The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was the longest running Fifties sitcom in history about idealized family life. What’s more, it was a real family planting unreal expectations in the heads of post-war audiences.
The Set Up
The TV Ozzie seemed not to have much of a day job, and he was always around to weigh in on the strictly featherweight life challenges of his family. These mostly had to do with lending his car keys or advising the boys about girls.
Harriet seemed to spend most of her time in the kitchen clad in an apron. She usually emerged long enough to apply some common sense antidotes to the sometimes wacky ideas of Ozzie, David, and Ricky.
While Ozzie and Harriet had been on the radio dating back to the 1940s, the television series aired from 1952 to 1966. So, viewers literally got to see David and Ricky grow up on screen. David was 16 in 1952, and Ricky was 12. When the show went off the air, David was 30 and Rick was 26. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet came to include the sons’ marriages, wives, children, and Rick’s music career.
The Early Years
Ozzie Nelson came into this world as Oswald George Nelson on March 20, 1906, in Jersey City, New Jersey, and died on June 3, 1975, in Hollywood, California. In his 69 years, he idolized his father of Swedish descent, who also dabbled in show business.
He went on to graduate from Rutgers with both bachelor’s a law degrees, having also played football. Along the way, he also started a band to make extra money. Turns out it was the band that displaced the practice of law during the Great Depression.
Harriet Hilliard’s (Harriet Nelson’s) name at birth was Peggy Lou Snyder, born on July 18, 1909, in Des Moines, Iowa. She died on October 2, 1994 at the age of 85. Peggy took the stage name Harriet Hilliard when she began performing in vaudeville in the early 1930s. She married Ozzie Nelson in 1935 and they changed her stage name to Harriet Nelson.
Harriet went to Hollywood and appeared in at least one popular movie with Ginger Rogers, who became a life-long friend. But it was her talent as a singer that led to meeting Ozzie. She sang for his band, and they eventually married.
The Show Emerges
Harriet later appeared on radio and television as the conservative wife and mother. However, before meeting Ozzie, she had smoked, drank alcohol (which Ozzie avoided), and had gone through a divorce.
The two participated in the music portion of a Red Skelton radio program until Red entered World War II. Ozzie was too old to serve, and the couple had done sketches with Skelton around family life. Ozzie sought and secured their own radio program in 1944 as the first Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. They first employed actors to play the parts of David and Ricky, but the real brothers began appearing by 1949.
As a sort of pilot, the Nelsons floated their first movie, Here Come the Nelsons, in 1951, directed by Fred de Cordova. (De Cordova later ran The Tonight Show, Starring Johnny Carson.) The film succeeded in landing them a series on the fledgling ABC TV Network. Ozzie was a shrewd businessman all his life, and secured a 10-year deal with himself as writer, director, and producer.
Unlike his tentative, sometimes bumbling TV persona, Nelson ran a tight ship and was a perfectionist. Despite the sanitized story lines, Ozzie strove for reality in many ways. The show always opened with a picture of their real house, with interior scenes shot at the studio to closely resemble the actual rooms in their home. Also, as the real family evolved, Ozzie incorporated those changes into the show. This probably had the effect of lending credibility to the viewing public.
- Year Started: 1952
- Year Ended: 1966
- Origin Of Name: Descriptive
- Location Sales: United States
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: The Nelson Family
- Owner While In Use: The Nelson Family
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Modern Family
- Naics Code: 512110
- Location Headquarters: Los Angeles, California USA