The Nelson Kids
For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on the Astound TV Network with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.
In an earlier blog entry we examined the lead characters in the popular, long-running 1950s and early 60s television family sitcom, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet program.
But the Nelson children had an interesting history as well!
Ozzie Nelson was an orchestra leader who sometimes teamed with Harriet (born Peggy Lou Snyder) for events before both were asked to appear at the same time on a national radio show called “The Baker’s Broadcast” in the early 1930s. One of the initial hosts of the show was Robert Ripley (remember “Ripley’s ‘Believe It or Not?“)
Ozzie and Harriet married in 1935 and decided, as opposed to continuing to work independently, they would see more of each other by working the same gigs. After appearing on some of the top radio programs in the 1940s, included “The Red Skelton Show,” “The Fred Allen Show” and “Suspense,” which led to their own radio vehicle.
When Skelton was drafted in 1944, Ozzy was left to create his own family situation comedy on Red’s program, giving him valuable experience he would need a couple years later to develop his own television show. It was there that Nelson “created” a pair of boys for his radio family.
Contrary to popular belief, Ozzie and Harriet did NOT use their real sons at the start of the program. Instead they auditioned many established child actors for the part, hoping to keep their real children out of show business–at least initially.
Using the names of his real-life children, Ozzie hired Henry Blair to play the role of “Ricky.” The role of “David” was shared by Joel Davis and then later Tommy Bernard for the first five seasons of their radio program.
Itching to get into show business, the “real” Ricky and David persuaded their parents to let them take over “their” roles during the fifth season of the radio program in 1949.
When the show made the jump to television in October 1952, the entire family was on board.
By 1957, Ricky had become one of the most sought after heartthrobs on television–it is widely believed that the first use of the term “teen idol” was used for him. During the show’s run, they frequently featured Ricky’s singing talents and he launched a very successful singing career, placing 53 songs on Billboards “Top 100” charts during his career.
David, meanwhile, preferred to hone his acting skills and accepted more dramatic roles in films, starting with the 1959’s thriller, The Big Circus. He also showed an interest in directing, manning several later episodes of “Ozzie and Harriet” and eventually directed motion pictures.
Many of the “kids” real-life stories were used as the basis of “The Adventures…” episodes’ plots. As both Ricky and David got older and married (Kristin Harmon and June Blair, respectively), their wives then joined the cast as well.
In all, the series would go on for a record-setting 14-year sojourn on television alone and all four family members would become household names–which didn’t exactly sit well with Rick (who tried to shed his childhood persona by dropping the “y” from his first name).
As time wore on, Rick looked to move past his wholesome image of the “Ozzie and Harriet” days and be taken seriously as a rock-and-roll performer of later 1960s and 1970s style music, but many fans of the television show wanted to hear his hits made famous during the 1950s program.
One one occasion at Madison Square Garden, when Rick insisted on playing more modern music, “oldies” fans booed him off the stage. The humiliating experience inspired Rick to write the song “Garden Party,” which ended up being his final hit song, placing 6th on the pop charts.
Rick died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1985. He was just 45.
David continued to act and direct films until making his last appearance in the 1990 film, Cry Baby. He was honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame for his contributions to the motion picture industry in 1996. In 2011, David died at the age of 74 from colon cancer.
You can revisit the Nelson children in their early years in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which airs weekly on Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m and Wednesday mornings at 9am on ATVN.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on the Astound TV Network, check out the weekly listings here.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.