Harriet Nelson life and biography

Harriet Nelson picture, image, poster

Harriet Nelson biography

Date of birth : 1909-07-18
Date of death : 1994-10-02
Birthplace : Des Moines, Iowa, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2010-07-15
Credited as : Singer and actress, married to bandleader Ozzie Nelson, success with The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet radio show

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Band singer and radio vocalist who began in vaudeville under the name of Harriet Hilliard while quite young and started enjoying crooning success on the airwaves during the Depression. In 1932 Hilliard was invited to be a featured vocalist with a dance band headed by Ozzie Nelson. The two married in 1935, and Hilliard soon thereafter made a prominent debut in films as Ginger Rogers' sister in "Follow the Fleet" (1936), one of the immensely popular musicals Rogers and Fred Astaire made at RKO. Hilliard sang several numbers which she delivered in her modest but pleasantly soothing style, and her romance with Randolph Scott actually formed the basis of the plot. Hilliard made a number of other films but wasn't particularly interested in a film career and essentially stuck with Nelson.

In 1941 Harriet and Ozzie made the first of several low-budget musicals, but had greater success appearing together on Joe Penner's and Red Skelton's radio programs. Three years later Nelson and Nelson (Hilliard had begun using her husband's surname professionally) premiered their own radio show, "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" (1944-52). A great success, the show added on the Nelsons' sons David and Ricky in 1949, and in 1952, the entire family made not only a blandly agreeable feature bow ("Here Come the Nelsons") but began an immensely impressive 15-year series run on ABC-TV.

As TV, "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" was hardly adventurous, with family debates over homemade vs. store-bought pancake batter not always managing to deliver a half-hour of unmitigated sitcom thrills. The show did, however, percolate along quite pleasantly at its best: Ozzie's ideas would frequently fail to pan out, Harriet was on hand to dispense wisdom and the welcome wry remark, and the boys were undeniably cute. As a genre prototype, the show practically created what was later called "the family sitcom"; as cultural barometer, the program gently presented a fairytale postwar nuclear family ideal that never was.

Once the show had run its course, Ozzie and Harriet did some enjoyable guest stints on TV and tried a later series ("Ozzie's Girls" 1973-74), Ricky continued the string of hit songs which began in 1956, and David moved into TV production. After her husband's death from cancer in 1975, Nelson acted with some regularity in TV-movies and miniseries including "Once an Eagle" (1976) and "The First Time" (1982). Ricky Nelson's death in a plane crash in 1985 again brought tragedy into Nelson's life, but for the most part she was able to bask in the company of a successful entertainment dynasty including actor-granddaughter Tracy Nelson and grandsons Matthew and Gunnar (the pop duo Nelson); she was also fondly remembered for a legacy of light, genial TV entertainment very much of its time.


* 1912 Began performing onstage with her parents at age three (date approximate)
* 1925 At age 16, made Broadway debut
* 1932 Became a singer for bandleader Ozzie Nelson's orchestra
* 1936 Made feature film debut opposite Randolph Scott as the second leads of the musical, "Follow the Fleet", starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire
* 1937 Moved to Hollywood with husband; appeared for one season on the radio show "Seeing Stars"
* 1941 With husaband, appeared regularly on Red Skelton's radio program
* 1941 First film in which she acted opposite husband Ozzie Nelson, "Sweetheart of the Campus", in which they took second and third billing behind Ruby Keeler
* 1944 Last feature film for eight years, "Take It Big"
* 1949 Child actors on radio's "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" replaced with the couples own sons David and Ricky, to some extent in response to the children's insistence
* 1951 Starred (along with family) in a feature film, "Here Come the Nelsons", which was essentially an extended episode of their popular radio program; was also Harriet Nelson's last feature film appearance
* 1976 TV miniseries debut, "Once an Eagle"
* 1976 TV-movie debut, "Smash-Up on Interstate 5"
* 1987 Appeared on the NBC comedy special, "Time Out for Dad", and the attendant instructional special, "Our Kids and the Best of Everything"
* 1989 Last TV appearance, guesting on an episode of the "Father Dowling Mysteries", a series which starred her granddaughter Tracy Nelson
* Fell down a set of stairs not long after her last TV appearance and crushed a vertebra; complications from that and emphysema from a lifetime of smoking caused health decline in the early 1990s
* Starred in long-running ABC sitcom, "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet"; also did supervisory (but uncredited) work on the program's sets and costumes
* Starred opposite Ozzie Nelson in the syndicated TV sitcom, "Ozzie's Girls"
* Starred opposite her husband on the popular radio program, "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet"; originally began the show with child actors playing their children
* Took the name of Harriet Hilliard when she began performing in vaudeville
* When parents separated, raised first by her aunt and grandmother then sent to live at St Agnes Academy in Kansas City

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