The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is, quite simply, an American Institution. It began as a radio program in 1944, with David and Ricky joining the cast in 1949, and then made the move to television in 1952, after a full-length theatrical feature Here Come the Nelsons was released that same year. The show ran for 14 (!!) seasons, and America watched Ricky and David grow from bickering, wise-cracking little boys to married men–oh, and Ricky blossomed into a singing sensation somewhere along the way, too. Ozzie and Harriet, meanwhile, stayed Ozzie Harriet–wise, loving parents and the gosh darndest cutest couple that ever was.
Ozzie Nelson wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the television series, and he infused his values into the show–values like a loving family and good-natured fun, values that helped shape the Nelson family into the ideal American family, values that still hold up. Despite the show’s title, it wasn’t a very adventuresome show. Most of the plots center around little misunderstandings or mix-ups–but what funny, wholesome, entertaining misunderstandings and mix-ups they were!
Rick Nelson once said that watching episodes of the show were like watching home movies for him. Like a home movie, you can see the genuine love and warmth this family had for one another while watching the show. It makes you want to go over to their house and spend time with them, which you can’t do so you just have to settle for watching another episode, which works out well because there are 435! Here are a few–a very few–of my favorites.
Season 1, Episode 3
Original air date: October 17, 1952
Ozzie thinks he needs to lose weight. Why? Harriet has bought him a new pair of pants–a size 33, which he thinks will be too big because he measured a size 30 for his pants in high school. Ozzie models the size 33 for Harriet and Ricky, who begins singing, “Roll out the barrels!” The pants are a little tight, and Ozzie believes it’s because the store sold Harriet the wrong size but still decides to dedicate himself to going on a diet in order to fit into the pants. When he learns that Thorny’s weight loss has actually been due to some appetite-suppressing pills, he decides to do the same…except the pills that he thinks are appetite-suppressing are actually the pills prescribed to Ricky to increase his appetite for nutritious foods (‘cos the kid can’t keep out of the cookie jar apparently). Laughs straight ahead!
Season 1, Episode 39
Original air date: June 26, 1953
It all begins with Harriet frying instead of boiling Ozzie’s eggs for breakfast. She just thought he might like a change, but this unexpected change in routine spurs a discussion that perhaps Ozzie, like most men, has become “set in his ways.” Ozzie then becomes determined to prove that he is definitely NOT set in his ways, especially after a discussion with the most annoying character on this show, Emmy Lou. Emmy Lou is a teenager who is all “ooohs” and “ahhhs” and other annoying exclamations. She raves to Ozzie about a movie she recently saw. “What was it called?” Ozzie wants to know. “Farley Granger,” she sighs.
Speaking of Farley Granger, remember that time when a young Ricky Nelson starred in The Story of Three Loves? He was the most adorable, charming child who ran around terrorizing his governess, speaking French–s’il vous plaît, s’il vous plaît!, and wishing desperately that he was all grown up so that he could stay up as late as he liked and would have no more stupid French lessons. Oh, he was adorable and charming. And then he duly goes to bed in his white and blue striped pajamas…and wakes up as Farley Granger, who, try as he might, is just not as adorable and charming as young Ricky Nelson. Maybe because I have a tiny bit of trouble forgetting that time he took part in the “perfect” murder.
Back to Oscillating Ozzie, though.
Emmy Lou’s rave review about this Farley Granger film where Farley Granger is irresponsible and unpredictable convinces Ozzie that he must prove to Harriet that he is NOT set in his ways. He is unpredictable, prone to change his mind, crazy! So he does not buy one quart of vanilla ice cream and one quart of chocolate ice cream. Oh, no–he buys three quarts of Tutti Frutti ice cream! (“What’s Tutti Frutti?” asks Ricky. Ha! Ha! Ha! Spoiler alert! Pop’s gonna spend an entire episode looking for some Tutti Frutti ice cream, Ricky.) And he walks instead of driving–and doesn’t take his usual route, to boot. He changes his clothes for dinner. He decides to stay home and play his banjo instead of going out bowling with Thorny…until Harriet practically pushes him out of the house because she is having a new rug delivered while Ozzie is out because the change would upset him.
“I wonder what’s come over, Pop,” wonders Dave. Ricky just shakes his head and says, “Crazy, mixed up kid!”
Boy, does that kid makes the show.
When Ozzie meets the rug delivery man on his way to meet Thorny, he discovers Harriet’s plot and decides once again to surprise her by being so incredibly unpredictable and crazy in an ending you have to see for yourself. Oh, Ozzie, we love you just the way you are!
Hairstyle for Harriet
Season 5, Episode 15
Original air date: January 9, 1957
This episode is kind of a companion to “Oscillating Ozzie.” When Ozzie can describe Harriet’s hairstyle perfectly, she believes it’s time for a change, which alarms Ozzie because he likes her hair just the way it is. He’s worried about what she’ll do to her hair and decides to change his own hair, which shocks everyone. Here’s Ricky’s reaction:
Even better, though, is the end of the episode, where Ricky and Dave head out to a costume party. Ricky dresses up as Elvis….and sings a few lines from “Love Me Tender” (this is just a few episodes before his singing debut). Sigh.
An even deeper sigh. Check out those eyelashes!
And David, inspired by Ozzie, dresses up as Yul Brynner in The King and I, replete with “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.” Not to be missed!
Season 6, Episode 13
Original air date: January 1, 1958
Ozzie cannot find his decathlon trophy and nobody at the Men’s Club believes he ever won it! So the family decides to enter (and win!) the upcoming Family Decathlon at the Men’s Club picnic. Harriet wins the pie-baking contest. David wins the football-throwing contest. Ricky wins at tennis. And Ozzie…well, Ozzie has a hard time.
There’s also a rock ‘n’ roll dance contest. Guess who enters?
…and scares everybody else out of entering, apparently.
But the final competition–and the one that will determine whether the Nelson family wins the Decathlon and the trophy–is the Obstacle Course, which Ozzie enters. Can he do it? What do you mean, can he do it? Ozzie can do anything!
With Harriet’s help, of course.
Season 6, Episode 25
Original air date: March 26, 1958
Ok, I love, love, LOVE this episode. It makes me laugh. A lot.
The Randolphs son, Joe Jr., has devised a way to broadcast television programs from the Nelsons’ basement. This allows for many tricks to be played on unsuspecting members of the Nelson family and visitors in their home! I love when Ricky is a supposed contestant on a game show and can’t answer the question, “What does the formula H2O stand for?”
“Water!” shouts Ozzie.
“Oh, thanks, Pop!”
Later, Joe Randolph Sr. and Ozzie decide to use the set-up to play a trick on their wives, who have just been spending too much time at the Women’s Club meetings and not enough time at home cooking their dinners. With the help of Ricky, Dave, Joe Jr., and a bachelor friend named Fred, they create a nightclub–drinks, music, dancing, and beautiful girls included!
Of course the trick backfires. But all ends well with the Nelsons watching Joe and Clara fight and make up on the television. And then….
Yeah, they totally just broke the fourth wall. And they did it being lovelier and cuter and more endearing than anybody else ever in the history of television.
Season 8, Episode 15
Original air date: January 27, 1960
The plot of this episode is actually kind of boring: David, now a budding law clerk, has to serve a summons to an owner of a circus, Mr. Cantini, and he doesn’t want to because the guy is so nice. The best part of this episode is that it allows David and Rick to showcase their actual trapeze talents. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet may have been idealized in some ways, but so many of its story lines were derived from real-life events or integrated their real-life hobbies and skills. David and Ricky actually performed all the flying trapeze tricks in this episode (David was also part of a group that travelled and performed during the summer), and it’s so fun to watch. It’s also fun to watch how Ozzie was able to incorporate their skills into the storyline.
David is restless, worrying about serving this dog-gone summons. “Hey, Ricky,” he asks. “What would you do if you had to serve a summons?”
“The first thing I’d do is get a good night’s sleep,” responds Ricky, whose hair just happens to be perfectly groomed. Ricky then suggests that David serve Papa Cantini the summons when he swings across the trapeze. David falls asleep and begins to dream about just that…
David’s the catcher and Ricky’s the flier, and they do some tricks that make me a little nervous. But it’s awesome….just like their outfits.
Let’s take a moment to consider and appreciate that the following photo is for sale on eBay for a mere $9.49:
I am THIS close to messaging the following to the seller: “Hi, just wondering if this comes in a LARGE poster size. Thanks.”
Season 13, Episode 15
Original air date: December 30, 1964
I love this episode. Even though Rick and Dave have both moved out and married, this episode finds them going on a fishing trip with good ol’ Pop. Except they run into a little trouble. First, Harriet is supposed to make them a big breakfast–just like in the old days!–before they head out, but once she hears where June and Kris are spending their day (at a big sale down at the Emporium–where else?), she bolts, leaving the boys and Ozzie to make their own breakfast. Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. So they head to a little diner, where they unwittingly witness a robbery, of which they (particularly Ozzie) also become the prime suspects. So…with the help of Harriet, they try to track down the person they believe actually committed the crime, a little old lady who sold them a few donuts before leaving the diner under suspicious circumstances. They eventually find her home, and this VERY important moment occurs:
Yeah, little Ricky is all grown up…and married. And Kris is a really good cook!
This episode is a lot of fun, and it kept me wondering who really was in the wrong at that little diner. (Ellery Queen probably would have been disappointed in my deduction skills.) Plus, I just love that they are all together…which I guess they are now, too. Tear.
What a special family they were. Sometimes, I take a step back and think about how I’m spending my time watching what I’m watching. Like…why am I spending my time watching a reality show about people losing weight? (Really, I would like to know the answer to this.) Why am I spending my time watching a show where everyone in this hospital has slept with everybody else at some point? Why am I spending my time watching a show about people lost on an island? I don’t have to stop and wonder why I am watching The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. (Well, I have thought about when I actually reach the point where I have seen all 435 episodes–I’m about halfway–which will mean I have spent over 200 hours with this family, and that is kind of crazy.) I watch it because it’s a good show from start to finish–some shows lose quality over time, but not this one. I watch it because it is filled with genuine warmth, affection, and comedy. I watch it because Ricky Nelson has really long, beautiful eyelashes. (Just kidding! …kind of.) I watch it because it’s the Nelsons, America’s favorite family! My favorite family.