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The show began as a radio series in 1944. David Nelson and Ricky Nelson were played by professional actors, because the Nelsons' sons were too young, but by 1949 the real David and Ricky were part of the show. In 1952 the show became a television series. 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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