Ozzie Nelson: American actor, band leader, television producer and director (1906 - 1975) | Biography
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Ozzie Nelson
American actor, band leader, television producer and director

Ozzie Nelson

Ozzie Nelson
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American actor, band leader, television producer and director
Was Film director Bandmaster Jazz musician Actor Television actor Musician Saxophonist Conductor Film actor Screenwriter Film producer Composer
From United States of America
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio Music
Gender male
Birth 20 March 1906, Jersey City, USA
Death 3 June 1975, Los Angeles, USA (aged 69 years)
Star sign Pisces
Spouse: Harriet Nelson
Children: Ricky NelsonDavid Nelson (actor)
Rutgers University
Rutgers School of Law–Newark
Sports Teams
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The details (from wikipedia)


Oswald George Nelson (March 20, 1906 – June 3, 1975) was an American band leader, actor, director, and producer. He originated and starred in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a radio and television series with his wife Harriet and two sons David and Ricky Nelson.

Early life

Nelson was born March 20, 1906 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He was the second son of Ethel Irene (née Orr) and George Waldemar Nelson. His paternal grandparents were Swedish and his mother was of English descent. Nelson was raised in Ridgefield Park where he was active in Scouting, earning the rank of Eagle Scout at age 13. He played football at Ridgefield Park High School as well as during his college years at Rutgers University. He was a member of the Cap and Skull fraternity,. He graduated from Rutgers University with a bachelor's degree and earned a law degree from Rutgers School of Law, New Jersey in 1930. Nelson was made a doctor of humane letters by Rutgers University in 1957. As a student he made pocket money playing saxophone in a band and coaching football. Nelson was rejected to be the vocalist for the Rutgers Jazz Bandits, led by Scrappy Lambert and later Hawley Ades. Nelson was not discouraged and was gracious about this rejection when he met Ades years later. During the Depression, he turned to music as a full-time career.



Nelson started his entertainment career as a band leader. He formed and led "The Ozzie Nelson Band," and had some initial limited success. Nelson made his own "big break" in 1930, when The New York Daily Mirror ran a poll of its readers to determine their favorite band. Since he knew that news vendors got credit from the newspaper for unsold copies by returning the front page and discarding the rest of the issue, he cannily had his band's members gather hundreds of discarded newspapers and fill out ballots in their own favor. They edged out Paul Whiteman and were pronounced the winners.

From 1930 through the 1940s, Nelson's band recorded prolifically—first on Brunswick (1930–1933), then Vocalion (1933–1934), then back to Brunswick (1934–1936), Bluebird (1937–1941), Victor (1941), and finally back to Bluebird (1941 through the 1940s). Nelson's records were consistently popular, and in 1934, Nelson enjoyed success with his hit song, "Over Somebody Else's Shoulder," which he introduced. Nelson was their primary vocalist and, from August 1932, he featured in duets with his other star vocalist, Harriet Hilliard. Nelson's calm, easy vocal style was popular on records and radio and quite similar to son Rick's voice, and Harriet's perky vocals added to the band's popularity.

In 1935, "Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra," as they were being called, had a number one hit with "And Then Some", which was number one for one week on the U.S. pop singles chart. Nelson wrote and composed several songs, including "Wave the Stick Blues", "Subway", "Jersey Jive", "Swingin' on the Golden Gate", and "Central Avenue Shuffle".

In October 1935 he married the band's vocalist Harriet Hilliard. The couple had two children: the older, David (1936–2011), became an actor and director, and the younger, Eric Hilliard ("Ricky") (1940–1985), became an actor and singer.


The Nelson family; (clockwise from top) David, Ricky, Ozzie and Harriet, 1952

Ozzie Nelson appeared with his band in feature films and short subjects of the 1940s, and often played speaking parts, displaying a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, as in the 1942 musical Strictly in the Groove. He shrewdly promoted the band by agreeing to appear in "soundies," three-minute musical movies shown in "film jukeboxes" of the 1940s. In 1952, when he and his family were established as radio and TV favorites, they starred in a feature film, Here Come the Nelsons, which actually doubled as a "pilot" for the TV series.

Radio and television

In the 1940s, Nelson began to look for a way to spend more time with his family, especially his growing sons. Besides band appearances, he and Harriet had been regulars on The Raleigh Cigarette Program, Red Skelton's radio show. He developed and produced his own radio series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show went on the air in 1944, with their sons played by actors until 1949, and in 1952 it moved over to television, in which David and "Ricky" appeared on-camera. (The radio version continued for another two years.) The TV show starred the entire family, and America watched Ozzie and Harriet raise their boys. The last television episode aired in 1966. Nelson was producer and director of most of the episodes, and he co-wrote many of them. Nelson's brother, Don Nelson, was also one of the writers. Ozzie was very hands-on and involved with every aspect of the radio and TV programs. (It is notable that throughout the 1950s, Ozzie's prior bandleading career and Harriet's singing career were seldom mentioned. The younger audience would have had no idea that Ozzie and Harriet had previously been involved in music.)

He appeared as a guest panelist on the June 9, 1957, episode of What's My Line?

His last television show, in the fall of 1973, was titled Ozzie's Girls. This lasted for a year in first-run syndication. The premise was Ozzie and Harriet renting their sons' former room to two college girls—one Caucasian, one African American (actresses Brenda Sykes and Susan Sennett were the "girls" in question), and concerned the Nelsons' efforts at adjusting to living with two young women, after having raised two sons.

Personal life

The Nelsons in 1960

He married band singer Harriet Hilliard in 1935. They had two sons, David (born in 1936) and Eric (known as Ricky, born in 1940). The couple remained married until Ozzie's death from liver cancer in 1975. His grandchildren include actress Tracy Nelson and musicians Matthew Nelson and Gunnar Nelson. He was also the former father-in-law of Kristin Harmon and June Blair.

Cultural historians have noted that the on-screen laid-back character was very different from the real-life Ozzie Nelson, who has been characterized as an authoritarian figure who monitored every aspect of his children's lives. In 1998, A&E broadcast a documentary entitled Ozzie and Harriet: The Adventures of America's Favorite Family, which depicted Ozzie Nelson as a dictatorial personality who "thwarted his sons, preventing them from attending college and reminding them that they were obliged to work on television". Author David Halberstam has written, "the Nelsons arguably were a dysfunctional family. In real life, Ozzie was a workaholic who stole his sons' childhood (by having them grow up in show business)".

In 1973, Ozzie Nelson published his autobiography, Ozzie, (Prentice Hall, 1973, ISBN 0-13-647768-2).


Nelson suffered from recurring malignant tumors in his later years, and eventually succumbed to liver cancer. He died at his home in the San Fernando Valley at 4:30 a.m. on June 3, 1975, with his wife and sons at his bedside. Services were held at the Church of the Hills at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, California on Friday, June 6. He is interred with his wife and son Ricky, both of whom outlived him, in the Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. When his elder son David Nelson died in 2011, he was cremated and had chosen not to be interred in the Nelson family plot, instead choosing a niche in Westwood Memorial Park's outdoor Garden of Serenity columbarium.

For his contribution to the television industry, Ozzie Nelson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6555 Hollywood Boulevard. He has an additional star with his wife at 6260 Hollywood Boulevard for their contribution to radio.

Selected filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1941 Sweetheart of the Campus Ozzie Norton
1942 Strictly in the Groove Ozzie Nelson
1943 Honeymoon Lodge Ozzie Nelson, Band Leader Credited as Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra
1944 Wave-a-Stick Blues Ozzie Nelson
1946 People Are Funny Ken
1952 Here Come the Nelsons Ozzie Nelson
1952-1966 The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Ozzie Nelson 435 episodes
Director, producer, writer
1956 Fireside Theater Dr. Phil Dunning Episode: "Shoot the Moon"
1958 The Bob Cummings Show Ozzie Nelson Episode: " Bob Becomes a Stage Uncle"
1965 Love and Kisses
Screenwriter, producer
1968 The Impossible Years Dr. Herbert J. Fleischer
1968 The Mothers-In-Law Ossie Snick/Owen Sinclair/Ossie Snick Episode: "Didn't You Use to Be Ozzie Snick?"
1971 Adam-12 Ted Clover Episode: "The Grandmothers"
1972 Night Gallery Henry Millikan Episode: "You Can Come Up Now, Mrs. Millikan/Smile, Please"
1973 Ozzie's Girls Ozzie Nelson 24 episodes
Producer, director
1973 Love, American Style Dan Segment: "Love and the Unmarriage"
1973 Bridget Loves Bernie
Director, 3 episodes
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 12 Feb 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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