David Nelson said his family and TV show were separate


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David Nelson, who died Tuesday at 74, joined his parents on ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ on radio in 1949 when he was 12 and his brother, Ricky, was 8. The family’s situation comedy moved to ABC-TV in 1952 and remained on the air until it was cancelled in 1966.

The TV series was produced and directed by Ozzie Nelson, who oversaw every aspect of the show, including the writing.


In a 1971 Esquire article on the Nelsons, David stressed that the Nelson family and the TV show were ‘totally separate.’

‘One was real and one wasn’t,’ he said. ‘For your sanity, you had to keep that clear. Rick and I had to distinguish between our father, and the director telling us what to do. If we got the lines crossed, that’s where the arguments started, and I would end up putting my fist through a wall behind the set, because I was that angry.’

Noting that a ‘lot of families are trying to make a transition, in morals and values, from the Fifties to the Seventies,’ he said that in ‘our family, there was no generation gap, and I think it’s too bad. Because I was a little old man at thirteen. I was polite, tried never to offend anyone, and I felt this great responsibility, because I wasn’t just me—I was a quarter of a thing.

‘Whatever I did, I felt the burden of three other people and all the crew who worked on the show. I wasn’t a truck driver’s son who could go out and bust people if he got mad.’

--Dennis McLellan