On January 11, 2011, the last member of the original Ozzie and Harriet Nelson family passed away into history. David Nelson died at age 74.
Sadly, his passing went without much fanfare. His star had dimmed long ago, as had the rest of the Nelson family’s. Many Americans today probably have no real idea who he was. However, the impact of David and his family can still be felt in America. The phrase “Ozzie and Harriet” has become an American idiom meaning “the ideal family existence”, based on the longest running non-animated TV sitcom in history, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
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.
O&H was not a top-ten TV show. 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. It had a few sight gags, but they were secondary to the straight-man and joke-man act of David and Ricky – great lines like these:
Ricky: …have you seen my muscles lately?
David: Whats the matter, can’t you find ’em either?
The sitcom was a showcase for Ricky’s musical talents, of course, skyrocketing him to rock and roll greatness in short order. O&H have been credited for creating the first “music videos” 30 years before MTV.
I spent so much time with the Nelsons, I am confident I use lines from the show almost weekly (as well as comedic lines from Jack Benny, Abbot and Costello and others located in my vast store of useless knowledge). By the way, I just realized “my vast store of useless knowledge” is a line from an episode of O&H delivered by Thorny (Don DeFore).
The most recent outbreak of my O&H obsession came in the form of my own version of an oldtime radio show…Hey, Dad. You can listen to my own family carrying on the tradition of the Nelsons at the link above or here. I hope to provide a new episode every now and then.
It’s a sad week for America, losing the last of the Nelsons. I hope their brand of optimistic, ideal family living and simple, dialogue-driven comedy is never completely lost from our collective consciousness. It won’t be from mine.
In tribute to David and his family, I’ll just say what Ozzie used to say at the end of the final Hotpoint or Eastman Kodak commercial. “Goodnight, folks.”