The popularity of musician Ricky Nelson grew out of a popular American sitcom that aired on ABC from October 3, 1952 through March 26, 1966.The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet starred the real-life Nelson family. After a long run on radio, the show was brought to television where it continued its success, running on both radio and TV for a couple of years. The series stars Ozzie Nelson and his wife, singer Harriet Nelson (née Hilliard), and their young sons, David and Eric “Ricky” Nelson. Don DeFore had a recurring role as the Nelsons’ friendly neighbor, “Thorny.”
The series attracted large audiences, and although it was never a top-ten hit, it became synonymous with the 1950s ideal American family life. It is the longest-running live-action sitcom in US television history.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet made the Nelsons’ younger son, Rick or Ricky, into a music teen idol. Ozzie realized the impact his musically gifted son could bring to the series, and went on to write storylines featuring Rick singing. Rick first sang in the April 10, 1957, episode, “Ricky the Drummer,” performing a version of Fats Domino’s hit, “I’m Walkin’,” and later signed a recording contract with Domino’s label, Imperial Records. Subsequent shows that aired after Rick became one of the nation’s most successful musicians were some of the show’s highest-rated episodes.
Ricky Nelson or Rick Nelson, was an American singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, and actor, starring alongside his family in the long-running television series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966) as well as co-starring alongside John Wayne and Dean Martin in Howard Hawks’s Western feature film, Rio Bravo (1959). He placed 53 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1957 and 1973, including Poor Little Fool, which holds the distinction of being the first #1 song on Billboard magazine’s then newly created Hot 100 chart. He recorded nineteen additional top-ten hits, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 21, 1987. In 1996, he was ranked #49 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.
Nelson began his entertainment career in 1949, playing himself in the radio sitcom series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and in 1952 appeared in his first feature film, Here Come the Nelsons. In 1957, he recorded his first single, debuted as a singer on the television version of the sitcom, and recorded a number one album, Ricky. In 1958, Nelson recorded his first number one single, Poor Little Fool, and in 1959 received a Golden Globe “Most Promising Male Newcomer” nomination after starring in Rio Bravo. A few films followed, and when the television series was cancelled in 1966, Nelson made occasional appearances as a guest star on various television programs.
Nelson and Sharon Kristin Harmon were married on April 20, 1963, and divorced in December 1982. They had four children: Tracy Kristine, twin sons Gunnar Eric and Matthew Gray, and Sam Hilliard. On February 14, 1981, a son (Eric Crewe) was born to Nelson and Georgeann Crewe. A blood test in 1985 confirmed that Nelson was the child’s father. Nelson was engaged to Helen Blair at the time of his death in an airplane crash on December 31, 1985.
Ricky Nelson was born on May 8, 1940, at 1:25 p.m. at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, New Jersey. He was the second son of big band leader Ozzie Nelson, who was of half Swedish descent, and his wife, big band vocalist Harriet Hilliard Nelson (née Peggy Louise Snyder). Harriett remained in Englewood, New Jersey, with her newborn and her older son David while Ozzie toured the nation with the Nelson orchestra. The Nelsons bought a two-story colonial house in Tenafly, New Jersey, and, six months after the purchase, moved with son David to Hollywood, California, where Ozzie and Harriet were slated to appear in the 1941-42 season of Red Skelton’s The Raleigh Cigarette Hour; Ricky remained in Tenafly in the care of his paternal grandmother. In November 1941, the Nelsons bought what would become their permanent home: a green and white, two-story, Cape Cod colonial home at 1822 Camino Palmero in Los Angeles. Ricky joined his parents and brother in Los Angeles in 1942.
Ricky was a small and insecure child who suffered from severe asthma. At night, his sleep was eased with a vaporizer emitting tincture of evergreen. He was described by Red Skelton’s producer John Guedel as “an odd little kid,” likeable, shy, introspective, mysterious, and inscrutable. When Skelton was drafted in 1944, Guedel crafted the radio sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet for Ricky’s parents. The show debuted on Sunday, October 8, 1944, to favorable reviews. Ozzie eventually became head writer for the show, and based episodes on the fraternal exploits and enmity of his sons. Professional child actors first played the Nelson boys in the radio series until twelve-year-old Dave and eight-year-old Ricky joined the show on February 20, 1949, in the episode “Invitation to Dinner.”
In 1952, the Nelsons tested the waters for a television series with the theatrically released film Here Come the Nelsons. The film was a hit, and Ozzie was convinced the family could make the transition from radio’s airwaves to television’s small screen. On October 3, 1952, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet made its television debut and was broadcast in first run until September 3, 1966, to become one of the longest-running sitcoms in television history.
Ricky Nelson attended Gardner Street Public School, Bancroft Junior High, and, between 1954 and 1958, Hollywood High School, from which he graduated with a B average. He played football at Hollywood High and represented the school in interscholastic tennis matches. Twenty-five years later, Nelson told the Los Angeles Weekly he hated school because it “smelled of pencils,” and he was forced to rise early in the morning to attend.
At Hollywood High, Nelson was blackballed by the Elksters, a fraternity of a dozen conservative sports-loving teens who thought him too wild. Many of the Elksters were family friends and spent weekends at the Nelson home playing basketball or relaxing around the pool. In retaliation, he joined the Rooks, a greaser car club of side-burned high school teens clad in leather jackets and motorcycle boots. He tattooed his hands, wrist, and shoulder with India ink and a sewing needle, slicked his hair with oil, and accompanied the Rooks on nocturnal forays along Hollywood Boulevard, randomly harassing and beating up gay people. Nelson was jailed twice in connection with incidents perpetrated by the Rooks, and escaped punishment after sucker-punching a police officer only through the intervention of his father. Nelson’s parents were alarmed. Their son’s juvenile delinquency did little to enhance the All-American image of Ozzie and Harriet, and they quickly put an end to Ricky’s involvement with the Rooks by banishing one of the most influential of the club’s members from Ricky’s life and their home. One of Ricky’s seldom-publicized traits was his “fierce loyalty” to boyhood friends whom he regarded as trusted confidants. When young friend Bill Aken was in a crippling auto accident in New York City and confined to a hospital bed for months, Ricky would often phone Billy’s mother, asking about his progress and writing short notes and letters to Billy to cheer him up. They became lifelong friends, and Aken recorded the only family-authorized tribute record (“Gentle Friend”) for the fan club after Rick’s death.
Ozzie Nelson was a Rutgers alumnus and keen on college education, but eighteen-year-old Ricky was already in the 93 percent income-tax bracket and saw no reason to attend. At age thirteen, Ricky was making over $100,000 per annum, and at sixteen he had a personal fortune of $500,000. His parents, who channeled his earnings into trust funds, astutely managed Nelson’s wealth. Although his parents permitted him a $50 allowance at the age of eighteen, Rick was often strapped for cash and one evening collected and redeemed empty pop bottles to gain entrance to a movie theater for himself and a date. Accustomed to affluence, Nelson had a cavalier attitude about money and never managed his finances very well.
Nelson played clarinet and drums in his tweens and early teens, learned rudimentary guitar chords, and vocally imitated his favorite Sun Records rockabilly artists in the bathroom at home or in the showers at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. He was strongly influenced by the music of Carl Perkins, and once said he tried to emulate the sound and the tone of the guitar break in Perkins’s March 1956 Top Ten hit, Blue Suede Shoes.
At age sixteen, he wanted to impress a friend who was an Elvis Presley fan and, although he had no record contract at the time, told her that he, too, was going to make a record. With his father’s help, he secured a one-record deal with Verve Records, an important jazz label looking for a young and popular personality who could sing or be taught to sing. On March 26, 1957, he recorded the Fats Domino standard I’m Walkin’ and A Teenager’s Romance (released in late April 1957 as his first single), and You’re My One and Only Love.
Before the single was released, he made his television rock-and-roll debut on April 10, 1957, lip-synching I’m Walkin’ in the Ozzie and Harriet episode “Ricky, the Drummer.” About the same time, he made an unpaid public appearance as a singer at a Hamilton High School lunch-hour assembly in Los Angeles with the Four Preps (graduates of Hollywood High School) and was greeted by hordes of screaming teens who had seen the television episode.
I’m Walkin’ reached #4 on Billboard’s Best Sellers in Stores chart, and its flip side, A Teenager’s Romance, hit #2. When the television series went on summer break in 1957, Nelson made his first road trip and played four state and county fairs in Ohio and Wisconsin with the Four Preps, who opened and closed for him.
In early summer 1957, Ozzie Nelson pulled his son from Verve after disputes about royalties and signed him to a lucrative five-year deal with Imperial Records that gave him approval over song selection, sleeve artwork, and other production details. Ricky’s first Imperial single, Be-Bop Baby, generated 750,000 advance orders, sold over one million copies, and reached number three on the charts. Nelson’s first album, Ricky, was released in October 1957 and hit number one before the end of the year. Following these successes, Nelson was given a more prominent role on the Ozzie and Harriet show and ended every two or three episodes with a musical number.
Nelson grew increasingly dissatisfied performing with older jazz session musicians, who were openly contemptuous of rock and roll. After his Ohio and Minnesota tours in the summer of 1957, he decided to form his own band with members closer to his age. Eighteen-year-old electric guitarist James Burton was the first signed and lived in the Nelson home for two years. Bassist James Kirkland, drummer Richie Frost, and pianist Gene Garf completed the band. Their first recording together was Believe What You Say. Rick selected material from demo acetates submitted by songwriters. Ozzie Nelson forbade suggestive lyrics or titles, and his late-night arrival at recording sessions forced band members to hurriedly hide their beers and cigarettes. The Jordanaires, Elvis Presley’s backup vocalists, worked for Nelson but at Presley’s behest were not permitted credit on Nelson’s albums.
In 1958, Nelson recorded seventeen-year-old Sharon Sheeley’s Poor Little Fool for his second album, Ricky Nelson, released in June. Radio airplay brought the tune notice, and Imperial suggested releasing a single, but Nelson opposed the idea, believing a single would diminish EP sales. When a single was released nonetheless, he exercised his contractual right to approve any artwork and vetoed a picture sleeve. On August 4, 1958, Poor Little Fool became the number one single on Billboard’s newly instituted Hot 100 singles chart and sold over two million copies. Nelson so loathed the song that he refused to perform it on Ozzie and Harriet. Sheeley claimed he ruined her song by slowing the tempo. More generally, Nelson stated:
“Anyone who knocks rock ’n’ roll either doesn’t understand it, or is prejudiced against it, or is just plain square. – NME – November 1958
During 1958 and 1959, Nelson placed twelve hits on the charts in comparison with Presley’s eleven (it should be remembered that the latter was then serving in West Germany with the U.S. Army). During the sitcom’s run, Ozzie Nelson, either to keep his son’s fans tuned in or as an affirmation of his reputed behind-the-scenes persona as a controlling personality, kept his son from appearing on other television shows that could have enhanced his public profile, American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show in particular. In the summer of 1958, Nelson conducted his first full-scale tour, averaging $5,000 nightly. By 1960, the Ricky Nelson International Fan Club had 9,000 chapters around the world.
Ricky once said, “Perhaps the most embarrassing moment in my career was when six girls tried to fling themselves under my car, and shouted to me to run over them. That sort of thing can be very frightening!”
Nelson was the first teen idol to utilize television to promote hit records. Ozzie Nelson even had the idea to edit footage together to create some of the first music videos. This creative editing can be seen in videos Ozzie produced for Travelin’ Man. Nelson finally did appear on the Sullivan show in 1967, but his career by that time was in limbo. He also appeared on other television shows (usually in acting roles). In 1973, he had an acting role in an episode of The Streets of San Francisco in which he played the part of a hippie flute-playing leader of a harem of young prostitutes. In 1979, he guest-hosted on Saturday Night Live, spoofing his television sitcom image by appearing in a Twilight Zone send-up in which, always trying to go “home,” he finds himself among the characters from other 1950s/early 1960s-era sitcoms, Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Make Room for Daddy, and I Love Lucy.
Nelson knew and loved music and was a skilled performer even before he became a teen idol, largely because of his parents’ musical background. Nelson worked with many musicians of repute, including James Burton, Joe Osborn, and Allen “Puddler” Harris, all natives of Louisiana, and Joe Maphis, The Jordanaires, Scotty Moore, and Johnny and Dorsey Burnette.
From 1957 to 1962, Nelson had 30 Top-40 hits, more than any other artist except Presley (who had 53) and Pat Boone (38). Many of Nelson’s early records were double hits with both the A and B sides hitting the Billboard charts.
While Nelson preferred rockabilly and up-tempo rock songs like Believe What You Say (Hot 100 #4), I Got a Feeling (#10), My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It (#12), Hello Mary Lou (#9), It’s Late (#9), Stood Up (#2), Waitin’ in School (#18), Be-Bop Baby (#3), and Just a Little Too Much (#9), his smooth, calm voice made him a natural to sing ballads. He had major success with Travelin’ Man (#1), A Teenager’s Romance (#2), Poor Little Fool (#1), Young World (#5), Lonesome Town (#7), Never Be Anyone Else But You (#6), Sweeter Than You (#9), It’s Up to You (#6), and Teenage Idol (#5), which clearly could have been about Nelson himself.
In addition to his recording career, Nelson appeared in movies, including the Howard Hawks Western classic, Rio Bravo with John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Walter Brennan (1959), plus The Wackiest Ship In the Army (1960) with Jack Lemmon, and Love and Kisses (1965) with Jack Kelly.
On May 8, 1961 (his 21st birthday), he officially modified his recording name from “Ricky Nelson” to “Rick Nelson.” His childhood nickname proved hard to shake, especially among the generation who had watched him grow up on “Ozzie and Harriet.” Even in the 1980s, when Nelson realized his dream of meeting Carl Perkins, Perkins noted that he and “Ricky” were the last of the “rockabilly breed.”
In 1963, Nelson signed a 20-year contract with Decca Records. After some early successes with the label, most notably 1964’s For You (#6), Nelson’s chart career came to a dramatic halt in the wake of The British Invasion.
In the mid 1960s, Nelson began to move toward country music, becoming a pioneer in the country-rock genre. He was one of the early influences of the so-called “California Sound” (which would include singers like Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt and bands like the Eagles). Yet Nelson himself did not reach the Top 40 again until 1970, when he recorded Bob Dylan’s She Belongs to Me with the Stone Canyon Band, featuring steel guitarist Tom Brumley and Randy Meisner before the Eagles formed.
In 1972, Nelson reached the Top 40 one last time with Garden Party, a song he wrote in disgust after a Madison Square Garden audience booed him, because, in his mind, he was playing new songs instead of just his old hits. When he performed the Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman, he was booed off the stage. He watched the rest of the performance on a TV monitor backstage and quietly left the venue without taking a final bow for the finale. He wanted to record an album featuring original material, but the single was released before the album because Nelson had not completed the entire Garden Party album yet. Garden Party reached number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart and was certified as a gold single. The second single release from the album was Palace Guard, which reached number 65 in the charts.
Nelson was with MCA at the time, and his comeback was short-lived. Nelson’s band soon resigned, and MCA wanted Nelson to have a producer on his next album. His band moved to Aspen and changed their name to “Canyon.” Nelson soon put together a new Stone Canyon Band and began to tour for the Garden Party album. Nelson still played nightclubs and bars, but he soon advanced to higher-paying venues because of the success of Garden Party. In 1974 MCA was at odds as to what to do with the former teen idol. Albums like Windfall failed to have an impact. Nelson became an attraction at theme parks like Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland. He also started appearing in minor roles on television shows.
Nelson tried to score another hit but did not have any luck with songs like Rock and Roll Lady. With seven years to go on his contract, MCA dropped him from the label.
Nelson studied karate, earning a brown belt before going on to learn Jeet Kune Do under Dan Inosanto. Inosanto described Nelson as a “good martial artist for those times.”
In 1957, when Nelson was 17, he met and fell in love with Marianne Gaba, who played the role of Ricky’s girlfriend in three episodes of Ozzie and Harriet. Nelson and Gaba were too young to entertain a serious relationship, although according to Gaba “we used to neck for hours.” The next year, Nelson fell in love with 15-year-old Lorrie Collins, a country singer appearing on a weekly telecast called Town Hall Party. The two wrote Nelson’s first composition, the song My Gal, and she introduced him to Johnny Cash and Tex Ritter. Collins appeared in an Ozzie and Harriet episode as Ricky’s girlfriend and sang Just Because with him in the musical finale. They went steady and discussed marriage, but their parents discouraged the idea.
At the age of 45, Nelson said the only girl he ever really loved was involved with him for two years in the late 1950s. After she became pregnant and had a nearly fatal abortion, she married another man.
At Christmas 1961, Nelson began dating Sharon Kristin “Kris” Harmon (born June 25, 1945), the daughter of football legend Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox (née Elsie Kornbrath) and the older sister of Kelly and Mark. The Nelsons and the Harmons had long been friends, and a union between their children held great appeal. Rick and Kris had much in common: quiet dispositions, Hollywood upbringings, and high-powered, domineering fathers.
They married on April 20, 1963. Kris was pregnant, and Rick later described the union as a “shotgun wedding.” Nelson, a non-practicing Protestant, received instruction in Catholicism at the insistence of the bride’s parents and signed a pledge to have any children of the union baptized in the Catholic faith. Kris Nelson joined the television show as a regular cast member in 1963. They had four children: actress Tracy Kristine Nelson, twin sons Gunnar Eric Nelson and Matthew Gray Nelson who formed the band Nelson, and Sam Hilliard Nelson.
By 1975, following the birth of their last child, the marriage had deteriorated and a very public, controversial divorce involving both families was covered in the press for several years. In October 1977, Kris filed for divorce and asked for alimony, custody of their four children, and a portion of community property. The couple temporarily resolved their differences, but Kris retained her attorney to pursue a permanent break. Kris was contentious and jealous. Both spent enormous sums of money: Kris on parties, Rick on renting a private Lear jet. Nelson had a tremendous sexual appetite and a casual attitude toward sex, once estimating he had had sex with thousands of women. Kris wanted Rick to give up music, spend more time at home, and focus on acting, but the family enjoyed a recklessly expensive lifestyle, and Kris’s extravagant spending left Rick no choice but to tour relentlessly. The impasse over Rick’s career created unpleasantness at home. Kris became an alcoholic and left the children in the care of household help. After years of legal proceedings, they were divorced in December 1982. The divorce was financially devastating for Nelson, with attorneys and accountants taking over $1 million. Years of legal wrangling followed.
On May 16, 1980, Nelson met Georgeann Crewe at the Playboy Resort in Great Gorge, New Jersey. Crewe later claimed she felt “an attachment, an immediate attraction” to Nelson. Crewe unsuccessfully attempted to contact Nelson several times to let him know that she was pregnant, and on February 14, 1981, she gave birth to Nelson’s son, Eric Jude Crewe. In 1985, a blood test confirmed Nelson was the father, but Nelson was not interested in Crewe or their son. He declined to meet with them to the point that he avoided playing concerts in Atlantic City. Although Nelson agreed to provide $400 a month in child support, he did not provide for the child in his will.
In 1980, Nelson met Helen Blair, a part-time model and exotic animal trainer, in Las Vegas. Within months of their meeting, she became his road companion, and in 1982 she moved in with him. She was the only woman he dated after his divorce.
Blair tried to make herself useful in Nelson’s life by organizing his day and acting as a liaison for his fan club, but Nelson’s mother, brother, business manager, and manager disapproved of her presence in his life. He contemplated marrying her but eventually declined. Blair died with Nelson in the airplane fire. Her name was never mentioned at Nelson’s funeral. Blair’s parents wanted their daughter buried next to Nelson at Forest Lawn Cemetery, but Harriet Nelson dismissed the idea. The Blairs refused to bury Helen’s remains, and filed a $2 million wrongful death suit against Nelson’s estate. They received a small settlement. Nelson did not provide for Blair in his will.
Nelson used marijuana early in his musical career, and became a regular user. He buried his stash in his yard. He supported marijuana’s legalization. He tried mescaline and was a regular cocaine user, carrying the drug in an empty ginseng capsule.
During the Nelson divorce proceedings, he was accused by his wife’s attorney of using cocaine, quaaludes, and other drugs, and of having “a severe drug problem” encouraged by his managers, his entourage, and his groupies. The attorney noted that Nelson’s “personal manager” secured drugs for Nelson, that wild parties took place in his home whether he was present or not, and that his children, aware of his drug use, were in great physical danger from drugged persons entering and exiting the house at all hours. Following Nelson’s divorce, while he was involved with Helen Blair, his drug use grew so dire that friends urged him to seek treatment for substance abuse.
Traces of cocaine, marijuana, and the painkiller Darvon were found in Nelson’s blood in tests conducted after his death.
Nelson dreaded flying but refused to travel by bus. In May 1985, he decided he needed a private plane and leased a luxurious, fourteen-seat, 1944 Douglas DC-3 for private use that once belonged to the DuPont family and later to Jerry Lee Lewis. The plane’s history was plagued with mechanical issues. In one incident, the band was forced to push the plane off the runway after an engine blew, and in another incident, a malfunctioning magneto prevented Nelson from participating in the first Farm Aid concert in Champaign, Illinois.
On 26 December 1985, Nelson and the band left for a three-stop tour of the Southern United States. Following shows in Orlando, Florida and Guntersville, Alabama, Nelson and band members boarded the DC-3 in Guntersville and took off for a New Year’s Eve extravaganza in Dallas, Texas. The plane crash-landed northeast of Dallas in De Kalb, Texas less than 2 miles from a landing strip at approximately 5:14 p.m. CST on 31 December 1985, impacting trees as it came to earth. Seven of the nine occupants were killed: Nelson and his companion, Helen Blair; bass guitarist Patrick Woodward; drummer Rick Intveld; keyboardist Andy Chapin; guitarist Bobby Neal; and road manager/soundman Donald Clark Russell. Pilots Ken Ferguson and Brad Rank escaped via cockpit windows, though Ferguson was severely burned.
Nelson’s remains were misdirected in transit from Texas to California, delaying the funeral for several days. On 6 January 1986, 250 mourners entered the Church of the Hills for funeral services while 700 fans gathered outside. Attendees included “Colonel” Tom Parker, Connie Stevens, Angie Dickinson, and dozens of actors, writers, and musicians. Nelson was privately buried days later in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Kris Nelson threatened to sue the Nelson clan for her former husband’s life insurance money and tried to wrest control of his estate from David Nelson, its administrator. Her bid was rejected by a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge. Nelson bequeathed his entire estate to his children and did not provide for Eric Crewe or Kris Nelson. Only days after the funeral, rumors and newspaper reports suggested cocaine freebasing was one of several possible causes for the plane crash. Those allegations were refuted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The reports vary as to whether or not the plane was on fire before it crashed. According to witnesses, the plane appeared to be on fire before it force-landed. Jim Burnett, then-Chairman of the NTSB, however, said that even though the plane was filled with smoke, the plane landed and came to a stop before it was swallowed by flames. The NTSB conducted a year-long investigation and finally stated that, while the definitive cause was still unknown, the crash was probably due to a gas-fueled heater that reportedly had caused in-flight problems.
When questioned by the NTSB, Pilots Brad Rank and Ken Ferguson had different accounts of key events. According to co-pilot Ferguson, the cabin heater was acting up after the plane took off. Ferguson continued that Rank kept going back to the back of the plane to see if he could get the heater to function correctly and that Rank told Ferguson several times to turn the heater back on. “One of the times, I refused to turn it on,” said Ferguson. He continued, “I was getting more nervous. I didn’t think we should be messing with that heater en-route.” After the plane crashed, Ferguson and Rank climbed out the windows, suffering from extensive burns. They shouted to the passenger cabin, but there was no response. Ferguson and Rank backed away from the plane, fearing explosion. Ferguson stated that Rank told him, “Don’t tell anyone about the heater, don’t tell anyone about the heater.”
Pilot Rank, however, told a different story: Rank said that he was checking on the passengers when he noticed smoke in the middle of the cabin, where Rick Nelson and Helen Blair were sitting. Even though he never mentioned a problematic heater, Rank stated that he went to the rear of the plane to check the heater, saw no smoke, and found the heater was cool to the touch. After activating an automatic fire extinguisher and opening the cabin’s fresh air inlets, Rank said that he returned to the cockpit where Ferguson was already asking traffic controllers for directions to the nearest airfield.
Rank was criticized by the NTSB for not following the in-flight fire checklist; opening the fresh air vents instead of leaving them closed, not instructing the passengers to use supplemental oxygen, and not attempting to fight the fire with the hand-held fire extinguisher that was in the cockpit. The board said that while these steps might not have prevented the crash, “they would have enhanced the potential for survival of the passengers.” The words of the NTSB seem to echo that of firefighter, Lewis Glover, who was one of the first on the scene. Glover stated, “All the bodies are there at the front of the plane. Apparently, they were trying to escape the fire.”
An examination indicated that a fire had originated in the right side of the aft cabin area at or near the floor line. Some reports said the passengers were killed when the aircraft struck obstacles during the forced landing. The ignition and fuel sources of the fire could not be determined. According to another report, the pilot indicated that the crew tried to turn on the gasoline cabin heater repeatedly shortly before the fire occurred, but that it failed to respond. After the fire, the access panel to the heater compartment was found unlatched. Records that showed that DC-3s in general, and this aircraft in particular, had a history of problems with the cabin heaters support the theory.
- Nelson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1515 Vine Street.
- Along with the recording’s other participants, Nelson earned the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for “Interviews from the Class of ’55 Recording Sessions.”
- In 1994, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
- In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Nelson number 91 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
- At the 20th anniversary of Nelson’s death, PBS televised Ricky Nelson Sings, a documentary featuring interviews with his children, James Burton, and Kris Kristofferson. On December 27, 2005, EMI Music released an album titled Ricky Nelson’s Greatest Hits that peaked at number 56 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
- Bob Dylan wrote about Nelson’s influence on his music in his 2004 memoir, “Chronicles, Vol. 1.”
- Nelson’s estate (The Rick Nelson Company, LLC) owns ancillary rights to the Ozzie and Harriet television series, and, in 2007, Shout! Factory released official editions of the show on DVD. Also in 2007, Nelson was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
- The John Frusciante song Ricky was inspired by Ricky Nelson.
- For the 25th anniversary of Nelson’s death, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer James Burton, Nelson’s original guitarist for nearly ten years, spoke about his friendship and experiences with the singer in an extensive series of interviews for Examiner.com. The first installment is entitled “Remembering Rick Nelson: An Interview With His Friend, Guitarist James Burton.”
- Jamband Phish opened their New Year’s Eve show on 12/31/12 at Madison Square Garden with a cover of Garden Party.
David Oswald Nelson (October 24, 1936 – January 11, 2011) was an American actor, director, and producer. He was the elder son of bandleader/TV actor Ozzie Nelson and singer Harriet Hilliard and the older brother of singer Eric “Ricky” Nelson.
During the run of the The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in the 1950s and 1960s, Nelson directed several episodes. After the series’ end, he continued acting, directing and producing. His most memorable “break-out” performance was in the 1959 thriller The Big Circus, wherein Nelson played a disturbed, apparently homicidal “troubled youth,” while his last film appearance was in the campier Cry-Baby (1990). For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Nelson was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1501 Vine Street, on May 9, 1996.
He attended Hollywood High School, graduating in 1954, and was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity while attending the University of Southern California.
David Nelson had two sons—Daniel Blair and James Eric—from his first marriage with June Blair, that ended in divorce, and two sons and a daughter—John, Eric, and Teri—from his second marriage, to Yvonne Huston.
He died on January 11, 2011, in Century City, California, from complications of colon cancer. He is survived by his wife Yvonne and five children.
David Nelson was cremated. He chose not to be interred in the Nelson family plot in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California, instead choosing a niche in Westwood Memorial Park’s outdoor Garden of Serenity columbarium.
Ozzie Nelson, the second son of George Waldemar and Ethel Irene (Orr) Nelson, Ozzie Nelson was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. His paternal grandparents were Swedish and his mother was of English descent. Nelson was raised in Ridgefield Park. He graduated from Ridgefield Park High School, where he played on the football team. In the early 1990s, Ridgefield Park named a street after him, where the current high school is located. Nelson became an Eagle Scout at 13 and was a recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He graduated from Rutgers University, where he also played football despite his slight build. He was a member of the Cap and Skull fraternity, and entered Rutgers School of Law–Newark. As a student he made pocket money playing saxophone in a band and coaching football. During the Depression, he turned to music as a full-time career.
Nelson started his entertainment career as a bandleader. He formed and led the Ozzie Nelson Band, and had some initial limited success. He made his own “big break” in 1930. The New York Daily Mirror ran a poll of its readers to determine their favorite band. He knew that news vendors got credit from the newspaper for unsold copies by returning the front page and discarding the rest of the issue. Gathering hundreds of discarded newspapers, the band filled out ballots in their favor. They edged out Paul Whiteman and were pronounced the winners.
From 1930 through the 1940s, Nelson’s band recorded prolifically—first on Brunswick (1930–1933), then Vocalion (1933–1934), then back to Brunswick (1934–1936), Bluebird (1937–1941), Victor (1941) and finally back to Bluebird (1941-through the 1940s). Nelson’s records were consistently popular and in 1934 Nelson enjoyed success with his hit song, Over Somebody Else’s Shoulder that he introduced. Nelson was their primary vocalist and (from August 1932) featured in duets with his other star vocalist, Harriet Hilliard. Nelson’s calm, easy vocal style was popular on records and radio and quite similar to son Rick’s voice and Harriet’s perky vocals added to the band’s popularity.
In 1935, Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra had a number one hit with And Then Some, which was number one for one week on the U.S. pop singles chart. Ozzie Nelson composed several songs, including Wave the Stick Blues, Subway, Jersey Jive, Swingin’ on the Golden Gate, and Central Avenue Shuffle.
In October 1935 he married the band’s vocalist Harriet Hilliard. The couple had two children. David (1936–2011) became an actor and director. Eric (“Ricky”) (1940–1985) became an actor and singer.
Ozzie Nelson appeared with his band in feature films and short subjects of the 1940s, and often played speaking parts, displaying a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor (as in the 1942 musical Strictly in the Groove). He shrewdly promoted the band by agreeing to appear in soundies, three-minute musical movies shown in “film jukeboxes” of the 1940s. In 1952, when he and his family were established as radio and TV favorites, they starred in a feature film, Here Come the Nelsons (which actually doubled as a “pilot” for the TV series).
In the 1940s, Nelson began to look for a way to spend more time with his family, especially his growing sons. Besides band appearances, he and Harriet had been regulars on Red Skelton’s radio show. He developed and produced his own radio series, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The show went on the air in 1944, with their sons played by actors until 1949, and in 1952 it moved over to television (the radio version continued for another two years). The show starred the entire family, and America watched Ozzie and Harriet raise their boys. Nelson was producer and co-writer of the entire series. He was very hands-on and involved with every aspect of the radio and then TV program.
His last television show was in the fall of 1973 and entitled Ozzie’s Girls, and lasted for a year. Syndicated only, the premise was Ozzie and Harriet renting their son’s room to two college girls (one white, one black) and concerned Ozzie’s difficulties in living with two young women, as opposed to David and Ricky.
In 1973, Ozzie Nelson published his autobiography, Ozzie, (Prentice Hall, 1973. He suffered from recurring malignant tumors in his later years, and died of liver cancer. He died at his home in the San Fernando Valley at 4:30 a.m. with his wife and sons at his bedside. Services were held at the Church of the Hills at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, California on Friday, June 6, 1975. He is interred with his wife and son, pop singer Ricky in the Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. David Nelson was cremated, and chose not to be interred in the Nelson family plot, instead choosing a niche in Westwood Memorial Park’s outdoor Garden of Serenity columbarium.
For his contribution to the television industry, Ozzie Nelson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6555 Hollywood Boulevard. He has an additional star with his wife at 6260 Hollywood Boulevard for their contribution to radio.
Harriet Nelson (July 18, 1909 – October 2, 1994) was born Peggy Louise Snyder in Des Moines, Iowa, the daughter of Hazel Dell (née McNutt) and Roy Hilliard Snyder. By 1932, she was performing in vaudeville when she met the saxophone-playing bandleader Ozzie Nelson. Nelson hired her to sing with the band, under the name Harriet Hilliard. They married three years later.
Hilliard had a respectable film career as a solo performer, apart from the band. RKO Radio Pictures signed her to a one-year contract in 1936, and she appeared in three feature films, the most famous being the Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers musical Follow the Fleet. She was very much in demand during the World War II years for leading roles in escapist musicals, comedies, and mysteries.
In Ozzie Nelson’s book, he wrote that Harriet was quite popular during the short time at RKO and they wanted her to continue her solo film career, but decided that it was more important for her to continue with the band and subsequent radio show.
Although the couple occasionally appeared together in movies, either as a duo (in Honeymoon Lodge) or as separate characters (in Hi, Good Lookin’), they are best known for their broadcasting efforts. In 1944, the Nelsons began a domestic-comedy series for radio, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. It was highly popular and made a successful transition to television. It was one of the stalwarts of the ABC-TV schedule through 1966. The Nelsons’ two sons, Ricky and David, were featured continuously on the show. She was included in Yahoo!‘s Top 10 TV Moms from Six Decades of Television for the time period 1952-1966.
In 1973, Ozzie and Harriet also appeared in the short-lived sitcom, Ozzie’s Girls.
In 1978, Harriet Nelson moved full-time to the Laguna Beach, California beach home the family had built in 1954. She died of congestive heart failure on October 2, 1994. She is interred with her husband and younger son Ricky (who died in a plane crash) in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles.
For her contribution to the television industry, Harriet Nelson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.