Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Nose-talgia #23: Harriet Nelson, America's Favorite Real-Life TV Mom!

She wasn't a knockabout clown like Lucille Ball or Joan Davis, nor an actress playing a mom in a sitcom (like Barbara Billingsley on Leave it to Beaver), she was the actual mother of her TV children!  We're talking about the talented Harriet Nelson, born on this date in 1909, wife of the equally talented and business savvy Ozzie Nelson and mother of David and Ricky Nelson, her two kids who grew up to be equally talented, all of whom starred on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

Basic facts about the show:  it began on radio, airing from 1944 - 1954; the kids joined in 1949 playing themselves.  The series migrated to TV in 1952 after they made the successful motion picture Here Come the Nelsons, showing the format could work visually.  The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was on network TV from 1952 - 1966 for a total of 425 episodes and still retains the title of longest-running live action American sitcom.

Though it's still fashionable to mock the so-called "perfect family" construct on sitcoms like this from early TV, honestly, nobody believed that all families were like this or should have been like this.  Life was indeed a little kinder and gentler back then for a few people; maybe some kids' biggest worry was whether or not they'd get a date for the prom or if they'd be jilted at the malt shop, but certainly not everybody's.

So what if Ozzie Nelson in real life was more of a hard-nosed businessman than jaunty hilarious father with no visible means of supporting his family?  Or if Harriet was actually a snazzy jazz band lead singer who had enjoyed an exciting career in show biz and mostly gave it up to become the radio and TV version of herself?  These two talented individuals and their creative partners put their heads together to fashion an amusing version of the idealized family zeitgeist of mid-century America.  Mission accomplished.

As a child of the 1950s and as a fan of TV comedy, I enjoy watching these shows.  Not because they're a refuge from life or because there are no dirty words and everyone's perfect, but because there is something ineffably sweet about their impossible version of the world.  It wasn't my world and it probably wasn't yours, but it was a real place, at least on the TV set.

Here's another fun aspect to those times.  Though companies still use celebrities -- those sometimes-talented motley, addled, selfish, ridiculously rewarded trivial personalities -- to try to sell their wares, back in the day when most celebrities' real personalities were well under cover thanks to round-the-clock publicist oversight, lots of companies wanted that actor endorsement.  So it was with the popular Nelson family from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  Who better to gently suggest to audiences that there were a few things for sale out there that might really make their family's life a little better?

First let's look at a few Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet clips, then a slew of the commercials which were embedded in those shows.  Hotpoint and Kodak certainly got their money's worth out of the Nelsons.

Ozzie Nelson passed away in 1975 at the age of 69, Rick Nelson died in a plane crash at the age of 45 in 1985, Harriet Nelson passed away at the age of 85 in 1994, and David Nelson in 2011 at 75.

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