The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was the longest-running live-action sitcom in United States television history. That is until It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia took that title in 2021.
The show ran for 14 years from 1952 to 1966. During that time, it was a staple of American pop culture.
Before it’s a smash hit on television, Ozzie and Harriett’s show got it’s start on the radio in 1944. Which means that the Nelson’s spent over two decades portraying themselves in front of an audience while blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
The beloved series seemed to hit the airwaves at just the right time. According to TV historian and filmmaker Peter Jones who wrote and directed the documentary Ozzie and Harriett: The Adventures of America’s Favorite Family, the timing of the series airing was perfect for what he calls the ‘deconstruction of the American family on television.
Ozzie and Harriet were America’s quintessential TV couple in the 1950s.
Ozzie could be a bit of a goof, never seemed to hold a job, and was always loafing around their two-story Colonial home – seemingly only ever leaving the house to get ice cream.
Harriet, on the other hand, could always seen wearing an apron and never seemed to find herself away from the kitchen.
Sons Ricky and David Nelson were dashingly good-looking, honorable boys whose most significant concerns in life seemed to be scoring a date for prom and getting the keys for dad’s car. Considering how long the series ran, audiences got to see the two boys grow up before their very eyes.
Ozzie passed away in 1975, succumbing to cancer at the age of 69, while Harried died of heart failure and emphysema in 1994 at 85.
Ricky tragically died in a plane crash on New Year’s Even in 1985 at the age of 45. We’ll touch on that in a bit more detail in just a bit – so stick around.
David was the last Nelson to pass away. He died of colon cancer in 2011 at 74.
While the primary cast members of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet may no longer be with us. Over the years, those remaining of the cast and crew had shared a wealth of information about what The Nelson’s were really like when the cameras weren’t rolling.
Join Facts Verse as we explore the dark true story of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Cast.
Harriet Previously Married
Born Peggy Lou Snyder in Des Moines, Iowa, Harriet grew up in a theatrical family. She made her acting debut when she was just 3, appearing on the vaudeville stage.
By the time she was 13, she was already appearing on Broadway, smoking cigarettes, and spending a great deal of time around folks much older than she was. After finding herself in the New York Club scene, Harriett dropped out of high school.
She then joined the Corps de Ballet at the Capitol Theater before dancing in the Harry Carroll Revue and working as a straight woman with comedians Bert Lahr and Ken Murray.
It might be hard to imagine, but Harriett was once married to someone other than Ozzie. In the late 1920s, Harriett met comedian Roy Sedley at the Cotton Candy nightclub in New York City. They married in 1930 but separated the following year.
Allegedly, Sedley very abusive to young Harriet, and in 1933 their marriage officially annulled. Join Facts Verse as we explore the dark true story of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Cast.
Harriet met Ozzie in 1932 while she was performing in vaudeville.
Ozzie played the saxophone and the leader of a band called the Ozzie Nelson Orchestra. Not long after meeting her, Ozzie invited Harriet to join the band as a singer.
The two promptly began dating, and not long later, in 1935, they married. Their undeniable chemistry helped Ozzie’s band find success and eventually made them one of America’s favorite couples for decades.
Ozzie’s band went on to featured in several feature films and short subjects in the 1940s. A few of their earliest big-screen moments were in musicals like Sweetheart on the Campus. Take It Big, Strictly in the Groove, and Honeymoon Lodge.
Ozzie and Harriet also made appearances as independent characters in films like Hi, Good Lookin’. Still, it was their work in the broadcasting that would ultimately lead to them becoming superstars.
In the 50s, Ozzie and Harriet became regular guests on The Red Skelton Show, a legendary comedy and variety show hosted by the entertainer Richard Bernard ‘Red’ Skelton. This laid the foundation for them to create their own show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
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Ozzie Was Apprehensive To Put His Kids On The Radio
A year after Ozzie and Harriet exchanged wedding vows, they welcomed a bouncing boy named David into their lives. Four years later in 1940, Harriet gave birth to a second son named Eric Hilliard, better known as Ricky.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet radio program premiered in 1944.
At first, Ozzie wasn’t so sure that his kids were ready to play themselves. So, while he groomed them for their future in the spotlight, two voice actors brought in to play David and Ricky.
While these were two very talented voice artists, Ozzie thought it was important to keep things in the family. So, When David was 12 and Rick was 8, they began performing alongside their parents.
It was actually thanks to the late-great crooner Bing Crosby that Ozzie convinced that the boys ready for their moment in the limlight. Bing encouraged Ozzie to give the brothers their big break after he guest-starred on the program.
While it’s undeniable that the show launched the Nelson’s boys respective careers, Ozzie has accused of greedily selling out his son’s childhood. He has even described as ‘dictatorial’ by some of his former set mates. Join Facts Verse as we explore the dark true story of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Cast.
It Was All Make Believe
In the book ‘The Fifties’, by David Halberstam, the author addressed the impact that the show had on the growing boys. Halberstam asserts that David and Ricky were constantly under a lot of pressure from their father. As such, he claims that Ozzie basically robbed the boys of their childhood just to make a buck.
Ozzie apparently would even take his family’s most intimate and personal moments and make them public in the show. So, in a way, The Nelson’s were one of America’s first reality TV families. But just as reality television shows today are far from being ‘real’, much of what the Nelson’s could seen doing also very contrived.
Despite the fact that the series set in a replica of the Nelson’s Hollywood home, the Nelson family that we saw on TV were hardly the same people that they played on TV. David and Ricky never had a chance of having a ‘normal’ childhood. Since they essentially grew up on set, their experience was something not that far away from ‘The Truman Show’.
In case you never saw it, The Truman Show was a 1998 comedy-drama film starring Jim Carrey as Trusman Burbank; a man who’s entire life takes place on an enormous television set. Without his knowledge, every moment of Truman’s life is meticulously crafted and broadcast for the viewing audience’s entertainment.
Unlike Truman, the Nelson boys knew that the artificial, white picket-fence version of their lives wasn’t real, but there was still no way of escaping it. When you spend so much of your life portraying an idealized, candy-coated version of yourself on TV, it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate make-believe from reality.
Ricky Became The First Teen Idol
When Ricky was 17, he began his singing career. In fact, the expression ‘teen idol’ was first coined to describe him. His fame as both a TV star and recording artist led to him as a cast in the 1959 Western film Rio Bravo alongside Dean Martin, John Wayne, and Angie Dickinson.
Between 1958 and 1973, he put out 53 songs that made the Billboard Hot 100 – ten of which topped the top ten.
Around the time that he began appearing in films, Ricky started dating football legend Tom Harmon’s daughter Kristin Harmon. The two married in what Ricky would later describe as a ‘shotgun wedding’ two years later while Kristin was pregnant. To keep their squeaky clean public image, the couple kept the pregnancy a secret.
The truth, however, became very clear when Kristin gave birth just six months after their wedding.
Ricky, not wanting to let his fans downs, simply insisted that the baby was born premature. He even went as far as placing his newborn daughter in an incubator.
Ricky and Kristin would later run into some serious marital problems. They almost divorced in 1975 after Ricky found in their home with two cheerleaders. But they decided to try to patch things up and give it another go. Not long after getting back together, though, they separated again and finalized their divorce in 1982.
Just three years later, Ricky and six others killed when his private plane crashed in a patch of woods near Dallas, Texas.
Illegal substance use was initially blamed for their deaths. But it has since been confirmed that the cause of the crash was the onboard heater catching fire.
After his death, Ricky’s ex-wife Kristin turned to hard drugs to cope. Her and Ricky’s youngest son, Sam, ended up getting caught in the middle of this challenging situation and eventually called his uncle Mark Harmon for Help.
This led to a long drawn-out custody battle. But Sam ultimately went back to living with his mother after spending some time living with his uncle.
Fortunately, Kristin did eventually go to rehab and got clean whilethe rest of the family agreed to attend family therapy sessions.
Ozzie’s Lengthy Cancer Battle
Ozzie always prioritized his health and fitness. He used to swim two-miles a day in the Pacific Ocean, and he never drank nor smoked cigarettes.
So, it was rather unexpected when he started suffering from malignant tumors. For years he kept fighting, but when he was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1974. He was informed by his doctor what he wouldn’t have much time left to live.
After having an unsuccessful surgery that did little to improve his condition, Ozzie made peace with his terminal prognosis. Six months later, while surrounded by his wife and two sons in his home in the San Fernando Valley, Ozzie died at the age of 69.
You’ve heard what we’ve had to say. Now it’s your turn to let your voice be heard.
Do you think that David and Ricky Nelson robbed of their childhoods, or do you think that Ozzie simply trying to set them up for successful futures? Let us know in the comments.
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