Oswald George Nelson (March 20, 1906 – June 3, 1975) was an American band leader, actor, director, and producer. He originated and starred in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a radio and television series with his wife Harriet and two sons David and Ricky Nelson.
Nelson in 1937
Oswald George Nelson
March 20, 1906
Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||June 3, 1975 (aged 69)|
Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills|
|Occupation||Actor, band leader, producer, director|
Harriet Hilliard (m. 1935)
|Relatives||Tracy Nelson (granddaughter)|
Matthew Nelson (grandson)
Gunnar Nelson (grandson)
Sam Nelson (grandson)
Don Nelson (brother)
Nelson was born March 20, 1906 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He was the second son of Ethel Irene (née Orr) and George Waldemar Nelson. 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, and entered Rutgers Law School. As a student he made pocket money playing saxophone in a band and coaching football. Nelson was rejected to be the vocalist for the Rutgers Jazz Bandits, led by Scrappy Lambert and later Hawley Ades. Nelson was not discouraged and was gracious about this rejection when he met Ades years later. During the Depression, he turned to music as a full-time career.
Nelson started his entertainment career as a band leader. He formed and led "The Ozzie Nelson Band," and had some initial limited success. Nelson made his own "big break" in 1930, when The New York Daily Mirror ran a poll of its readers to determine their favorite band. Since 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, he cannily had his band's members gather hundreds of discarded newspapers and fill out ballots in their own 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, he 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," as they were being called, had a number one hit with "And Then Some", which was number one for one week on the U.S. pop singles chart. Nelson wrote and 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: the older, David (1936–2011), became an actor and director, and the younger, Eric Hilliard ("Ricky") (1940–1985), became an actor and singer.
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 televisionEdit
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 The Raleigh Cigarette Program, Red Skelton's radio show. He developed and produced his own radio series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show went on the air in 1944, with their sons played by actors until 1949, and in 1952 it moved over to television, in which David and "Ricky" appeared on-camera. (The radio version continued for another two years.) The TV show starred the entire family, and America watched Ozzie and Harriet raise their boys. The last television episode aired in 1966. Nelson was producer and director of most of the episodes, and he co-wrote many of them. Nelson's brother, Don Nelson, was also one of the writers. Ozzie was very hands-on and involved with every aspect of the radio and TV programs. (It is notable that throughout the 1950s, Ozzie's prior bandleading career and Harriet's singing career were seldom mentioned. The younger audience would have had no idea that Ozzie and Harriet had previously been involved in music.)
His last television show, in the fall of 1973, was titled Ozzie's Girls. This lasted for a year in first-run syndication. The premise was Ozzie and Harriet renting their sons's former room to two college girls—one caucasian, one African American (actresses Brenda Sykes and Susan Sennett were the "girls" in question), and concerned the Nelsons's efforts at adjusting to living with two young women, after having raised two sons.
He married band singer Harriet Hilliard in 1935. They had two sons, David (born in 1936) and Eric (known as Ricky, born in 1940). The couple remained married until Ozzie's death from liver cancer in 1975. His grandchildren include actress Tracy Nelson and musicians Matthew Nelson and Gunnar Nelson. He was also the former father-in-law of Kristin Harmon and June Blair.
Cultural historians have noted that the on-screen laid-back 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. 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". 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)".
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. He is interred with his wife and son Ricky, both of whom outlived him, in the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. When his elder son David Nelson died in 2011, he 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.
|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"|
|1958||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|
|1973||Love, American Style||Dan||Segment: "Love and the Unmarriage"|
|1973||Bridget Loves Bernie||Director, 3 episodes|
- "Ozzie Nelson". NY Times. Retrieved May 2, 2011.
- "Skulls of 1927". Rutgers University. Retrieved June 16, 2008.
- Garrick, David (April 3, 2015). "Scrappy Lambert". Jazz Age 1920s. jazzage1920s.com. Retrieved May 29, 2016.
- 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 March 19, 2012.
- Adir, Karin, ed. (2001). The Great Clowns of American Television. McFarland & Company. p. 270. ISBN 0-7864-1303-4. Retrieved March 19, 2012.
- What's My Line? (January 13, 2014). "What's My Line? - Johnnie Ray; Ozzie Nelson [panel]; Janet Blair [panel] (Jun 9, 1957)" – via YouTube.
- 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.
- Weinraub, Bernard (June 18, 1998). "Dousing the Glow Of TV's First Family; Time for the Truth About Ozzie and Harriet". New York Times. Retrieved November 3, 2013.
- Van Matre, Lynn (June 22, 1993). "Back To The '50's With David Halberstam". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 3, 2013.
- United Press International, "Ozzie Nelson Dies, 69", Playground Daily News, Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Volume 30, Number 101, page 9A.