Harriet Nelson with husband Ozzie, 1964
|Born||Peggy Louise Snyder
July 18, 1909
Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.
|Died||October 2, 1994
Laguna Beach, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Congestive heart failure|
|Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills|
|Other names||Harriet Hilliard|
|Spouse(s)||Ozzie Nelson (m. 1935; died 1975)|
|Children||David Nelson (1936-2011)
Ricky Nelson (1940-1985)
|Relatives||Tracy Nelson (granddaughter)
Matthew Nelson (grandson)
Gunnar Nelson (grandson)
Sam Nelson (grandson)
Early life and career
She was born Peggy Louise Snyder in Des Moines, Iowa, the daughter of Hazel Dell (née McNutt) and Roy Hilliard Snyder. She appeared on the vaudeville stage when she was three years old and made her debut on Broadway in her teens.
She frequented the Cotton Club, began smoking at age 13, was briefly married to an abusive comedian and lived what has been described as "a high-flying life". She left high school before graduating and joined the Corps de Ballet at the Capitol Theater, later dancing in the Harry Carroll Revue and working as a straight woman for comedians Ken Murray and Bert Lahr. By 1932, she was still performing in vaudeville when she met the saxophone-playing bandleader Ozzie Nelson. Nelson hired her to sing with the band, under the name Harriet Hilliard. They married three years later.
Hilliard had a respectable film career as a solo performer, apart from the band. RKO Radio Pictures signed her to a one-year contract in 1936, and she appeared in three feature films, the most famous being the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical Follow the Fleet. She was very much in demand during the World War II years for leading roles in escapist musicals, comedies, and mysteries.
In Ozzie Nelson's book, he wrote that Harriet was quite popular during the short time at RKO and they wanted her to continue her solo film career, but decided that it was more important for her to continue with the band and subsequent radio show.
Although the couple occasionally appeared together in movies, either as a duo (in Honeymoon Lodge) or as separate characters (in Hi, Good Lookin'), they are best known for their broadcasting efforts. In 1944, the Nelsons began a domestic-comedy series for radio, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. It was highly popular and made a successful transition to television. It was one of the stalwarts of the ABC-TV schedule from 1952 to 1966. The Nelsons' two sons, Ricky and David, were featured continuously on the show. She was included in Yahoo!'s Top 10 TV Moms from Six Decades of Television for the time period 1952-1966. Peter Jones, director of the television documentary Ozzie and Harriet: The Adventures of America's Favorite Family, has described Harriet Nelson: "She was a bombshell. She liked gay people. She liked a good off-color joke. She enjoyed her cocktails at night. She had the talent to go on and be a big star, but she made that decision to be Ozzie's wife."
She married bandleader Ozzie Nelson in 1935. They had two sons, David (born in 1936) and Eric (known as Ricky, born in 1940). The couple remained married until Ozzie's death from liver cancer in 1975. Her grandchildren include actress Tracy Nelson and musicians Matthew and Gunnar Nelson. She was also the former mother-in-law of Kristin Harmon and June Blair.
Later years and death
In 1978, Harriet Nelson moved full-time to the Laguna Beach, California beach home the family had built in 1954. She died of congestive heart failure on October 2, 1994. She is interred with her husband and younger son Ricky (who died in a plane crash) in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles.
|1932||The Campus Mystery||Wanda Perry|
|1936||Follow the Fleet||Connie Martin|
|1937||New Faces of 1937||Patricia "Pat" Harrington|
|1937||The Life of the Party||Mitzi Martos|
|1938||Cocoanut Grove||Linda Rogers|
|1941||Sweetheart of the Campus||Harriet Hale||Alternative title: Broadway Ahead|
|1941||Confessions of Boston Blackie||Diane Parrish|
|1942||Canal Zone||Susan Merrill|
|1942||Juke Box Jenny||Genevieve Horton|
|1943||Hi, Buddy||Gloria Bradley|
|1943||The Falcon Strikes Back||Gwynne Gregory|
|1943||Gals, Incorporated||Gwen Phillips||Alternative title: Gals, Inc.|
|1943||Honeymoon Lodge||Lorraine Logan|
|1944||Hi, Good Lookin'!||Kelly Clark|
|1944||Take It Big||Jerry Clinton|
|1952||Here Come the Nelsons||Harriet||Alternative title: Meet the Nelsons|
|1952–1966||The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet||Harriet Nelson||434 episodes|
|1969–1973||Love, American Style||3 episodes|
|1972||Night Gallery||Helena Millikan||Episode: "You Can Come Up Now, Mrs. Millikan/Smile, Please"|
|1973||Ozzie's Girls||Harriet Nelson||24 episodes|
|1976||Once an Eagle||Harriet Nelson||Miniseries|
|1976||Smash-Up on Interstate 5||June Pearson||Television movie|
|1977||NBC Special Treat||Elderly shopkeeper||Episode: "Five Finger Discount"|
|1977||The Love Boat||Henretta McDonald||Episode: "The Identical Problem/Julie's Old Flame/Jinx"|
|1978||Fantasy Island||Winnie McLaine||Episode: "The Over the Hill Caper/Poof! You're a Movie Star"|
|1979||Death Car on the Freeway||Mrs. Sheel||Television movie|
|1979||A Christmas for Boomer||Television movie|
|1981||Aloha Paradise||Episode: "Best of Friends/Success/Nine Karats"|
|1982||Happy Days||Marge||Episode: "Empty Nest"|
|1982||The First Time||Charlotte||Television movie|
|1983||The Kid with the 200 I.Q.||Professor Conklin||Television movie|
|1987||Time Out for Dad||Mary McLaughlin||Television movie|
|1989||Father Dowling Mysteries||Sister Agnes||Episode: "The Man Who Came to Dinner Mystery"|
- "Harriet Hilliard". NY Times. Retrieved 2011-05-02.
- "Harriet Nelson, 85, Matriarch Of 'Ozzie and Harriet' Show". The New York Times. 1994-10-04. Retrieved 24 March 2011.
- [dead link]
- Weinraub, Bernard (18 June 1998). "Dousing the Glow Of TV's First Family; Time for the Truth About Ozzie and Harriet". New York Times. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
- Folkart, Burt A., and Dennis Mc Lellan (4 October 1994). "Harriet Nelson, '50s model mother, dies at age 85". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
- Adair, Aly (February 27, 2009). "Top 10 Favorite TV Moms". Yahoo!. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
- "Memories of Life With Ozzie". Nashua Telegraph. Los Angeles Times News Service. September 1, 1981. p. 29.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Harriet Nelson.|
- Harriet Nelson at the Internet Movie Database
- Harriet Nelson at Find a Grave
- Iowa Rock'n Roll Music Association 2007 Hall of Fame Inductee