After they were regulars on Skeleton's radio show for three years, they finally landed their life-changing gig. Ozzie Nelson proposed the idea to have his own show to network executives at CBS and sponsor International Silver.
He suggested a show in which him and his family would be the main characters, similar to the T.V. show that would come later on. During the early days of the show, Ozzie put his passion for music to the side and focused on situation comedy. Ozzie was the co-writer and director for every episode of the show.
Starting a Family
One year after Ozzie and Harriet tied the knot, they welcomed a baby boy into their lives. They named their first son David. Ozzie was motivated to keep his family unit tight and thus strived for his family to work together as much as possible. Four years later in 1940, they gave birth to their second child, a son named Eric Hilliard, more commonly known as Ricky.
The couple quickly became America's ideal fantasy couple of the 1950s and earned the spot as “America’s Favorite Young Couple.” They would later allow their children to appear on the show but for now, they were much too young.
Actors Played the Boys
Ozzie worked as both the developer and producer of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show quickly took off in the 1940s. Ozzie, realizing that his boys were still too young for prime-time, decided to cast two different boys to fill in for them. Before you open the IMDB database to try and locate the original actors who played the two boys, we'll disappoint you by telling you that you won't have much luck.
The original actors only played the voice roles on the radio version of the show. After the show's first five-year-run on the radio, in 1944, it came to television. Ozzie wanted his whole family to be in the show. So, he prepared his sons for their on-screen debut and when they were ready, David and Ricky appeared on camera. The radio show, meanwhile, continued for another two years.
The Boys Play Themselves
By the fifth year of the show, David and Ricky began to regularly play themselves for the first time on the radio. At this point, David was 12 and Ricky was eight. By the time The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet came to television in 1952, David and Ricky played alongside their parents at the ages of 16 and 12, respectively. America watched Ozzie and Harriet raise their two sons. The last episode of the show aired on television in 1966.
As mentioned, Ozzie was very hands-on with his show, both on the radio and on T.V. He was the producer and director of most of the episodes. He also co-wrote many of them. His brother, Don, was also a co-writer. Don was perhaps the most underrated member of the Nelson family. The audience didn’t meet this more silent family member as he didn’t work in front of the camera. He also coined Ricky’s famous catchphrase, “I don’t mess around, boy.”
Bing Crosby Convinced Ozzie to Include the Boys
As mentioned previously, Ozzie wanted to allow his young boys to grow up a bit before starring on their family's hit series. In 1949, he finally agreed to let his 8-year-old and 13-year-old sons, Ricky and David, take over their pivoted roles.
Bing Crosby was the one who ultimately convinced Ozzie that his kids were ready to be in front of a nationwide audience. Crosby had once had a guest appearance on Ozzie’s radio show and brought his own boys along for the live broadcast. After Ozzie and Harriet’s boys were introduced to television, they became big stars and the show's devoted audience loved them.
Did Ozzie Sabotage His Kids' Childhood?
In the book "The Fifties," David Halberstam shares his thoughts on the impact that the show had on the growing Nelson boys. The boys lived under a lot of pressure from their father. He blames Ozzie Nelson for robbing the boys of their childhood and essentially using them for commercial purposes. For the sake of money, he took some of their most private and personal moments and made them public.
Halberstam claims that through the research he had done, there was a general agreement that people blamed Ozzie Nelson for taking his family’s most personal moments and making them public. In many ways, the Nelsons were America's first relationship with reality TV. Yes, the Kardashians definitely weren’t the first reality TV family in America.
"Here Come the Nelsons"
After having such success with their radio show, Ozzie and his brother Don wrote a comedy movie together called "Here Come the Nelsons." The movie introduced the Nelsons to American audiences. Ozzie successfully persuaded Universal execs to produce the feature film and it also became a pilot for the TV show "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet."
The film featured, of course, the Nelson family as well as a slew of other big stars like Rock Hudson, Barbara Lawrence, and Jim Backus. The storyline of the movie is as such; Ozzie and Harriet get into a misunderstanding before Ricky is kidnapped by bank robbers. In the film, Ozzie played an advertising executive, although he was known in America to be a bandleader.
First Double Bed That Was Seen on TV
Ozzie and Harriet's double bed was the first to be seen on television. During those times, it was very scandalous for a man and his wife to be sleeping in the same bed. Before their double bed debut, on-screen couples' bedrooms on TV usually had two twin beds that were separated by a nightstand. The Hays Code was the unofficial name for The Motion Picture Production Code. The code was adopted in 1930 but not seriously put into action until 1934.
The Code was a set of rules governing American filmmaking that cultivated and in many ways limited American cinema for more than three decades. The code regulated what could and couldn't be shown in films. Among their rules and regulations was that a man and a woman couldn't be seen in the same bed together. If they were, one of them had to be seen with a leg firmly planted on the floor. Bonus fact, this rule led to the popularity of foot popping.
The Show Featured Their Real-life House
Ozzie and Harriet used the exterior of their actual home in the opening credits of their TV series. The Nelsons, at this point, had amassed quite the fortune for themselves. They lived in the luxurious Hollywood Hills neighborhood located above Hollywood Boulevard.
They didn't film the series in their actual home due to logistical reasons. But they did have the interior of their home exactly replicated for the set. It was important for Ozzie to relay authenticity as much as possible in his show. Quite literally, he wanted to invite America into his home to meet his family. The Nelson's home is still in the same location, located at 1822 Camino Palmero Street in Los Angeles, California.
The House Was Renovated and Sold in 2013
In 2013, the Nelson's five-bedroom home was bought for $3 million. The home, which was built in 1916, was sold nearly 100 years later to a real estate investment and development company. They gave the family home a much-needed makeover and resold it for $5 million. Must of the home's exterior was kept the same.
The shutters were removed in order to give the house a more modern look. The home is in a very prime location in Hollywood. This definitely won't be the last time that this kind of renovation happens here. Keep reading to see how Mr. Nelson was different from his on-screen character... and we don't mean that in a positive way.
Ozzie’s character role on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was starkly different than his real-life persona. On the show, he appeared to often be goofy and always stumbling over his words. He never seemed to have a job and was always seen aimlessly wandering around their two-story home. This was in contrast to Harriet's clever charm. Harriet wore aprons most of the time and could always be found whipping something up in the kitchen.
However, this contrasted greatly from their real-life selves. In actuality, Ozzie was a very serious and controlling businessman who was addicted to his work and completely in charge of the show as the writer, producer, director, and editor. The New York Times described Ozzie as an authoritarian figure who didn’t even allow his sons to attend college when they wanted to. He obligated them to work on television despite their interest to pursue other endeavors.
The Show Wasn't in the 'Top 20'
Ozzie was able to convince ABC execs to agree to a ten-year contract and to pay the Nelson family whether the series was canceled or continued running. This type of contract didn’t exist at the time and it’s likely that because of this, Ozzie was extremely loyal and serious about his show. He knew that it was up to him to produce a show that America would love.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet premiered on ABC on October 10, 1952. At the time, ABC was a third-place network. Although the show's popularity, it never made it to the Top 20 in the Nielsen ratings for television shows. Despite that time slots were adjusted multiple times for the show, it never made it to the Top 20, until…
The Nelsons Would Have Still Won
By the time the show hit the TV screens, Ozzie and Harriet were already famous across the nation for being performers and radio stars. For this reason, Ozzie was able to negotiate a TV contract that has never been repeated since. Ozzie told ABC that they would bring the TV series to their network under one condition; that the network signs them on a 10-year contract.
The terms stated that if the show ended before the 10 years was up, ABC would still have to pay Ozzie, Harriet, and the rest of their family, for 10 full seasons of work. Although it was a risk for ABC, they had already witnessed the success that the family had on the radio and were ready to put themselves in a vulnerable position. They took the risk, which ended up being a very wise decision.
It turned out that Ozzie and Harriet weren't the only ones with musical talent in the family. By age 17, Ricky Nelson also began singing. He first sang in an episode of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" on April 10, 1957. The episode centers around Ricky who performs his take on“I’m Walkin," a song which quickly made its way to #17 on the Billboard charts.
Ricky's music became a safe and more innocent alternative to Elvis and briefly even sold more records than Presley. This reportedly didn’t bother the King of Rock and Roll as he himself was a big fan of the show. Burton, who played with Ricky, told Rolling Stone in 1986 that Elvis tuned into the TV show just so he could see them play at the end. Ultimately, Ricky secured a recording deal with Domino's label, Imperial Records. Can you imagine how this impacted the show?
Dad's the Boss Man
Ozzie noticed how Ricky's blossoming talents were benefiting the show. So, he decided to do what he was best at doing, taking control, and micromanaged every move his son made. This included deciding what songs he could record. In August 1958, Ricky released his single “Poor Little Fool,” which rapidly soared to number one on the Billboard charts. Ozzie felt that the song was a good representation of the family’s image.
Ozzie began to incorporate Ricky's singing into the show's scripts, as he realized that his son's singing could have a huge positive impact on the show and its ratings. Ricky easily became the nation's newest musical sensation. Every episode which featured his singing attracted the biggest audiences. At one point, Ricky performed for free at a Los Angeles high school, performing “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Crowds of screaming and excited teens greeted him.
Did Ozzie Take Advantage of His Kid's Talents?
In the pilot film that eventually led to the TV show, "Here Come the Nelsons," Ozzie's fictional character was described as an advertising executive who promotes women's underwear. When the TV show eventually launched, there was no reference to Ozzie working in advertising.
In fact, it became a running joke that Ozzie only left the Nelson home when he wanted to go out and get ice cream. Ricky’s real-life daughter, Tracy Nelson, wanted to clear up the confusion. She shared that Ozzie's character was actually a lawyer who graduated from Rutgers. You know, lawyers used to mostly work from home in those days... or not.
Ozzie Was Still Voted a Top TV Dad
Although Ozzie's TV character was far from being a role model, TV Guide nonetheless ranked him as #21 in the “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time” in their June 20, 2004 issue. The reason for this was that the show greatly resonated with fans in the 1950s and the early 1960s.
People across America considered the Nelsons to be a romanticized version of the 1950's nuclear family. However, Ozzie's character on screen often came up with poorly devised plans (to which his wife had to talk him out of) and was overly controlling of his children.
Box Office Success
Meanwhile, Ricky's reputation kept on growing. After launching his music career, he quickly made his way into the realm of film. The youngest Nelson performed opposite John Wayne and Dean Martin in the 1959 western movie, Rio Bravo. The trailer for the film showed Ricky playing his guitar and talking into the camera about the thrilling film.
Ricky proved himself successful in his silver screen debut and continued to star in other huge acting projects other than his family's show. He was in films "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" and "Love and Kisses" alongside Jack Lemmon and Jack Kelley, respectively. He also appeared in an episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries in which he sang a lot of his popular hits.
David Gets Married
In 1961, 25-year-old David married actress, June Blair. Their wedding ceremony was at the Forest Lawn Cemetery’s Church of the Hills. Naturally, Ricky served as his brother's best man. Because a lot of the scenes in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet were taken from the Nelsons’ real-life, June Blair was soon written into the show and became a regular cast member.
At that point in the show, David Nelson was attending law school and him and June moved into an apartment together. The lovebirds had their first child the next year, a son whom they named Daniel Blair Nelson. They had their second son, Jamie Eric Nelson, in 1966.
Kristin Was Already Pregnant
While David was off getting married, his younger brother Ricky began dating Kristin Harmon. Kristin was the daughter of Tom Harmon, a football-legend-turned-actor and actress Elyse Knox. There was no need for Ricky to ask for Kristin's parents' approval, as the Harmons and the Nelsons were family friends.
Prior to Kristin, Harriet had never approved of any of his girlfriends. Two years after dating, at the urging of Ozzie, the two wed on April 20, 1963. But, there was one particular reason why Ozzie was so eager for the pair to tie the knot so quickly and that's because Kristin was pregnant.
The "Shotgun Wedding"
Ozzie wanted to conceal the fact that Ricky and Kristin were getting married so quickly due to her being pregnant. Six months after their wedding, Kristin gave birth to their baby girl, Tracy Kristine Nelson. Ozzie was very adamant about his decision to announce that the baby was born premature.
He took this so far that he convinced the hospital to forge the baby's weight on the birth certificate. He even had the full-term infant photographed in an incubator. Ozzie was fully committed to his family's image and the public's perception of them.
By the ‘60s, American television started undergoing a major change along with the country's social climate. As writer and director, Ozzie needed to modify the show so as to keep appealing to its audience. Although Ricky was still introducing new songs on the show, Ozzie was no longer including this in every episode.
By 1965, Ricky's record sales even began to drop. The country was experiencing a major upheaval and Ricky's fresh-faced image was starting to impact the show negatively. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was no longer fitting with the ideals and values of the current era.
A Record-Breaking Show
On April 23, 1966, after a successful 22-year-run of broadcast, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet aired their last episode. For a long time, the show held the position as the longest American television sitcom which ran consistently. In 2016, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia tied with it after being renewed for a 13th and 14th season. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet held the record for the longest-running sitcom, but that ended with 'The Simpsons' in 2003.
The Nelsons made an extraordinary 435 episodes together. In comparison, there are 180 episodes of "Seinfeld." Peter Jones, the writer and director of a two-hour documentary. ''Ozzie and Harriet: The Adventures of America's Favorite Family" said that the Nelson's show "may have endured far longer because the Nelson family blurred the line between fiction and reality."
Mary Tyler Moore Appeared on the Show
In the early beginnings of television, there was often a major sponsor who helped make a television show possible. A major sponsor of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet during several episodes in the 1950s was Hotpoint. An opening was included before the start of the show with the product along with a young Mary Tyler Moore as a “Happy Hotpoint” dancing pixie.
Many years later, Mary Tyler Moore would star in her own show, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and she would become an even bigger celebrity than the Nelsons. Ozzie and Harriet welcomed many guest appearances to their show, but this perhaps was the biggest star of them all.
Outdoor vs. Indoor
If you were an avid Ozzie and Harriet fan throughout the series' run, then you were probably well aware that a lot of the TV show took place in the family kitchen. This was no coincidence. The show's main sponsor, Hotpoint, wanted to place its products directly in front of the show's audience. Later on in the series, there were more outdoor scenes. Once they were outside, the cameras around everyone's necks were from Kodak.
At this point in time, this was the extent of the capabilities of product placement. TV commercials and more strategic product placement wouldn't become a thing for years to come. Although the TV show was entirely about the family, the Nelsons depended largely on sponsors and thus where the family interacted was decided by some of the show's main sponsors.
Two Couples Were Played By the Same Actors
In later seasons of the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, actors Lyle Talbot and Mary Jane Croft played the married couple Joe and Clara Randolph. Fans loved the on-screen couple who appeared several times on the show. However, this wasn't their first time on the show.
They had an earlier appearance in the show when they played Harvey and Marion Burnette. The show's producers loved the duo's chemistry and brought them back for an expanded role with them playing the parts of new characters. In the early days of television, actors often played several roles.
Ozzie Nelson was driven by his career. After a long and successful run he passed away at the age of 69 in his San Fernando Valley Home. He suffered from recurring malignant tumors in his old age. He eventually died of liver cancer on June 3, 1975. Both Harriet and his two sons were by his side when he passed.
Harriet took her husband's death very hard and isolated herself from others after he passed. She did, however, agree to some guest appearances on shows like Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Happy Days. Her sons continued with their careers.
A Strange Garden Party
In 1971, Ricky Nelson performed at Madison Square Garden in a rock revival concert, the Richard Nader Oldies Concert. He was attempting to play his new songs for the crowd, but the crowd wasn't having it. They eventually booed him off stage when he performed The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.” The crowd wasn't so happy with Ricky's choice of clothing; specifically because of his long hair and style, which was very different from Little Ricky.
Although Ricky was a successful composer and rock star, he struggled to rid himself of the one-sided image that had on the show. Mr. Jones said he was a paradox. who didn't know how to be grown-up and was trapped by his television identity. Jones said that "he harbored that hurt for most of the rest of his life -- that he could not be accepted by his peers."
Kristin & Ricky Were Having Trouble
Ricky and his wife had a very rocky marriage, to put it best. In 1977, after 14 years of marriage and four children, their marriage was just about to become a thing of the past. There were several incidences that tore their marriage apart. At one point, Kristin moved Ricky out of their home and placed him into a rented house. She did this while he was on tour. He was left to discover this himself when he came home from the tour.
One month later, Kristin discovered Ricky in the bedroom with two cheerleaders from the Los Angeles Rams, which he claimed was set up. Although the couple eventually worked through their differences, Kristin still wanted to make their separation permanent and legal. In 1982, the couple finally divorced and Ricky received a tough blow when attorneys and accountants took more than $1 million from him.
Supposed Drug Use
The first time they filed for divorce, Ricky and Kristin reconciled. However, that didn't mean that things had improved. They were still in a very volatile marriage. Both sides made accusations against the other that they were engaging in drug and alcohol abuse. Both claimed each other to be lousy parents.
In 1987, Kristin confessed to People magazine that she made attempts to overcome the drug issues with Ricky. She shared that initially, the two were in it together. They would go on the road together and engage in drug abuse. After some time, the drugs completely messed them up and their marriage. Kristin started therapy and Ricky joined her for some time but eventually stopped coming. Kristin was in the fight alone.
Ricky's Downward Spiral
Ricky had an intense fear of flying, however, he was unwilling to travel by bus. These two things led him to purchase a private plane that apparently came with a history of mechanical issues. Not exactly the sort of plane you want to be flying in. In late December 1985, Ricky and his band embarked for their three-stop tour of the Southern U.S. On New Year’s Eve that year, the plane crashed straight into some trees northeast of Dallas, Texas. Ricky and six others died on the spot.
Rumors circulated that the crash came about due to drug use by Ricky or the crew, but the Civil Aeronautics Board, as well as other agencies, confirmed in an official report that the cause of the crash was likely due to an onboard heater which caught fire.
Did Cigarettes Kill Harriet?
We have already mentioned that Harriet Nelson became somewhat of a recluse after her husband Ozzie died. The death of her youngest son, Ricky, didn't help her emotional state. When asked if she was in “good spirits” in the early ‘90s, her eldest son David replied, “She hasn’t been in good spirits since dad died,” according to The Baltimore Sun.
Following their deaths, Harriet moved to the Nelson family beach home in Laguna Beach, California. Harriet suffered from emphysema in her later years, something which resulted from her smoking habits which began at age 13. On October 2, 1994, she passed away from congestive heart failure. She reportedly passed away peacefully in her sleep, with David at her side.
David Played the Role of a Killer
You are familiar that Ozzie and Harriet were both working hard on their show. Ricky, as well, was strongly invested in his music career. So where was David? Well, David's path took a more "normal" route. After he graduated from high school, he went to college at the University of Southern California. He even joined a fraternity there. During his family's TV show run, he was granted the opportunity to direct several episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
After the show came to an end, David continued to act. One of his most memorable performances was in The Big Circus, a 1959 thriller. In the film, David played Tommy Gordon, a young boy who is troubled and violent. He has also acted in Up and in Smoke and Cry-Baby.
He Had Other Projects
A long time after The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet came to an end, David wanted to revive his family's iconic show by producing a sequel to the show called Ozzie’s Girls. Ozzie's Girls premiered in September 1971. Ozzie’s Girls was set to follow the life of Ozzie and Harriet after their two sons had moved out of the house.
They rented out the boys' bedrooms to two college girls and most of the show’s plot involves the girls’ lives. David was the director of the series himself, but sadly, the show wasn't such a big hit. It never quite took off and after 24 half-hour episodes, it was canceled.
Ozzie Stayed Behind the Camera
After the short-lived sitcom Ozzie's Girls, Ozzie decided to stay behind the camera, and work as a producer and director. Ozzie's perceptive business skills assisted him in directing successful and iconic shows like Adam-12, The D.A., and Bridge Loves Bernie.
However, as a result of his battle with liver cancer, his post-acting days were short-lived. Cancer in the Nelson family was genetic, and it would soon take another family member's life as well.
David was the only survivor left of America's beloved Nelson family. On January 11, 2011, at the age of 74, David passed away at his Century City home after losing his battle with colon cancer at the age of 74. He was survived by his big family including his second wife, five children, and seven grandchildren. Although David’s parents and younger brother were buried in a family plot at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, David wanted to be buried in Westwood Memorial Park’s outdoor Garden of Serenity columbarium.
In an interview with Esquire, David reminisced about how difficult the show had been and how he’d even once punched through a wall during an argument on set. “It’s an awfully big load to carry, to be everyone’s fantasy family,” he said. “How long can you keep protecting that image and never let any of the outside world in?”
The Youngest Nelson Family Member
Although the Nelsons family became a mere memory of the past, their family drama was still very much alive and present. The youngest members of the Nelson family were now carrying around the burden of new family drama. When Ricky and Kristin divorced, their youngest son Sam was still just a preteen.
Kristin was dealing with her own personal struggles with drug abuse. Sam, as a result, had to deal with his mother's antics and constant ups and downs. He turned to his uncle, actor Mark Harmon, in a plea for help. However, this only heightened the drama.
The Ugly Custody Battle
After Sam called his uncle for help, Mark Harmon became worried about the state that Kristin was in. According to a story in People magazine, Mark thought that Kristin was "emotionally gone" and needed “to come in for a rest." Kristin reportedly agreed with her brother on that. Mark urged Kristin to let Sam stay with him and his wife.
Kristin felt like Mark was the only one who could have convinced her into doing this. She said that she heard a voice in her head urging her to accept help from somebody else. Kristin made the responsible decision to check herself into a rehab program called New Beginnings. According to Kristin the program helped her, however, her family wasn’t so quick to agree.
No Support for Kristin
Kristin's family was very supportive of her efforts to sober up from alcohol and substance abuse. However, they found it very difficult to help her as they claimed that she denied taking hard drugs. During a particular therapy session, the therapist asked Mark to give Kristin a hug, but he allegedly “jumped up irritable and ‘bolted’ from the premises.”
Kristin shared with People magazine that the Nelsons were the only people to witness and listen to her as a “bona fide human being.” During her time in rehab, Harriet Nelson was the only one to send her flowers and a card saying that she loves her. Kristin felt that she was the only one who believed in her sobriety.
The Case Was Taken to Court
The custody battle between Kristin and her brother Mark over young Sam was so brutal that they eventually were ordered to appear before a judge. Mark Harmon requested custody over Sam, under the premise that Kristin wasn't fit to raise him on her own. The trial was highly publicized.
Kristin appeared “dressed neatly and [wearing] a calm, pleasant expression throughout the proceedings,” answering rude and difficult questions with respect and class. According to People, “Mark scowled most of the time and icily ignored all reporters. By the end of Day One, the press had cast him as the heavy and Kris as the heroine, and the coverage next morning reflected the feeling.”
“Too Much Blood Has Been Spilled”
The trial got so intense to the point where Mark Harmon's wife, actress Pam Dawber was accused of being a drug addict herself. The trial was eventually called off on day three after those involved realized that it would be detrimental to their careers in show business to continue.
Mark apparently went up to Kristin’s attorney and said, “We don’t want to go any further with this. Too much blood has been spilled.” After word got out about this, people who watched the trial said things like, “They’re obviously more concerned about their own careers than they are about the boy’s welfare” and, “This was a typical family dispute and it should have been settled around the dining room table.”
Once the custody battle was over, Kristin maintained custody of her youngest son with Ricky. Uncle Mark Harmon was allotted visitation rights and Kris, Sam, and Mark all agreed to go to family therapy. As he grew older, Sam would appear as himself in documentaries about his family.
Nowadays, the internet reports that Sam is an actor. He reportedly started a band called H is Orange. He also has written two books called The Addict, which “cuts through gender, racial, and generational gaps to expose the cause of addictions,” and Quandles: An Introduction to the Algebra of Knots.
The Other Nelson Grandchildren
Not all of Ricky and Kristin's children were caught up in the family drama. Their first three kids all managed to escape much of the family drama since they were much older. Their first child, daughter Tracy Nelson, followed similarly in her family’s footsteps and became an actress.
She got started with her acting career before other people even start crawling, considering that at the age of three months old, she appeared on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. At the age of four, she was once again on television when she played in Yours, Mine and Ours as the daughter of Lucille Ball. She eventually went on to study ballet for 17 years and studied dance in college.
Tracy acted on the sitcom Square Pegs alongside Sarah Jessica Parker in the 1980's. She played the “valley girl” Jennifer DeNuccio. During this time, she experienced her breakthrough role in film after she starred in Paul Mazursky’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills. She gained more popularity after starring in The Father Dowling Mysteries, in which she played the role as Sister Stephanie.
As a member of television’s Nelson family, she would go on to guest star in other classic family sitcoms such as Family Ties, The Nanny, 7th Heaven, Melrose Place, Seinfeld, and St. Elsewhere. But eventually, Tracy's life would take a turn for the worse...
Just two years after the death of her father, Ricky, and shortly after she married actor Billy Moses, she began to feel weak. She had a dream in which her father told her "I know you miss me, but it’s not time for you to die. You have to go see a doctor". Unfortunately, in 1987, doctors found a small tumor in her chest, which turned out to be stage two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
She said that her illness was the result of stress over her youngest brother's custody battle. Although she was able to overcome the cancer, the radiation she was exposed to led her to develop another cancer years later. In 2005, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2005 and then breast cancer in 2010.
The Nelson Twins
Following Tracy's birth, Ricky and Kristin had identical twin boys in 1967, Gunnar and Matthew. Both boys inherited the musical talents from their grandparents Ozzie and Harriet and their father Ricky. For two years, they learned how to write songs and they met Los Angeles record producer Marc Tanner.
In 1989, they were signed to Geffen Records and their band, Nelson, became a hit. In 1990, their album After the Rain went triple platinum and promoted their most popular hit “Can’t Live Without Your Love and Affection.”
The Nelson Twins Band
Nelson was most popular during the 1990s. The metal and hard rock band made it into the Guinness Book of World Records after their hit “Love and Affection” reached number one on the charts. The Nelson family is the only family to have number one records in three successive generations in the same family.
Ozzie Nelson had a number one hit in 1934 with “And Then Some,” their father Ricky reached number one in the early ‘60s with “Poor Little Fool” and “Travelin’ Man,” and Nelson reached number one with “Love and Affection.”
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet had an amazingly long run on television, even after its last episode aired. From 1985 to 1994 the Disney Channel aired reruns of the TV series by way of an enhanced 35mm version of the show. The TV series then moved over to the Nostalgia TV Network and it currently can be found on the Retro Television Network.
Even San Bernardino, California’s PBS member station aired the series as late as May 2010 as part of its I Remember Television series.
The Nelson House Appeared on HBO's ‘Entourage’
The popular HBO series Entourage followed the life of Ari Gold, a Hollywood agent who was willing to do whatever it took to make money and create for himself a big name in Hollywood. Ari lived the typical Hollywood lifestyle. Even more than that, he did so inside of Ozzie and Harriet’s home!
In the picture above you can see a part of Ari’s home, the very same house that Ozzie and Harriet raised their children in years before. The photo above was taken in 2005. If you remember, this was 8 years before the home was renovated and later resold to another family.
ABC’s Mistakes Allowed the Show to Remain on the Air
Ozzie's choice to approach ABC resulted in it becoming the longest-running sitcom of its time and actually brought the network out of its slump. Before the show, it was struggling to keep up with NBC and CBS. Still, many people felt that it should have ended in the 1950s since it didn’t mix well with the new decade of thicker and more interesting plotlines, as well as color TV.
Peter Jones who wrote and directed the two-hour documentary, ''Ozzie and Harriet: The Adventures of America's Favorite Family” had much to say about the reasons for the show’s success. He attributed the show’s success to America's need for a new family image. Americans could relate to this family and they came to life in each and every family’s home. For that reason, it went on to become the longest-running family sitcom in the history of television.
The Show Was Sold for a Very Cheap Price
You will probably remember that Ozzie Nelson signed a 10-year contract with ABC before the show went on air. However, money wasn't Ozzi's only motive for doing this. To keep The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet on television sets throughout the United States, Ozzie offered the TV show to ABC at a very big discount.
As a control freak, it has long been thought that Ozzie wanted to continually expand his family franchise while managing the lives of his family members. Well, his well-devised plan proved to be successful and it eventually ran for a strong 14 seasons on television after an already long run on radio.
The Nelsons' Comic Book
During the time of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, popular TV and radio shows were often turned into comic books. Well, Ozzie and Harriet's family were captured perfectly by the team at DC Comics. As their radio audience was increasing, the team at DC Comics created five comic issues of the show using its namesake.
It's still possible to find copies of the comic books on the internet. If you have listened to the radio show or seen the TV series, then the comic books will feel very familiar to you since it tells the Nelson family's story that many fans grew to love.
The Show Is Now Public Domain
A majority of the episodes before 1964 are no longer available to the public, except for Ricky Nelson’s musical performance episodes which The Rick Nelson Company, LLC still owns. Due to its public domain status, the TV series has been released by various companies, including Alpha Video and Mill Creek Entertainment.
If you would like to check out the TV series, then it's very easy to tune in and get to know the pure, and often ridiculous, antics of the Nelson family. And if you’re currently a Mark Harmon fan, it’s a great way to check out his family’s history.