DATELINE: Minor Director
Ozzie Directed His Troupe.
While on a TV bender, we saw that an old series from the early 1950s was showing on the classic sit-com channel: it was called Here Come the Nelsons, or The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. We could not recall if we saw it originally (doubtful) or in some rerun return years later.
What a curio it was back then. It featured a rich Hollywood family (the Nelsons) as themselves, imitating a middle-class suburban TV version of themselves in some kind of antiseptic style.
They were pleasant and dealt only with blemish-less problems. They seemed so real that people thought the set was actually their home. What an innocent age that was!
Ozzie Nelson wrote, directed, produced and starred in these shows. He was no Orson Welles, but he gave America a kind of template of sit-com heaven. He wrote the shows with his brother Don, and Ozzie himself played some kind of retired gentleman. He had no job, but lived well and was always home to chat with his two sons. We presumed he was himself, a retired band-leader living off his royalties.
We were struck at how small he was: truly! He was short and small-boned, almost like a child. It was something we had never noticed over the years.
It was the forerunner of Leave It to Beaver, but far more successful and lasted many more years. The episode we saw was about the two young brothers wanting separate rooms in their tiny little suburban home. Their parents seemed to eschew that in real life their palace likely had a dozen bedrooms.
Harriet, the mother, is ubiquitous in an apron, but she never does housework—and we kept wondering where her black maid was (Louise Beavers anyone?). Every show seemed to be the servants’ day off. Only the nosy neighbor, Don DeFore, showed up not playing himself.
The sons were charming and pleasant too, and Ricky would grow up to be rival of Elvis on a weekly TV show! For a season or two they did a radio version each week, live, separate from the filmed series. David tried his hand at playing movie villains in subsequent years, but ended up being an executive producer.
This was either delusion or illusion at its worst or best. They came across as so real that it defied all Hollywood backdrops.
Ozzie Nelson directed, created, and oversaw, this production for decades: he was the master of a disrespected art form, the family sit-com, but he turned out his miniature artwork faithfully and tirelessly. We should give him some credit.