Ozzie Nelson

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Ozzie Nelson
Ozzie and Harriet Nelson 1964.JPG
Nelson and wife Harriet Hilliard
Born Oswald George Nelson
(1906-03-20)March 20, 1906
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
Died June 3, 1975(1975-06-03) (aged 69)
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Liver cancer
Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills
Education Ridgefield Park High School
Alma mater Rutgers University
Rutgers School of Law–Newark
Occupation Actor, band leader, television producer and director
Spouse(s) Harriet Hilliard (m. 1935–75)
Children David Nelson (1936-2011)
Ricky Nelson (1940-1985)
Relatives Tracy Nelson (granddaughter)
Matthew Nelson (grandson)
Gunnar Nelson (grandson)
Sam Nelson (grandson)

Oswald George "Ozzie" Nelson (March 20, 1906 – June 3, 1975) was an American band leader, actor, television director and producer. Nelson originated and starred in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a radio and long-running television series with his wife Harriet and two sons David and Ricky Nelson.[1]

Early life[edit]

The second son of George Waldemar and Ethel Irene (née Orr) Nelson, Nelson was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. His paternal grandparents were Swedish and his mother was of English descent. Nelson was raised in Ridgefield Park where he was active in Scouting, earning the rank of Eagle Scout at age 13. He played football at Ridgefield Park High School as well as during his college years at Rutgers University. He was a member of the Cap and Skull fraternity,[2] and entered Rutgers School of Law–Newark. As a student he made pocket money playing saxophone in a band and coaching football. During the Depression, he turned to music as a full-time career.

Career[edit]

Music[edit]

Nelson started his entertainment career as a band leader. He formed and led the Ozzie Nelson Band, and had some initial limited success. He made his own "big break" in 1930. The New York Daily Mirror ran a poll of its readers to determine their favorite band. He knew that news vendors got credit from the newspaper for unsold copies by returning the front page and discarding the rest of the issue. Gathering hundreds of discarded newspapers, the band filled out ballots in their favor. They edged out Paul Whiteman and were pronounced the winners.

From 1930 through the 1940s, Nelson's band recorded prolifically—first on Brunswick (1930–1933), then Vocalion (1933–1934), then back to Brunswick (1934–1936), Bluebird (1937–1941), Victor (1941) and finally back to Bluebird (1941-through the 1940s). Nelson's records were consistently popular and in 1934 Nelson enjoyed success with his hit song, "Over Somebody Else's Shoulder" which he introduced. Nelson was their primary vocalist and (from August 1932) featured in duets with his other star vocalist, Harriet Hilliard. Nelson's calm, easy vocal style was popular on records and radio and quite similar to son Rick's voice and Harriet's perky vocals added to the band's popularity.

In 1935, Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra had a number one hit with "And Then Some", which was number one for one week on the U.S. pop singles chart. Ozzie Nelson composed several songs, including "Wave the Stick Blues", "Subway", "Jersey Jive", "Swingin' on the Golden Gate", and "Central Avenue Shuffle".

In October 1935 he married the band's vocalist Harriet Hilliard. The couple had two children. David (1936–2011), became an actor and director. Eric ("Ricky") (1940–1985), became an actor and singer.

Films[edit]

The Nelson family; (clockwise from top) David, Ricky, Ozzie and Harriet, 1952

Ozzie Nelson appeared with his band in feature films and short subjects of the 1940s, and often played speaking parts, displaying a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor (as in the 1942 musical Strictly in the Groove). He shrewdly promoted the band by agreeing to appear in soundies, three-minute musical movies shown in "film jukeboxes" of the 1940s. In 1952, when he and his family were established as radio and TV favorites, they starred in a feature film, Here Come the Nelsons (which actually doubled as a "pilot" for the TV series).

Radio and television[edit]

In the 1940s, Nelson began to look for a way to spend more time with his family, especially his growing sons. Besides band appearances, he and Harriet had been regulars on Red Skelton's radio show.[3] He developed and produced his own radio series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.[4] The show went on the air in 1944, with their sons played by actors until 1949, and in 1952 it moved over to television (the radio version continued for another two years). The show starred the entire family, and America watched Ozzie and Harriet raise their boys. Nelson was producer and co-writer of the entire series. He was very hands-on and involved with every aspect of the radio and then TV program.

His last television show was in the fall of 1973 and entitled Ozzie's Girls, and lasted for a year. Syndicated only, the premise was Ozzie and Harriet renting their sons' former room to two college girls (one caucasian, one African American), and concerned the Nelsons' efforts at adjusting to living with two young women, after having raised two sons.

Personal life[edit]

Cultural historians have noted that the on-screen character was very different from the real-life Ozzie Nelson, who has been characterized as an authoritarian figure who monitored every aspect of his children's lives.[5] In 1998, A&E broadcast a documentary entitled Ozzie and Harriet: The Adventures of America's Favorite Family, which depicted Ozzie Nelson as a dictatorial personality who "thwarted his sons, preventing them from attending college and reminding them that they were obliged to work on television".[6] Author David Halberstam has written, "the Nelsons arguably were a dysfunctional family. In real life, Ozzie was a workaholic who stole his sons' childhood (by having them grow up in show business)".[7]

Death[edit]

In 1973, Ozzie Nelson published his autobiography, Ozzie, (Prentice Hall, 1973, ISBN 0-13-647768-2). He suffered from recurring malignant tumors in his later years, and died of liver cancer. He died at his home in the San Fernando Valley at 4:30 a.m. on June 3, 1975, with his wife and sons at his bedside. Services were held at the Church of the Hills at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, California on Friday, June 6.[8] He is interred with his wife and son (and pop singer) Ricky in the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. David Nelson was cremated, and chose not to be interred in the Nelson family plot, instead choosing a niche in Westwood Memorial Park's outdoor Garden of Serenity columbarium.

For his contribution to the television industry, Ozzie Nelson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6555 Hollywood Boulevard. He has an additional star with his wife at 6260 Hollywood Boulevard for their contribution to radio.

Selected filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1941 Sweetheart of the Campus Ozzie Norton
1942 Strictly in the Groove Ozzie Nelson
1943 Honeymoon Lodge Ozzie Nelson, Band Leader Credited as Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra
1944 Wave-a-Stick Blues Ozzie Nelson
1946 People Are Funny Ken
1952 Here Come the Nelsons Ozzie Nelson
1952-1966 The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Ozzie Nelson 435 episodes
Director, producer, writer
1956 Fireside Theater Dr. Phil Dunning Episode: "Shoot the Moon"
1965 The Bob Cummings Show Ozzie Nelson Episode: " Bob Becomes a Stage Uncle"
1965 Love and Kisses
Screenwriter, producer
1968 The Impossible Years Dr. Herbert J. Fleischer
1968 The Mothers-In-Law Ossie Snick/Owen Sinclair/Ossie Snick Episode: "Didn't You Use to Be Ozzie Snick?"
1971 Adam-12 Ted Clover Episode: "The Grandmothers"
1972 Night Gallery Henry Millikan Episode: "You Can Come Up Now, Mrs. Millikan/Smile, Please"
1973 Ozzie's Girls Ozzie Nelson 24 episodes
Producer, director
1973 Love, American Style Dan Segment: "Love and the Unmarriage"
1973 Bridget Loves Bernie
Director, 3 episodes

Listen to[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Ozzie Nelson". NY Times. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  2. ^ "Skulls of 1927". Rutgers University. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  3. ^ Hyatt, Wesley, ed. (2004). A Critical History of Television's The Red Skelton Show, 1951–1971. McFarland & Co. p. 190. ISBN 0-7864-1732-3. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  4. ^ Adir, Karin, ed. (2001). The Great Clowns of American Television. McFarland & Company. p. 270. ISBN 0-7864-1303-4. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  5. ^ Felder, Deborah G. (1999). A Century of Women: The Most Influential Events in Twentieth-Century Women's History. Secaucus NJ: Carol Publishing. p. 198. ISBN 1-55972-485-4. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Van Matre, Lynn (22 June 1993). "Back To The '50's With David Halberstam". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 3 November 2013. 
  8. ^ United Press International, "Ozzie Nelson Dies, 69", Playground Daily News, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Volume 30, Number 101, page 9A.

External links[edit]