The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet: David Nelson Dies at 74

Ozzie and HarrietThe last remaining member of a family that was an American institution on radio and television in the 1950s and 1960s has died. David Nelson (pictured top right) passed away yesterday from complications from colon cancer. He died in his Century City, California home and was 74 years old.

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet began in 1944 on radio and revolved around fictionalized versions of Ozzie and Harriet (Hillard) Nelson. He was a bandleader and she was a singer. In the beginning, their children David and Ricky were played by child actors. In February 1949, the real-life Nelson boys, who’d long accompanied their parents to broadcasts, took over the roles themselves. After learning that their friend, Lindsay Crosby (son of Bing) was going to make an appearance with his dad, the boys pleaded to take part. The boys showed such talent that their parents eventually agreed.

In October 1952, the program moved to television on the four-year old ABC network. The series ran for 435 episodes before leaving primetime in 1966. All but the final season were produced in black and white. It remains the longest-running live-action sitcom in TV history.

Playing fictionalized versions of themselves, David and Ricky Nelson grew up in front of television viewers for 14 years and their real lives often paralleled what the audience saw. When David enrolled at USC and joined a fraternity in 1954, his TV self did essentially the same thing. When he married his first wife, June Blair, in 1961, she joined the cast as his TV wife.

David Nelson was born in New York City on October 24, 1936 during his parents’ big-band days. His younger brother, Rick, was born in 1940 and ended up garnering much of the attention from young female fans of the show.

While his onscreen persona studied law, David acted in some movies television shows during and after Ozzie and Harriet. His last acting credit was spoofing his clean-cut persona in the John Waters’ 1990 film Cry Baby with Johnny Depp and Traci Lords. He eventually became a producer and director. Among other projects, he helmed several episodes of Ozzie’s Girls, a 1973 syndicated attempt to bring his parents back to television, picking up seven years after the end of their TV show. It lasted just one season.

Ozzie Nelson died in 1975 of liver cancer and Harriet died in 1994 of congestive heart failure. Singer Rick Nelson died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve in 1985 with six others.

David Nelson is survived by his second wife, Yvonne, four sons and a daughter, and seven grandchildren. Funeral services and his burial will take place tomorrow in Los Angeles.

What do you think? How will you remember David Nelson? Any favorite Ozzie and Harriet episodes?

Canceled and renewed TV show

3 Comments · Read them below or add one

  1. says

    See my full tribute here:

    We all have our favorite TV shows from the 1950′s and 1960′s. For some of us, it’s Leave to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, Gunsmoke or others. For me it will always be The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. David’s passing leaves me feeling a bit sad, but also nostalgic about how deeply the Nelson family sitcom is woven into my consciousness.

    I first started watching Ozzie and Harriet (O&H) in the 1980′s, when the Disney Channel began airing episodes. At that time, the Disney Channel was a great place to catch classic films and TV series from the 1950′s – things like Swamp Fox, Davy Crockett, The Mickey Mouse Club, and old animated short films. Its so sad the folks at the Disney Channel have forgotten their roots. Anyway, I taped dozens of episodes of O&H and still have them.
    The Nelsons didn’t have the showbiz feel of Lucille Ball or Milton Berle. Even the Cleavers had a polished, Hollywood air, but the O&H show had an oldtimey, family feel. In fact, it felt more like radio on TV. That may not sound like a compliment, but it is. The dialogue carried the show.

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