Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Remembering David Nelson
I was glad to get the opportunity to interview David Nelson even if it was only a phoner. In 1995 Nelson's old series The Adventures Of Ozzie And Harriet was finally rerun on Canadian TV --on the Family Channel and he agreed to being interviewed, a chore he confessed he mostly loathed.
Here's an edited transcript of our talk:
Q: So David thanks for talking. But I'm wondering why reruns of Ozzie And Harriet never hit Canadian TV before now.
DN: Because the family owned the American rights and foreign rights were sold off. I've been getting letters all along from Canadians who could watch from a U.S. border station. But in movies "domestic rights" means both Canada and the U.S. So there was a stand off until now.
Q: When Ozzie And Harriet originally debuted on radio there were different actors than you and Ricky.
DN: Yes and I can remember watching them do the radio show which was live and wanting to get right in there. When TV came along Rick and I just pestered our parents to let us play ourselves. By this time I was in high school so I had to occasionally skip classes. But most of the time I was in school and so was Rick and we had tutors sometimes to play catch up. I did all the sports, too, because I would have dropped acting before dropping sports.
Q: Was there any confusion between your real and reel lives?
DN: None. Dad was not the Ozzie Nelson you see on TV. He was in real life a pepper pot. Which is why he died young. He directed most of the shows himself. During the lunch break he'd go next door and look in on Our Miss Brooks or whatever else was filming. He'd offer suggestions and stroll on. We made two episodes a week, no audience, a rehearsal and then a take with multiple cameras. And he surrounded us with laugh masters.
DN: Don DeFore was in the first four years as a neighbor named Thorny. He was succeeded by Lyle Talbot as another friend named Joe Talbot. Gordon Jones was in and out pretty quickly as I recall. Later Skip Young was around as my buddy Wally --he lasted 10 years. I'm remembering Mary Jane Croft, Parley Baer, the names I'm conjuring up is astounding.
Q: And who made debuts on the show?
DN: I know James Stacey was around for years as one of the students. Linda Evans started there, I think. Kent McCord later told me it was his first stuff. Barry Livingston was there --he went over to My Three Sons. Others I remember are Diane Jergens, Roberta Shore, Tuesday Weld --we had some beautiful young girls around.
NOTE: One of the names mentioned by David once told me Ozzie was a bit of a lecher but I did not dare ask David for a comment.
Q: But you four were supposed to be the great American family.
DN: Like all families we quarreled off camera on occasion. On set it was business or the crew would be going into overtime. It was study the lines, gulp down some chow, get back to school for classes. Being kids Rick and I would fool around on the set and get our knuckles rapped. Mom was hardly an average mom. At home she had staff to do cooking and cleaning. She was too busy acting! Now that I look at the episodes I think what a beauty she was. She was always immaculately groomed. She never got over Dad's death, he was the leader of this family.
Q: Did you enjoy teen hunkdom?
DN: It wasn't my style, I was too shy. But Ricky came along and he could sing and fill arenas and that took the pressure off me thankfully. And he became so popular the show lasted far more seasons than originally projected.
Dad was rarely home --he supervised casting, editing, scripts, so he was a perpetual ball of energy.
Q: Why do you think the show lasted so long (1952-66)?.
DN: Because of Dad's drive for perfection. He also had great help --Leo Pepin was associate producer, the chief cinematographer for the longest time was Rob Moreno,we had Monty Westmore for makeup for quite a stretch, If Dad felt he could rely on someone he'd keep him on for the duration.
Q: What episode caused the most commotion?
DN: When I'm leaving home to get married and Dad comes over and kisses me. It shook everybody up because it was so heartfelt.
Q: What is the most asked question you get about the show?
DN (chuckling): Oh, I think you know. It's what occupation did Ozzie have. He was always at home in his sweater. I just assumed he was still a band leader and TV always was catching him on down times.
Q: You directed episodes and later directed Ozzie's Girls in 1975.
DN: I directed 12 shows and had to be on my toes with Dad always asking what lens I'd use there. Ozzie's Girls was a bit sad --it didn't make it because Dad would just not move with the times. So it seemed to come from another era.
Q: Both you and Rick had outside acting gigs.
DN: I had a small role in Peyton Place as Hope Lange's fiancee. And because I could do stunts I was in The Big Show in 1959. But I was too introverted to be a good actor. And I was typecast. You know I wasn't really playing myself. At school I was tongue tied.
Q: Then came directing.
DN: I did some episodes of Adam-12 as well as such TV films as Death Screams and Rare Breed. These days the company makes commercials which are every bit as stressful as a day on the set of Ozzie And Harriet.
NOTE: David Nelson died of colon cancer aged 74 on Jan. 11,2011 in Century City..