The 18th of July marks the anniversary of Harriet Nelson’s birth, so thought it appropriate to celebrate her work; particularly shining the light on that which she was best known for: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.
Born Peggy Lou Snyder, she began her career in vaudeville as a child, before moving to Broadway in her teens. She had quite an eventful first few years of adulthood, both professionally and personally, including two marriages prior to meeting Ozzie Nelson, a tenure in the Corps de Ballet at the Capitol Theater and serving as the straight woman to comedians such as Ken Murray, before being hired as a singer in the Ozzie Nelson band.
Following their marriage after three years working together, the couple reluctantly put an end to her successful solo film career in order to concentrate on their combined music and radio work.
By a strange coincidence, the Nelsons graduated to their own radio programme after appearing on the show of a man who shared today with Harriet as his birthday: Red Skelton. Following national radio success with the Ozzie Nelson Orchestra, they became regulars on The Red Skelton Show, staying for three years in the capacity of cast members and musical contributors. During this time, Ozzie and Harriet were building their reputation with other radio appearances on such top programmes as The Fred Allen Show and mystery series Suspense.
In 1944, when Skelton was drafted into military service, Ozzie Nelson decided to create his own sitcom around the talents of himself and his wife. Thus The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet began on 8th October 1944 on CBS. The Show did move to NBC for a time, returning back to CBS before spending its final years on ABC (which had formerly been the NBC Blue Network). The series focused on the everyday life of the Nelson family, with the couple’s sons David and Ricky joining the cast after five years at 12 and 8 years old.
When the radio show looked like it was coming to an end, Ozzie decided to make the move to television under an unprecedented contract which included incredible benefits for the family, including guaranteed pay regardless of cancellation. Ozzie was exacting in striving for perfection, ensuring that the quality of the show made sure it had staying-power, remaining in production for 14 seasons.
The show was responsible for launching Ricky’s music career, and even spawned a spin-off continuation of the Nelsons’ story, entitled Ozzie’s Girls, in which the couple rented out the boys’ rooms to two female college students, but this was short-lived and only circulated in syndication for one season.
Possibly the most remembered legacy from Ozzie and Harriet for some would be the music career of son Ricky, despite being a massively popular American TV show in subsequent reruns for decades after production ended. Ozzie and Harriet have now passed into popular culture, and thanks to outlets such as Amazon Prime Video (US only), who provides a selection of episodes, will not soon be forgotten.