Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rant #423: Full Nelson

Amid all the snow we had in the Northeast yesterday, word came over the wire that David Nelson, the oldest of the Nelson brothers who rose to fame on the "Ozzie and Harriet" sitcom, had passed away. Nelson, in his 70s, suffered from colon cancer.

No other show epitomized the phony smugness of the U.S. in the 1950s as did "Ozzie and Harriet." The show, which started on radio in the early 1950s, starred former bandleader (and future star-maker) Ozzie Nelson, his wife, former band singer Harriet Nelson, and the two Nelson boys, Rick and David.

The show purported to show typical days in the life of the Nelson clan, and many of the episodes were based on the Nelsons' own experiences. Everything was white pocket fence-like, and seemingly the worst thing that could happen on the show was that the boys were stood up by girls they were dating.

The show, which ran on TV into the mid 1960s, really was the original show about nothing. Nobody knew what Ozzie supposedly did for a living, but he always wore the required sweater, even in the hot California sun. Harriet was the bellwether of the family, while Rick and David grew up before our eyes.

The family had music running in its veins, and as Rick grew up, pop Ozzie saw something in him that he decided to mold into something marketable--and he did it to the Nth degree. Rick became one of the first rock and roll idols, and had an incredible recording career that lasted into the 1970s and probably would have continued to this day if he didn't die mysteriously in a plane crash (was he freebasing cocaine?) in 1985.

David was another story. Always portrayed as the more scholarly of the two boys on the show, David lived up to that portrayal pretty much in his own real life. He also tried music, but it simply didn't work with him, and he knew it early on. He got into writing and directing, and many of the later episodes of the show were either written or directed by him.

He also expanded his acting skills appearing in numerous movies well into the mid 1970s, when he decided that directing was his niche.

He was the last surviving member of the original Nelson clan, and while he wasn't the teen idol his brother was, his incredible body of work is pretty much readily available. As long as there are TVs, the Nelsons will have a place in its history.

(Just as an aside, I will be undergoing some routine tests on my eyes tomorrow morning, so my next post will be on Monday. See you then.)


  1. Somewhere in the land beyond this thing we call life Harriet is saying "Ozzie, David is home."

  2. Yes, I am sure you are right about that!

  3. I must have missed this news. I used to watch the show all the time and enjoyed listening to Rick sing. Of course, looking back now we can see how unreal many of the episodes were--no one has that perfect of a life. I think the same holds true of many of the shows that were on TV during that time period. We were only supposed to see the good side of life. RIP David Nelson

  4. Yes, it was the 1950s that the entertainment industry wanted us to see. That being said, the shows of that era are generally well crafted and the comedy continues to be funny today. Sorry, I don't think the majority of today's sitcoms will be funny 40 years from now. They generally aren't funny now, so how can they be funny down the road?



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