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David Nelson: An all-too-brief appreciation

 A major passing overnight: David Nelson of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" has died. He is the last surviving member of the clan, Ricky of course having died in a terrible plane accident many  years ago.

   As with any death, there is certainly something sad and remorseful about this one - he died of colon cancer at the relatively young age of 74 - but even more so considering who he was. David, as fans of this long-ago idyll remember, was the sweet one, the solid one, the-river-that-ran-silent-and-deep one- if such a figure could actually exist on a sitcom. Ricky was the younger and irrepressible force in the Nelson household, the one that would make dad shake head in wonderment and love and exasperation.  But David was perfect - always saying and doing the right thing. No heads were ever shaken over David. Per my somewhat fogged memory, there were stories about the real-life tyranny of Ozzie - how he was a task-master, and difficult, and wags loved to repeat these tales, whether true or not, because they were so diametrically opposed to the TV dad. Of David, one never heard such things. (Or if we did, we expunged them - David, after all, was simply too perfect.)

   If you are too young to remember, and doubtless you are, "O and H" was a sweet, gentle and often wonderful sitcom from the '50s and just hugely influential; I believe I put it in my "Most Influential" list a few months ago, and if not, my oversight. Bill Cosby has credited the Nelsons as an inspiration for "The Cosby Show," and many others have as well. As such David Nelson was - even though I suspect he never imagined himself to be - one of the key figures in TV comedy  history. The show was one of those perfectly idealized representations of what so many Americans wanted themselves to be and look like in Eisenhower's America; as such it was utterly removed from real life; Ozzie was a former bandleader who just seemed to hang around the house, and Harriet was the infinitely understanding housewife with three boys-or-almost-men hanging around. The lawn was perfect, the living room spotless, the kitchen a place where comic thoughts and deeds unfolded. It lives on, and in that sense, so will David. There was tragedy in this life, as you know, and it was in sharp ludicrous contrast to the doings of the TV Nelson family - to some, doubtless, a sort of cautionary Hollywood tale that book-ended the  all-too-perfect TV one.

  Here's Dennis McLellan's excellent obit from the LA Times: Well worth a read. 

 Meanwhile, here's a full episode; check out the classic opening parodied endlessly, but also beloved. Yes, friends, this was a different world and an impossible one, but for thirty minutes every week one that millions wanted to escape to and did. David was absolutely part of the magic and alchemy of this series...

 

  

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