LOS ANGELES – David Nelson, the elder son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and the last surviving member of the family that became an American institution in the 1950s and ’60s as the stars of the classic TV sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” died Tuesday. He was 74.
Nelson died at his Century City home of complications from colon cancer.
“The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” began on radio in 1944, as a day in the home life of bandleader Ozzie Nelson and his vocalist wife, Harriet Hilliard. In 1949, the popular show became a true family affair when 12-year-old David and 8-year-old Ricky replaced the actors who had been portraying them on radio.
“The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” moved to television three years later, debuting on ABC in October 1952.
When the series ended in 1966 after 435 episodes, it had become the longest-running family situation comedy in TV history – as well as serving as the launch pad and showcase for teen idol Rick Nelson’s singing career.
In the process of playing fictionalized versions of themselves on television each week for 14 years, David and Rick Nelson literally grew up in front of millions of Americans.
The blurring of what was real and what was not caused confusion in some viewers’ minds.
When David enrolled at the University of Southern California and joined a fraternity after graduating from Hollywood High School in 1954, his TV character started college and joined a fraternity. But unlike his TV character, who became a lawyer on the show, David did not go into law.
Instead, he launched his career as a director by taking the reins from his director-father for about a dozen episodes of the show in the ’60s. He spent the next several decades directing commercials and occasional TV series and movies.