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Widower Steve Douglas raises three sons with the help of his father-in-law, and is later aided by the boys' great-uncle. An adopted son, a stepdaughter, wives, and another generation of sons join the loving family in later seasons.
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Ricky Nelson's launch as a rock star on this series is an interesting tale. He was already musically talented, having inherited his ability from his parents. As rock-n-roll was starting to grow and Ricky's interest in the music grew, he kept asking father Ozzie Nelson to let him play on the show. Initially, Ozzie resisted until he realized that it was an opportunity to take advantage of Ricky's growth as a "teen idol" and would thereby help the show's popularity. Ricky first sang a cover of Fats Domino's "I'm Walking" on the episode "Ricky the Drummer" and soon afterward more episodes were tailored around showcasing Ricky's talents. However, not everyone was pleased with his foray into Rock-n-Roll. Most parents in America were still concerned that rock would be a bad influence on their children and many wrote letters to Ozzie and Harriet Hilliard protesting their allowing their son to take part in the music. The Nelsons dealt with the furor by injecting moments in the episodes in which Ozzie and/or Harriet would offer a sound and practical reasoning for supporting their son's music. With that, the furor died down and Ricky went on to become a major rocker with hits like "It's Late", "Traveling Man" and "Hello, Mary Lou". See more »
On screen, Ozzie may have been something of a good-natured fuddle, but off he had to be one sharp cookie. Lawyer, band-leader, producer, director, writer, actor, plus 13-year old Eagle Scout, that perpetual grin hid one talented guy. Then too, those Eagle Scout ideals fit in perfectly with the post-war period. From 1952-66, the show came into a ton of homes, mine included. It was a time when families were getting back together after a bad economy, a big war in Europe, plus a little one in Korea. Family life was treasured, and with any luck it gathered around a new-fangled TV in an expanding suburb. A very different time from now, one of expanding prosperity and opportunity.
One thing you knew when you tuned in, it would be a "wholesome" half-hour. Nothing controversial or serious. For better or worse, never anything about politics, sexual innuendo, or the outside world. Typically, it might be Oz trying to get his lawn-mower back from neighbor Thorny (DeFore) who doesn't want to move his car. True, it was a series basically about nothing. But the entries were nearly always amusing. Maybe not hilarious, but always worth a few head- nodding chuckles. Yes, life's trivial little problems could be entertaining if you were a gifted Ozzie Nelson.
Of course, Harriet was a big part of the humorous situations, always a voice of calm and good sense. Maybe vaguely amused by Oz's latest half-digested scheme. Wisely, I think, the show reserved any ditsy elements for neighbors or friends, a proved formula over the decades. That way the characters could drop in or out as needed. Importantly, however, characters like Clara Randolph (Croft) may be on the ditsy side but they were never exaggerated or mocked. Then too, except for sinister types, it looks like about every supporting player in Hollywood was on the show at one time or another.
At first, the boys-- a reliable David and a wise-cracking Ricky, oops! I mean Rick (as he preferred)-- blended in and out as junior members. But as they grew, the boys became more central, proving adept at the series low-key style. Then, of course, Rick became a teen R&R idol, a real risk for the show, given R&R's controversial influence on teens. Still, Oz proved as adept at handling that touchy phase as any other. In fact, many of us sort of grew up with Dave and Rick. But, I agree with others. Once the boys married, the show had outlived its appeal. Then too, times were changing. By 1966, Vietnam was heating up and so was the youth counter-culture, while a groundbreaking "All In The Family" (1971-79) and a very different kind of TV dad were only a few years off. An era had indeed ended.
Sure, in our own lid-is-off times, the show would likely never fly. For better or worse, it was very much an idealized reflection of its time. I recall even reading about folks who were unhappy because their family was not at all like the Nelsons. In a sense, as entertaining as they were, the TV Nelsons did exist in a societal vacuum, an ideal embodiment of that era. Still, I'm not at all sure that we're better off without it. I do regret, however, that Ozzie never appeared to get the industry recognition his low-key talent deserved. But then that sort of thing never does have a time limit.
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