The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was the original family sitcom, both figuratively and literally. Ozzie and Harriet were married in real life, their sons played themselves on the series, and Ozzie was the show’s creator, director and main writer. It is also television’s longest-running sitcom: it lasted for 14 years in prime time and racked up an astonishing 435 episodes.
In the 1930’s, Oswald “Ozzie” Nelson led a popular dance band that featured his wife Harriet as its singer. ‘Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra’ was a popular attraction and supplemented its busy performance schedule by recording albums and making appearances in films and on radio. The latter medium opened up a new opportunity for Ozzie and Harriet when they created a radio show called The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a gentle domestic comedy in which they played themselves. Their sons David and Ricky were also included as characters but were initially played by child actors. However, five years into the show’s run, the real David and Ricky stepped up to the mic to play themselves. The show would continue its radio run until 1954, and during this period, the Nelson family also played themselves in a film, 1950’s Here Come The Nelsons.
In 1952, ABC began airing a television show based on the radio series. It followed the same format, and the family members continued to play themselves. Storylines were simple and focused on domestic life, following the real-life model of the Nelson family as much as possible. Additional color was added by a variety of supporting characters, including Thorny Thornberry, a holdover from the radio show. Thornberry was a neighbor with a habit of giving bad advice to Ozzie at the worst possible time. Other members of the supporting cast included Joe and Clara Randolph and Doc Williams.
Although showbiz vets Ozzie and Harriet were the title attractions, the real draw for many viewers was the boys. Over the years, the show’s viewers got to watch David and Ricky grow up, becoming the American viewing public’s surrogate children. Of course, the boys also added heartthrob appeal for the teenage girls, ignited when Ricky began to sing rock and roll tunes on the show. This led to a parallel recording career for Ricky, who he would record several big-selling singles like “I’m Walkin’,” “Travelin’ Man” and “Poor Little Fool.” All of his songs were featured on the show, either in the episode itself or as a stand-alone attraction tacked onto the end of the episode. Thus, the records had an ideal promotional vehicle, and Ricky’s success as a rock and roller created excellent free publicity for the show.
As the show progressed, the boys grew older and became men. The show documented both their transition from high school to college and the transition from college to the working world. David would become a lawyer and Rick (no longer “Ricky”) would work part-time at the same office as a clerk. The show’s unique relationship between real life and the character’s lives was maintained when David and Rick each got married in real life, and their wives, June and Kris, became characters on the show. After 14 successful years, the show ended in 1966 with an episode where Ozzie bought a pool table and considered turning the boys’ old bedroom into a rec room, only to run into stern opposition from Harriet.
The show is still remembered fondly by viewers today for the positive, idealistic spin it put on the American dream. It also presented a testament to the power of television by making the maturing process of David and Ricky a part of the lives of viewers everywhere. Ozzie Nelson attempted to revive the format in 1973 with Ozzie’s Girls, a short-lived sitcom in which the Nelsons rented out the boys’ old room to a pair of college girls. Rick continued to have a successful music career after the show and had another big hit in 1972 with the song “Garden Party,” but most folks will always remember the Nelsons as America’s original TV family.
The final 26 episodes were filmed in colour.
Ricky Nelson actually became a big pop star during the shows run.
USA / ABC – Stage Five / 435×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 3 October 1952 – 3 September 1966 black and white
Producer: Ozzie Nelson
OZZIE NELSON as Ozzie
HARRIET HILLIARD NELSON as Harriet
DAVID NELSON as David
RICK NELSON as Rick
JUNE NELSON as June NELSON (1961-1966)
CHRIS NELSON as Chris
DON DEFORE as ‘Thorny Thornton (1952-1958)
PARLEY BAER as Darby (1955-1961)
LYLE TALBOT as Joe Randolph (1956-1966)
MARY JANE CROFT as Clara Randolph (1956-1966)
FRANK CADY as Doc Williams (1954-1965)
SKIP YOUNG as Wally (1957-1966)
GORDON JONES as Butch Barton (1958-1960)
JAMES STACEY as Fred (1958-1964)
JOE FLYNN as Mr Kelly (1960-1962)
CONSTANCE HARPER as Connie Edwards (1960-1966)
JACK WAGNER as Jack (1961-1966)
CHARLENE SALERNO as Ginger (1962-1965)
IVAN BONAR as Dean Hopkins (1964-1966)
GREG DAWSON as Greg (1965-1966)
SEAN MORGAN as Sean (1965-1966)