Before we had families like those seen on today’s Modern Family, America had The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. A popular sitcom that ran through the better part of the ‘50s and ‘60s, it starred the real-life Nelson family, whose show became the poster television show for the ideal American family during that era. But you will soon find that everything was not as perfect as it seemed...
From Law School To a Dance Band
Oswald George Nelson, otherwise known as Ozzie, is a New Jersey native who after high school went to Rutgers School of Law in Newark. To make pocket money during his time in school, Ozzie played the saxophone in a band, in addition to coaching football.
He was constantly rejected as a vocalist for the Rutgers Jazz Bandits but didn’t let the rejection discourage him. In his spare time, he organized a dance band that defied expectations and thrived beyond belief. Eventually, during the Depression era, Ozzie quit school to pursue music full-time. He and his band played to full houses at hotels and ballrooms all along the East Coast.
Ozzie Falls For A Showgirl
Following his “big break” in 1930, Ozzie and his band, Ozzie Nelson Band, recorded with several labels including Brunswick, Vocalion, Bluebird, and Victor. In the early 1930s, their hit song “Over Somebody Else’s Shoulder” helped them maintain their growing popularity. Around this time, a vaudeville actress named Peggy Lou Snyder was performing in New York City.
Ozzie’s and Peggy’s paths would cross eventually and Ozzie hired Peggy to perform with his band. Changing her name to Harriet Hilliard, she helped skyrocket the band’s success with her perky vocals. The band’s number one hit “And Then Some” was number one for a whole week on the U.S. pop singles chart in 1935.
Harriet Was Wild In Her Teenage Years
Before becoming the epitome of the classic television housewife, Harriet got her start on the Vaudeville stage at the early age of three, since she came from a theatrical family and toured the vaudeville circuit. By her teenage years, she made her way to Broadway and began hanging with an older crowd.
Frequenting the Cotton Club, a New York City nightclub, Harriet even began smoking at the age of 13. She eventually dropped out of high school and joined the Corps de Ballet at the Capitol Theater and later danced at in the Harry Carroll Revue.
Harriet Ended Up In The Wrong Crowd
It turns out that Ozzie Nelson wasn’t Harriet’s first husband. During her days as a dancer frequenting the Cotton Club, Harriet (who then was still known as Peggy Lou) was actually married to a comedian named Roy Sedley in 1930.
Harriet, who was only 21 at the time, soon would find that hanging with the wrong crowd can get you into some trouble. Roy was allegedly abusive towards her throughout the whole marriage and they separated a year later. The marriage was finally annulled in 1933. Luckily, her dancing days are also when she met Ozzie and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ozzie and Harriet Had Undeniable Chemistry
Many people would say that Ozzie and Harriet found a perfect match in one another. Harriet’s energetic, witty persona was the ideal counterpoint to Ozzie’s laid-back, tentative character. Their chemistry on stage was undeniable, as their blended qualities were the perfect foundation for natural comedy relief in between the band’s songs that resonated with audiences.
As their relationship off the stage also began to take off, they decided to seal the deal and in 1935, Ozzie and Harriet got married, just three years after he hired her to be in his band. Ozzie and Harriet became America’s ideal fantasy couple by the 1950s.
The Two Dominated The Silver Screen
Together, Ozzie and Harriet’s glow added sparkle to the silver screen in musicals such as Sweetheart of the Campus, Strictly in the Groove, Honeymoon Lodge, and Take It Big. In the movies, they would either appear as a duo, as they did for Honeymoon Lodge or as separate characters, like in Hi, Good Lookin’.
In addition to other radio and television variety shows, the two were regular guests on The Red Skelton Show, an American variety show hosted by entertainer Richard Bernard “Red” Skelton. This set the precedent for the two to have their own show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which Ozzie developed and produced on his own.
The Red Skelton Show
Before The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Ozzie and Harriet got their start on radio by appearing as frequent guests on The Red Skelton Show. Hosted by entertainer Red Skelton, the American variety show was a staple radio and television show during its time.
With Ozzie’s and Harriet’s vocals and their band, they provided a majority of the music that was heard on the radio program. While Skelton worked hard to get his show on color television screens throughout its run, the Nelsons' time on the regular appearances provided a launch pad for them to start their own radio show.
Red Skelton Was Drafted And Finally Out Of The Picture
In 1944, Red Skelton was drafted to the war and that event opened up a new opportunity for the famous family to secure their own spot on radio. Their big opportunity arrived after serving as a musical component of Skelton's radio show for three years. Ozzie Nelson proposed a show of his own to network executives at CBS and sponsor International Silver. Just like their future TV show, the radio program would focus on the real lives of the family.
In the early radio episodes of Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Mr. Nelson ditched much of his popular music for situation comedy. Ozzie served as co-writer and director for every episode.
Starting A Family Made Them America's Favorite Couple
Just a year after getting married, Ozzie and Harriet had their first child, a son named David. Ozzie resolved to maintain a solid family unity by merging their two careers and striving to work together as much as possible. After their second son, Ricky, was born in 1940, Ozzie and Harriet earned the distinction of “America’s Favorite Young Couple.”
The couple would eventually give their children a chance to appear on the show but they were still young. It was the timing of their children's births that led to an interesting choice for the start of the TV series.
At First, They Didn't Want Their Kids On Television
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet took off in the ‘1940s and Ozzie quickly realized his young boys were not ready for primetime. Instead, he cast two different boys to play the roles of David and Ricky.
If you peruse the IMDB database for the TV series you won't find the show's young actors listed, that because the original actors only appeared in voice roles on the radio version of The Adventures Of Ozzie and Harriet, which accounted for the show's first five years before it came to television. It was important for Ozzie to keep the show all in the family. He quickly groomed his young boys to take over their roles right when he was finally convinced they were ready.
Eventually, The Kids Took On Their Roles
Because the show was still just on the radio for the first few years, it probably didn’t matter as much that actors were used to playing the roles of David and Ricky, since you couldn’t see them. But by the fifth year of the show, David and Ricky began to regularly play themselves on the show for the first time on the radio.
David was 12 and Ricky was eight. By the time The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was moved to television in 1952, David and Ricky Nelson starred on the show alongside their parents at the ages of 16 and 12, respectively.
Bing Crosby Convinced Ozzie To Give Ricky And David Their Big Break
As previously discussed, Ozzie wanted his young boys to grow up a little bit before they would be allowed to star on the family's hit series. In 1949, Ozzie finally agreed to have 8-year-old Ricky and 13-year-old David take over their namesake roles.
It was actually Bing Crosby who convinced Ozzie that his kids were ready to step in front of a nationwide audience. Crosby made a guest appearance on the family's radio show and he brought along his own boys for the live broadcast. After the leap to TV, Ricky and David proved to be massive stars among the show's audience.
Did Ozzie Steal His Children's Early Years?
In his book, "The Fifties," David Halberstam says of the family, "for all their professional success, very different from the family depicted on the show, they lived with an immense amount of pressure and unreconciled issues."
Halberstam claims that through his research there was a general sentiment that Ozzie Nelson had "stolen the childhood of both of his sons and used it for commercial purposes." Chief among those complaints was that Ozzie Nelson had taken his family's most private moments and "made [those problems] terribly public." In many ways, the Nelson's were America's first look at reality TV.
Here Come the Nelsons
With the success of their radio show, Ozzie and his brother Don wrote a movie called Here Come the Nelsons, which served to introduce the Nelson family to American audiences. After Ozzie successfully convinced executives at Universal to produce the feature film, it doubled as a pilot for the television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
The film starred the Nelson family as themselves and some other big names such as Rock Hudson, Barbara Lawrence, and Jim Backus. The comedy film centered around a misunderstanding between Ozzie and Harriet, before Ricky is kidnapped by bank robbers. Oddly enough, Ozzie plays an advertising executive in the movie, even though he was known in America as a bandleader.
First Couple Seen in Bed
Ozzie and Harriet’s bedroom on the show was apparently one of the first with a double bed situation to be seen on television. Back in those days, it was considered scandalous to see a man and his wife sleeping in the same bed. Before their bedroom was seen, couples' bedrooms on television were usually depicted as twin beds that were separated by a lamp on a nightstand.
This goes back to the Hays Code, which was a series of rules and regulations designed to moderate the action of Hollywood. The censorship guidelines were such that a man and a woman couldn’t be seen in the same bed. If they were, one of them had to keep a leg firmly planted on the floor.
Their Own House Was Used For The Show
The exterior shots of Ozzie and Harriet's house that were used in the open credit sequence for the TV series were taken from their actual home. The couple lived in the picturesque Hollywood Hills neighborhood located above Hollywood Boulevard.
While the couple didn't film the series in their actual home, for logistical purposes, they did have the interior recreated with an exact replica on a Hollywood set. Ozzie wanted to make sure the show felt authentic and apparently, that meant bringing real life to the silver screen by inviting the American public directly into their family abode. The home is still standing and located at 1822 Camino Palmero Street in Los Angeles, California.
The Family's Home Was Renovated And Resold In 2013
The Ozzie and Harriet home was built in 1916 and nearly 100 years later it was purchased for $3 million in 2013. A real estate investment and development company gave the family home a much-needed makeover and resold the house for $5 million.
Much of the home's exterior was left in place although shutters were removed to provide a more modern look. With the home located in an area of prime real estate, we doubt this will be the last time such a renovation will be conducted. Our next bit of information paints Mr. Nelson in a less than positive light.
Ozzie’s dad role on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet came off as stumbling over his words, tentative, and slightly distracted. Luckily, this flawlessly went hand in hand with Harriet’s bright, flippant charm. But in real life, Ozzie was anything but blundering. When not playing himself on the show, he was known as a forceful businessman addicted to work that was in total charge of the show as the writer, producer, director, and editor.
According to The New York Times, some would say that he “was a dictatorial presence looming over his family,” and that he “thwarted his sons, preventing them from attending college and reminding them that they were obliged to work on television.”
The Show Wasn't Top 20
Somehow, Ozzie convinced the ABC executives to agree to a ten-year contract that paid the Nelson family whether the series was canceled or not, according to Wikipedia. The unprecedented contract is probably what prompted Ozzie’s staunch seriousness about the show off the air. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet premiered on ABC on October 10, 1952.
At the time, ABC was a third-place network and the show never made it to the Top 20 in Nielsen ratings for television shows. Despite the many times that the time slots have been adjusted for the show, they never made it to the Top 20, until…
Even If The Show Failed, The Family Would Have Won
Ozzie and Harriet were already nationally renowned performers and radio stars and that made it easier for Ozzie to negotiate a TV contract that has been unheard of since. Ozzie told ABC they would only bring the TV series to the network with a 10-year guarantee.
Should the show have ended before the 10 year period concluded, ABC would have paid Ozzie, Harriet, and the rest of their family, for 10 full seasons of work. It was a gamble for ABC but the family had already succeeded on radio. It turns out that flipping a coin for the future of the TV series ended up being a very wise choice, as we will soon learn.
Ricky Starts Singing
By the age of 17, Ricky Nelson began singing. Ricky first sang on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet on April 10, 1957, in an episode titled, “Ricky, the Drummer.” In the episode, Ricky performed his version of “I’m Walkin,’” originally sung by Fats Domino, and the tune climbed to #17 on the Billboard charts.
At the time, Elvis was all the rage but many parents found his gyrating moves threatening to their innocent offspring and found Ricky a benign, safe alternative. Eventually, Ricky Nelson signed a recording contract with Domino’s label, Imperial Records. But how did this affect the show?
Dad, The Business Man
Noting how Ricky’s newfound talents benefited the show, Ozzie took charge and charted every move his son made, including what songs he recorded. In August 1958, Ricky’s single, “Poor Little Fool,” soared to number one on the Billboard charts. Ozzie thought the song represented the family’s image well.
Realizing how Ricky’s singing could help the show and its ratings, Ozzie even began to write storylines that included Ricky singing. As the nation’s new musical sensation, any episodes that featured his talents became some of the show’s highest-rated episodes. At one point, Ricky made an unpaid public appearance at a Los Angeles high school to perform “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” where he was greeted by hordes of screaming teens.
Was Ozzie A Secret Freeloader?
During the pilot film that led up to the TV show, Here Come the Nelsons, Ozzie’s fictional counterpart is an advertising executive who spends his days promoting women's underwear. When the TV show launched there was no mention of Ozzie working in the advertising space.
In fact, it became a running gag that the only time Ozzie seemed to leave the Nelson home was when an ice cream run was desired. Ricky’s real-life daughter, Tracy Nelson, attempted to clear things up by claiming Ozzie's character was a lawyer who graduated from Rutgers. Apparently, work-from-home lawyers were all the rage at that time... or not.
Despite His Role As Bumbling Father, Nelson Was Voted A Top TV Dad
The character of 'Ozzie Nelson' was ranked #21 in TV Guide's list of the "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time" in the publications June 20, 2004, issue. While there is no doubt that the TV show resonated with fans in the 1950s and in the early 1960s, Ozzie's character was hardly what many people would consider a role model.
Ozzie didn't seem to have a job, was often talked down from poorly conceived plans by his wife, and seemed to hold far too much control over his children. Despite his shortcomings, his show was often seen as portraying an idealized version of the 1950's nuclear family.
Box Office Bonanza
Shortly after launching his music career, Ricky became a singing movie star. The youngest Nelson starred alongside John Wayne and Dean Martin in the romantic western, Rio Bravo. The trailer for the film featured Ricky playing his guitar and talking into the camera about the stirring film.
Ricky proved himself triumphant in his silver screen debut and went on to other big acting projects apart from his family’s show. He was in films The Wackiest Ship in the Army and Love and Kisses, alongside Jack Lemmon and Jack Kelley, respectively. He also guest-starred in an episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries in which he performed a lot of popular Nelson hits.
The Marry Go Round
In 1961, 25-year-old David married actress, June Blair. The ceremony was held at the Forest Lawn Cemetery’s Church of the Hills and Ricky served as best man. Since much of the storylines from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet were taken from the Nelsons' real life, June Blair was written into the show and joined as a regular cast member.
At that point in the show, David Nelson was attending law school and moved into an apartment with his new wife. The newlyweds had their first child the following year, a son named Daniel Blair Nelson. Their second son, Jamie Eric Nelson, was born in 1966.
Baby on Board
The same year that David got married, younger brother Ricky began dating Kristin Harmon, who was the daughter of Tom Harmon, a football-legend-turned-actor, and actress Elyse Knox. Since the Harmons and the Nelsons were family friends, the parents approved of a relationship between the two young stars, even though Harriet had never approved of any of the girlfriends that Ricky had before Kristin.
Two years after dating, Ozzie insisted that the young couple get married, which they did on April 20, 1963. But there was a reason that the nuptials were rushed and that was because Kristin was pregnant.
Hiding the "Shotgun Wedding"
Ozzie was obviously trying to hide the fact that Ricky and Kristin were getting married so quickly because of her pregnancy. Six months to the day after they get married, Kristin gave birth to a baby girl, Tracy Kristine Nelson.
Ozzie was apparently adamant in his proclamation that the baby was born premature and went so far as to have that “truth” be placed as part of the hospital records by having the hospital forge the baby’s weight on the birth certificate. Ozzie even went so far as to having the full-term infant baby placed in an incubator for pictures.
The Times Were Changing
By the ‘60s, American television was changing along with the country’s social climate. As writer and director, Ozzie did what he could to alter the show to appeal to its viewership. Even though Ricky continued to introduce new songs on the show, Ozzie chose not to have a song in every episode.
By 1965, even Ricky’s record sales were dropping. The country was going through major upheaval and Ricky’s fresh-faced image was hurting him, along with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet becoming more out of sync with the times, as the Nelsons symbolized the ideals and values of a past era.
After 22 successful years of broadcast—eight on the radio and 14 on television—The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet finally came to an end on April 23, 1966. For a time, the show was the longest-running live-action American television sitcom, but in 2016 that record was tied with It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which was renewed for a thirteenth and fourteenth season.
With a record of 435 episodes, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet proudly held the record for the longest-running sitcom in television records but was beat by The Simpsons, after the cartoon broke the record in 2003.
Mary Tyler Moore Even Made An Appearance
During the early days of TV there was often one major sponsor who helped support a TV show's run. During numerous 1950s episodes of The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet Hotpoint was a sponsor. A prologue was included with the product and it features a young Mary Tyler Moore as a "Happy Hotpoint" dancing pixie.
Years later Mary Tyler Moore would star in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and her celebrity would rise above even that of Ozzie and Harriet. Guest appearance were aplenty during the show's run but this may have been the biggest of them all.
Outdoor Versus Indoor Scenes? It Was All About The Show's Sponsors
If you watched The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet throughout the entire series run you probably noticed that much of the TV show was filmed in the family kitchen. That was no coincidence with the show's main sponsor Hotpoint attempting to place its products in front of the show's viewers.
Later int he series, there were more outdoor scenes. The cameras that were strung around everyone's necks when they went outside were the product of Kodak. TV commercials and better product placement wouldn't arrive on television for years to come. The TV show was about the family but where they interacted was all the result of the show's major sponsors.
Two Married Couples Were Played By The Same Actors
Actors Lyle Talbot and Mary Jane Croft were known for playing married couple Joe and Clara Randolph in later seasons of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. They made numerous appearances on the show and were a favorite among fans.
Talbot and Croft had first appeared together in an earlier episode in which they played Harvey and Marion Burnette. The show's producers loved their chemistry and decided to bring them back to an expanded role, with new characters. It wasn't uncommon for actors to play numerous roles in the early days of TV.
After a long and successful career-focused life, Ozzie Nelson passed away at the age of 69 in his San Fernando Valley Home. Suffering from recurring malignant tumors in his old age, liver cancer eventually took Nelson’s life. He was survived by Harriet and their two sons, who were at his bedside at 4:30 AM on June 3, 1975, when he passed.
While his two sons continued on with the career paths they’ve already started, Harriet sort of became a recluse following Ozzie’s death. She did, however, make guest appearances on shows like Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Happy Days in her later years.
An Awkward Garden Party
In 1971, Ricky Nelson appeared at Madison Square Garden for a rock revival concert, the Richard Nader Oldies Concert. He was trying to play his new songs for the crowd, but was ultimately booed off stage when he performed The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”
Apparently, the crowd was displeased at the fact that Ricky failed to dress in a way that represented his heyday. After watching the show backstage on a TV monitor, Richard Nader convinced Nelson to return to the stage and play his “oldies.” The audience responded well to his return, but the entire ordeal prompted Nelson to write his 1972 hit “Garden Party.”
Kristin & Ricky Drama
Ricky and his wife Kristin had a tumultuous marriage, to say the least. By 1977, they were on the brink of divorce after 14 years of marriage and four children. Of the things that tore the couple apart, there was an instance in which Kristin moved Ricky out of their marital home and into a rented house, which he didn’t discover until he came home from a tour.
One month later, Kristin walked in on Ricky with two cheerleaders from the Los Angeles Rams, which he claimed was set up. Although the couple eventually reconciled their differences, Kristin still sought to pursue a permanent break. Even though she wanted Ricky to give up music and spend time at home, their family still enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and Ricky had to continue touring to support them. They eventually were granted a divorce in 1982, with Ricky suffering the greatest loss after attorneys and accountants took over $1 million from him.
Alleged Drug Use
After reconciling the first time they filed for divorce, Ricky and Kristin still faced an extremely volatile marriage. Accusations flowing from both sides that the other was engaging in both drug and alcohol abuse, in addition to poor parenting techniques, is what kept the relationship sour.
Kristin admitted to People magazine in 1987 that she tried to work through the drug issues with Ricky: “At first we were in it together… to fix the marriage by going on the road and being involved in road stuff that is really not good for anyone. After a while we were totally messed up, both of us. I got into therapy and so did he for a while but then he started not showing up. I tried telling my family, there’s a drug problem here and we’ve all got to help. But they totally denied there was anything wrong.”
Although he allegedly dreaded flying, Ricky Nelson refused to travel by bus, so he got a private plane that apparently had a history of mechanical problems. In late December 1985, Ricky and his band left for a three-stop tour of the Southern U.S. On New Year’s Eve that year, the plane crash-landed into some trees just northeast of Dallas, Texas.
Ricky and six others died instantly. Speculation suggested that the crash was a result of drug use by Ricky or the crew, but the Civil Aeronautics Board, among other agencies, confirmed in their official report that the cause of the crash was an onboard heater short-circuiting and catching fire.
Did Smoking Kill Harriet?
Harriet Nelson was never quite the same after the deaths of Ozzie and her youngest son, Ricky. When asked if she was in “good spirits” in the early ‘90s, her eldest son David replied, “She hasn’t been in good spirits since dad died,” according to The Baltimore Sun.
After their deaths, Harriet moved to the Nelson family beach home in Laguna Beach, California. Having begun smoking at the age of 13, she suffered from emphysema in her later years. On October 2, 1994, she passed away from congestive heart failure. She reportedly passed away peacefully in her sleep, with David at her side.
David Played a Killer
While Ozzie and Harriet had their show, they were also working hard promoting Ricky’s music career. But what about David? After finishing high school, David lived the normal college life and attended the University of Southern California, even joining a fraternity.
He has even had the opportunity to direct some episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet during the show’s run. After the show ended, David continued in show business and had a memorable performance in the 1959 thriller The Big Circus, where he played Tommy Gordon, a disturbed and homicidal ‘troubled youth’. He has also acted in Up in Smoke and Cry-Baby.
David's Other Projects
After The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was long off the air, David tried to revive his family’s beloved show with a spin-off show called Ozzie’s Girls. Premiering in September 1971, the show’s premise follows the life of Ozzie and Harriet after their two sons had moved out of the house.
They decide to rent out the extra bedrooms to two college girls and most of the show’s plot circulated around with the girls’ trials and dilemmas. Although David directed the series himself, it never took off and only lasted for one season with 24 half-hour episodes.
Ozzie Successfully Retreated Behind The Camera
Ozzie Nelson gave up his forward-facing star after the short-lived sitcom Ozzie's Girls was shut down after one season. Instead, he decided to step behind the camera as both a producer and director. Ozzie was able to use his superb business skills to ensure the success of some iconic show's that are still in syndication today.
Among Ozzie's most popular show's were Adam-12, The D.A., and Bridge Loves Bernie. Sadly, because of a battle with liver cancer, his post-acting days were limited. Sadly, cancer ran in the family's bloodline and it would take Ozzie's life and another family member as we'll learn about next.
David was the last surviving member of America’s beloved Nelson family. On January 11, 2011, David passed away at his Century City home due to complications from colon cancer at the age of 74. He was survived by his second wife, five children, and seven grandchildren.
His first two sons were from his marriage with his first wife June Blair, whom he divorced in 1975. While his parents and younger brother were interred in a family plot at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills, David chose his final resting place elsewhere in Westwood Memorial Park’s outdoor Garden of Serenity columbarium.
The Youngest Nelson
As the years went on and the Nelsons' nuclear family unit became an antiquated thing of the past, the youngest members of the family were the ones to bear the burden of new family drama. In the midst of Ricky’s and Kristin’s divorce and Ricky’s untimely death, their youngest son Sam was barely a preteen.
While Kristin found herself in personal struggles with substance abuse, Sam was allegedly faced with the fear of having to deal with his mother’s ups and downs. This led him to call his uncle, actor Mark Harmon, in a cry for help. But this only started more drama.
The Custody Battle
After the alarming phone call, Mark Harmon was concerned for Kristin, who he thought was “emotionally gone” and needed “to come in for a rest,” according to a story in People magazine. Kris apparently agreed with her brother, who urged her to let Sam stay with him and his wife.
She said, “Nobody but my brother could have talked me into this because I trusted him. A voice inside me said, ‘For once in your life, let somebody help you.” Kristin then checked herself into a rehab program called New Beginnings. While Kristin said the program has helped, her family didn’t quite agree.
While Kristin’s own family supported her efforts to overcome her alcohol and substance abuse, they apparently found it very hard to help her as they felt that she would continually deny that she was still taking hard drugs.
At one point, a therapist asked Mark to give Kristin a hug, but he allegedly “jumped up irritable and ‘bolted’ from the premises.” Kristin told People that the Nelsons were the only people to see and listen to her as a “bona fide human being.” During her stint in rehab, “Only Harriet Nelson, says Kris, trusted and believed in her. She sent flowers with a card that said, ‘I love you.’”
It Was Taken To Court
The custody battle between Kristin and her brother over little Sam was so intense, that they found themselves before a judge. Mark Harmon sought custody over Sam, seeing that she was unfit to raise Sam on her own. The highly publicized trial had depicted Kristin as “dressed neatly and [wearing] a calm, pleasant expression throughout the proceedings,” answering rude questions with grace.
According to People, “Mark scowled most of the time and icily ignored all reporters. By the end of Day One, the press had cast him as the heavy and Kris as the heroine, and the coverage next morning reflected the feeling.”
"Too Much Blood Has Been Spilled"
The trial even went so far as to have actress Pam Dawber, Mark Harmon’s wife, accused of being a drug addict as well. After realizing how detrimental the trial was to everyone’s career in show business, they decided to call the trial off by day three of the trial. Mark apparently went up to Kristin’s attorney and said, “We don’t want to go any further with this. Too much blood has been spilled.”
After word got out about this, people who watched the trial said things like, “They’re obviously more concerned about their own careers than they are about the boy’s welfare” and, “This was a typical family dispute and it should have been settled around the dining room table.”
The End Result
At the end of the custody battle, Kristin retained custody of her youngest son with Ricky. Uncle Mark Harmon was granted visitation rights and Kris, Sam, and Mark all agreed to attend family therapy. As he grew older, Sam would appear as himself in documentaries about his family.
Although the Internet reports that he is an actor, he is known to have started a band called H is Orange. He also has two book credits to his name: The Addict, which “cuts through gender, racial, and generational gaps to expose the cause of addictions,” and Quandles: An Introduction to the Algebra of Knots.
The Other Nelson Grandchildren
It seems that Ricky’s and Kristin’s first three children fared better in the midst of all the drama since, by the time it happened, they were already adults. Their first child, daughter Tracy Nelson, followed in her family’s footsteps and became an actress.
Some would say that she had an early career start, as she was featured as herself on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet at just three months old. At the age of four, she was in Yours, Mine and Ours as the daughter of Lucille Ball. She even took her performing career to her real life, having studied ballet for 17 years and studying dance in college.
Tracy Nelson's Career
In the 1980s, she was on the sitcom Square Pegs alongside Sarah Jessica Parker, where she played “valley girl” Jennifer DeNuccio. During this time, she also broke through in film after she starred in Paul Mazursky’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills. She gained more notoriety through The Father Dowling Mysteries, in which she played Sister Stephanie.
As a member of television’s Nelson family, she would go on to guest star in other classic family sitcoms such as Family Ties, The Nanny, 7th Heaven, Melrose Place, Seinfeld, and St. Elsewhere. But eventually, Tracy would find herself in some of her own drama…
Three Kinds of Cancer
Two years after the death of her father, Ricky, and shortly after marrying actor Billy Moses, Tracy began to feel weak, and allegedly had a dream in which her father said, "I know you miss me, but it’s not time for you to die. You have to go see a doctor.“ In 1987, doctors found a malignant grapefruit-sized tumor in her chest and she was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
She reportedly blamed the illness on the stress over her youngest brother’s custody battle. Despite overcoming this ailment, she still suffered trauma from the radiation exposure and was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2005 and then breast cancer in 2010.
The Nelson Twins
After Tracy was born, Ricky and Kristin gave birth to identical twin boys in 1967. Gunnar and Matthew Nelson took on the musical talents they inherited from their grandparents Ozzie and Harriet and their father Ricky.
They spent two years learning how to write songs and met Los Angeles record producer Marc Tanner. The twins went on to be signed to Geffen Records in 1989 and became a hit with their band, Nelson. Their album After the Rain went triple platinum in 1990 and it featured their most popular hit “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection.”
Nelson: The Band
Known as a glam metal or hard rock band, Nelson was mostly popular during the early 1990s. The Nelson twins were in the Guinness Book of World Records after their hit “Love and Affection” reached number one on the charts. They now hold the record as the only family to have number one records in three successive generations in the same bloodline.
Ozzie Nelson had a number one hit in 1934 with “And Then Some,” their father Ricky reached number one in the early ‘60s with “Poor Little Fool” and “Travelin’ Man,” and Nelson reached number one with their aforementioned hit.
A History Of Syndication
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet may have been viewed by many fans as a TV show for a bygone era by the end of its run but that has not stopped the show's amazingly long run in syndication. From 1985 to 1994 The Disney Channel aired reruns of the TV series via a remastered 35mm version of the TV show.
The TV series then moved over to the Nostalgia TV Network and it currently airs on the Retro Television Network. Even San Bernardino, California's PBS member station aired the series as late as May 2010 as part of its I Remember Television series.
ABC's Failures Kept The Show On The Air
Ozzie Nelson's decision to approach ABC was likely the reason the TV series became the longest-running sitcom of its time. ABC was the number three network, struggling to keep up with NBC and CBS. While The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet never cracked the top 20 in Neilsen ratings, it was doing a lot better than other ABC TV shows.
If ABC had found its footing earlier, it's likely that the show would have ended in the late 1950s since it didn't translate well into a new decade that featured heftier plotlines and color TVs.
The Show Was Discounted To Stay On The Air
It's true that Ozzie Nelson secured a 10-year pay guarantee from ABC before the show went on air but money wasn't his only motivating factor. To keep The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet on television sets throughout the United States, Ozzie offered the TV show to ABC at a deep discount.
As a micro-manager, it has long been assumed that Ozzie wanted to continually build out his family franchise while controlling the lives of his family members. His plan worked and the show ran for an amazing 14 seasons on television after an already impressive run on radio.
DC Comics Turned The Radio Show Into A Comic Book
It wasn't uncommon for popular TV and radio shows to receive the comic book treatment and The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet were perfectly captured by the team at DC Comics.
As the radio program was picking up an increasing audience the team at DC Comics created five issues of the show using its namesake. You can still purchase used copies of the family's exploits on the internet. The comic book should feel really familiar if you listened to the radio program or watched the TV series since it follows the family's typical story arch that fans of the show came to love.
The Show Now Belongs To The Public Domain
Most of the pre-1964 episodes of the television series are now part of the public domain, except for Ricky Nelson's musical performance episodes which still belong to The Rick Nelson Company, LLC.
With public domain status, the TV series has been released by various companies including Alpha Video and Mill Creek Entertainment. If you want to revisit the TV series or check it out for the first time it's easier than ever to tune and watch the wholesome antics of the entire Nelson family. If you're currently a Mark Harmon fan it's even a great way to check out his family's history.