THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET

U.S. Domestic Comedy

The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet was one of the most enduring family-based situation comedies in American television. Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their sons David and Ricky (16 and 13 respectively at the time of the program's debut) portrayed fictional versions of themselves on the program. The Nelsons embodied wholesome, "normal" American existence so conscientiously (if blandly) that their name epitomized upright, happy family life for decades.

Ozzie and Harriet started out on radio, a medium to which bandleader Ozzie Nelson and his singer/actress wife Harriet Hilliard had gravitated in the late 1930s, hoping to spend more time together than their conflicting careers would permit. In 1941 they found a permanent spot providing music for Red Skelton's program, a position that foundered when Skelton was drafted in 1944. In that year, the energetic Ozzie Nelson proposed a show of his own to network CBS and sponsor International Silver--a show in which the Nelsons would play themselves. Early in its run, the radio Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet jettisoned music for situation comedy. Ozzie Nelson himself directed and co-wrote all the episodes, as he would most of the video shows.

The Nelsons signed a long-term contract with ABC in 1949 that gave that network the option to move their program to television. The struggling network needed proven talent that was not about to defect to the more established---and wealthier--CBS or NBC.

The television program premiered in 1952. Like its radio predecessor, it focused on the Nelson family at home, chronicling the growing pains of the boys and their parents and dealing with mundane issues like hobbies, rivalries, schoolwork, club membership, and girlfriends. Eventually the on-screen David and Ricky (although never the off-screen David and Ricky) graduated from college and became lawyers. When the real David and Rick got married, to June Blair and Kristin Harmon respectively, their wives joined the cast of Ozzie and Harriet on television as well as in real life.

Ozzie and Harriet lasted 14 years on American television, remaining on the air until 1966. Although never in the top ten of rated programs, it did well throughout its run, appealing to the family viewing base targeted by ABC. The program picked up additional fans in April 1957, when Rick sang Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'" on an episode titled "Ricky the Drummer."

As soon as the Nelsons realized how popular their singing son was going to be, the televisual Rick was given every opportunity to croon over the airwaves by his father/director/manager. Sometimes his songs fitted into the narrative of an episode. Sometimes they were just tacked onto the end--early music videos of Rick Nelson in performance.

Despite this emphasis on Rick's vocal performances, and despite the legion of young fans the program picked up because of its teenage emphasis, the character of Ozzie dominated the program. The genial, bumbling Ozzie was the narrative linchpin of Ozzie and Harriet, attempting to steer his young sons into the proper paths (usually rather ineffectually) and attempting to assert his ego in a household in which he was often ill at ease.

That ego, and that household, were held together by wise homemaker Harriet. Although she may have seemed something of a cipher to many viewers, clad in the elegant dresses that defined the housewife on 1950s television, Harriet represented the voice of reason on Ozzie and Harriet, rescuing Ozzie--and occasionally David and Rick--from the consequences of over-impulsive behavior.

Ironically, in view of the weakness of paterfamilias Ozzie's character, the program was viewed, during its lengthy run as now, as an idealized portrait of the American nuclear family of the postwar years. The Nelsons eventually shifted their program into color and into the 1960s. Nevertheless, in spirit, and in the popular imagination, they remained black-and-white denizens of the 1950s.

- Tinky "Dakota" Weisblat

 


Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

CAST

Ozzie Nelson...................................................Himself
Harriet Nelson..................................................Herself
David Nelson...................................................Himself
Eric "Ricky" Nelson..........................................Himself "Thorny" Thornberry (1952-59)....................Don DeFore
Darby
(1955-61).........................................Parley Baer
Joe Randolph
(1956-66)...............................Lyle Talbot Clara Randolph (1956-66)......................Mary Jane Croft Doc Williams (1954-65)..............................Frank Cady Wally (1957-66)..........................................Skip Jones Butch Barton (1958-60)...........................Gordon Jones June (Mrs. David) Nelson (1961-66)................June Blair Kris(Mrs. Rick) Nelson(1964-66).............Kristin Harmon
Fred (1958-64).........................................James Stacy
Mr. Kelley
(1960-62)......................................Joe Flynn Connie Edwards (1960-66).................Constance Harper
Jack
(1961-66)........................................Jack Wagner Ginger (1962-65)................................Charlene Salerno
Dean Hopkins (1964-66)...............................Ivan Bonar
Greg
(1965-66)....................................... Greg Dawson Sean (1965-1966)....................................Sean Morgan

PRODUCERS
Ozzie Nelson, Robert Angus, Bill Lewis, Leo Penn

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 435 Episodes
ABC

October 1952-June 1956
- Friday 8:00-8:30
October 1956-September 1958
- Wednesday 9:00-9:30
September 1958-September 1961
- Wednesday 8:30-9:00
September 1961-September 1963
- Thursday 7:30-8:00
September 1963-January 1966
- Wednesday 7:30-8:00
January 1966-September 1966
- Saturday 7:30-8:00

FURTHER READING

Barringer, Felicity. "Dialogue that Lingers: 'Hi, Mom.' 'Hi, Pop,' 'Hi, David,' 'Hi, Rick.'" The New York Times, 9 October 1994.

Holmes, John R. "The Wizardry of Ozzie: Breaking Character in Early Television." Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), Fall, 1989.

Mahoney, Marie Ann. The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet: A Text in Context. Masters Thesis, The University of Texas at Austin. 1987.

See also Comedy, Domestic Settings; Nelson, Ozzie and Harriet