In the pilot film that eventually led to the TV show, “Here Come the Nelsons,” Ozzie’s fictional character was described as an advertising executive who promotes women’s underwear. When the TV show eventually launched, there was no reference to Ozzie working in advertising.
In fact, it became a running joke that Ozzie only left the Nelson home when he wanted to go out and get ice cream. Ricky’s real-life daughter, Tracy Nelson, wanted to clear up the confusion. She shared that Ozzie’s character was actually a lawyer who graduated from Rutgers. You know, lawyers used to mostly work from home in those days… or not.
It turned out that Ozzie and Harriet weren't the only ones with musical talent in the family. By age 17, Ricky Nelson also began singing. He first sang in an episode of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" on April 10, 1957. The episode centers around Ricky who performs his take on“I’m Walkin," a song which quickly made its way to #17 on the Billboard charts.
Ricky's music became a safe and more innocent alternative to Elvis and briefly even sold more records than Presley. This reportedly didn’t bother the King of Rock and Roll as he himself was a big fan of the show. Burton, who played with Ricky, told Rolling Stone in 1986 that Elvis tuned into the TV show just so he could see them play at the end. Ultimately, Ricky secured a recording deal with Domino's label, Imperial Records. Can you imagine how this impacted the show?
Dad's the Boss Man
Ozzie noticed how Ricky's blossoming talents were benefiting the show. So, he decided to do what he was best at doing, taking control, and micromanaged every move his son made. This included deciding what songs he could record. In August 1958, Ricky released his single “Poor Little Fool,” which rapidly soared to number one on the Billboard charts. Ozzie felt that the song was a good representation of the family’s image.
Ozzie began to incorporate Ricky's singing into the show's scripts, as he realized that his son's singing could have a huge positive impact on the show and its ratings. Ricky easily became the nation's newest musical sensation. Every episode which featured his singing attracted the biggest audiences. At one point, Ricky performed for free at a Los Angeles high school, performing “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Crowds of screaming and excited teens greeted him.
Ozzie Was Still Voted a Top TV Dad
Although Ozzie's TV character was far from being a role model, TV Guide nonetheless ranked him as #21 in the “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time” in their June 20, 2004 issue. The reason for this was that the show greatly resonated with fans in the 1950s and the early 1960s.
People across America considered the Nelsons to be a romanticized version of the 1950's nuclear family. However, Ozzie's character on screen often came up with poorly devised plans (to which his wife had to talk him out of) and was overly controlling of his children.
Box Office Success
Meanwhile, Ricky's reputation kept on growing. After launching his music career, he quickly made his way into the realm of film. The youngest Nelson performed opposite John Wayne and Dean Martin in the 1959 western movie, Rio Bravo. The trailer for the film showed Ricky playing his guitar and talking into the camera about the thrilling film.
Ricky proved himself successful in his silver screen debut and continued to star in other huge acting projects other than his family's show. He was in films "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" and "Love and Kisses" alongside Jack Lemmon and Jack Kelley, respectively. He also appeared in an episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries in which he sang a lot of his popular hits.