–Arts and letters for the modern age–

Cathode Ray Zone

–Arts and Letters for the Modern Age–

It’s a Family Affair: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

by | Apr 7, 2023

No matter how many streaming and network shows get the high resolution do over there’s something to be said for television series that charted the then unknown seas of broadcast entertainment.

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet ran for 14 seasons on the ABC network, from 1952 through 1966.

It’s not surprising since Ozzie was a popular band leader in the 1930’s, and his sons and grandchildren would themselves contribute to decades worth of musical and screen achievements.

You are no doubt familiar with the song “Dream a Little Dream of Me” most fondly remembered for the version by The Mamas and Papas complete with Mama Cass on lead vocal. The song was first recorded by Nelson’s band on February 16, 1931.

Nelson later had a popular radio show that he parlayed into a television series. Along with wife Harriet the show featured “the entire Nelson family” including their sons David and Ricky.

A typical early episode would include the wacky next door neighbor and revolve around sedate 1950’s family life, such as David getting a job as a movie theater usher. America watched the kids grow up in real time. 

After Ricky became a bona fide rock singer he would close out random episodes with his band singing his latest hit. Additionally Ricky starred alongside John Wayne and Dean Martin in 1959’s Rio Bravo.

One show has Ricky singing the Broadway standard “Summertime,” only accelerated to rockabilly speed. The bass line Rick’s band uses is obviously a nod to early rock and blues records. Led Zeppelin would themselves appropriate the same riff on the last cut on their first album “How Many More Times.”

While there have been previous VHS and disc releases of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a remastered version is currently being released by MPI Media Group, which is up to the tenth season. Concluding seasons are being released every couple of months.

For some of the early seasons, when the kids were still quite young, the new DVDs present the same episode but as it was rerun seasons later. The only difference is that the show is introduced by the adults and now grown sons and tagged with a song. Recall that typical seasons then consisted of thirty-plus episodes.

The entire run of the show has been restored from original 35mm film and sound elements from the UCLA Film & Television Archives.

While The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet held the record for situation-comedy in concurrent years that was overtaken recently by Sunny Day in Philadelphia. Yet Ozzie and Harriet still clocked in 435 episodes.

There is a thing about old television releases where entire series are missing certain episodes that can’t clear specific music rights. Ozzie and Harriet skirts that issue in lieu of the fact that the music is performed by teen-idol Ricky.

At the conclusion of season nine, in an episode titled “The Built-in Television Set” (05/10/1961), the show ends with Ozzie and Harriet in bed watching Ricky and his band on television.

The band plays two of Rick’s biggest hits of that era: “Travelin’ Man” and “Hello Mary Lou.”

First of all, Ozzie and Harriet are in a common bed. Not two twin beds like in another popular sitcom running at the same time, The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Second, the television screen isn’t some stand alone electronic unit but rather a screen built into the wall and situated above a stand with ceramic figurines. This is a perfect encapsulation of the way modern America viewed both success and domestication.

Ozzie passed away in the mid-1970’s. Harriet passed twenty years later and the eldest son, David, was active in film production until his death in 2011.

Rick enjoyed a renaissance of his career in the 1970’s with songs like “Garden Party.” Despite having shortened his name to Rick in 1961 he went back to Ricky Nelson during a Comeback Tour with Fats Domino in 1985. The year would end tragically when Nelson was killed during the crash of an airplane on which he was a passenger, traveling to Dallas to appear in a New Year’s Eve concert. Ricky’s children themselves continued the family tradition with his sons Matthew and Gunnar performing as the band Nelson. His daughter Tracy appeared in numerous television shows including The Father Dowling Mysteries.

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