Friday, March 18, 2011

Review: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard began performing together as early as 1932 as a song team (Ozzie had his own band.)  They actually had a one -of-a-kind act that became popular and many imitated it: it was singing back and forth in a "conversational style."

Later they got married and had children.  Not too long after that - In the early 1940's, they got a job on The Red Skelton show.

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet began shortly after Red Skelton was drafted in 1944.  They would never look back as the radio show lasted almost 10 full years and then vaulted into television with the very same show - and that show lasted 12 years!  They were probably the most-successful show business family of their generation and it can be argued, of all time.

The radio show is one of my absolute favorites.  If you take a look at my Top 75 list, you will find them down at #65.  The reason for this is simple.  The first year of the show included Bea Benederet portraying a maid named, "Gloria."  The character she portrays is one that I frankly just cannot stomach.  Her voice is irritating to me.  She's not funny.  And though this is just my personal opinion, is one of the worst characters ever written for radio.  To put it even more bluntly, with her on the show, the show stunk.  And the producers probably agreed as she was gone after one year. 

I'll skip the first year and put that out of my head; let's explore the series a bit further:

The Nelson family was headed by husband and father Ozzie, a young 30-something year old husband and father who seemingly had no job.  No job is ever mentioned, he's never at work and how the family makes ends meet, we'll probably never know.  Perhaps they inherited a fortune...  we can only guess.

 Instead of working, Ozzie like to goof around the house.  He and Harriet would have conversations that would generally lead to the topic of the show at hand; Ozzie thinks the boys don't read enough, Ozzie thinks the boys watch too many movies, etc. Ozzie thinks he is a know-it-all.  I don't say that in a bad way but Ozzie thinks he realizes all the problems the family is encountering and has the solution to every problem.

What eventually happens is that Ozzie generally gets carried away with enthusiasm and actually makes a bigger mess out of whatever he is trying to fix.

Ozzie writes letters to the paper and demands the street light on the corner gets fixed.  He even thinks about running for office.  He never realizes what a horrible politician he'd make because he knows it all.

He often will go next door and visit neighbor Thorny (aptly played by John Brown) who is, in a lot of ways, a mirror image of Ozzie.  Thorny will give him some dumb advice that will make the situation even more difficult for Ozzie to solve.

Despite all of the negatives against him (after all, he is a sitcom father of the 1940's - at least 70% of them are portrayed clumsy idiots) he is sensitive and caring and is a great dad and husband.  He tries his best, wants to do what's right but is incapable of making things turn out correctly.

His comedic timing is very good and he will often deliver a line while stuttering, for even more effect.  In short, he does a good job as the lead comedian on the show.

This is where Harriet steps in.  She is smart, conservative and Midwestern.  She is as homespun and American as apple pie.  With a great (and beautiful)  head on her shoulders, she is able to help pull Ozzie out of mess after mess and she will do it in a way that looks like he actually solved the problem himself.

While he is a bit loud and egotistical, she remains elegant, quiet and in some ways invisible - but her hand is always silently guiding Ozzie along to do the right thing.

She doesn't have a paying job either but she is at least busy continuously with housework and seeing that the kids and Ozzie get fed regularly and sets about doing the normal things you would expect a 1940's nuclear family radio mom to do.  She was the best wife and mother anyone could possibly want. 

While she never plays Ozzie's foil, she does often ask him pointed questions that makes him think and this in turn often changes his mind about one thing or the other.  She gingerly prods him because it is really her - not Ozzie - that knows what's best for the family.  She was superior to Ozzie in almost every way but few realize it.

They have the occasional argument but everything in the show is done in the spirit of fun and there is always forgiveness.

The two boys on the show were real-life sons David and Ricky. In the first few years, other, less-talented actors were used. Their parts were minimal and there's not much to write about them. As a matter of fact, David is hardly worth mentioning either. He delivers his lines well but the funny stuff is given to the younger Ricky, who had great comedic timing and a superb delivery that few child actors ever have.

Ricky consistently delivers smile after smile on the show, especially when given larger parts (most of the scripts were actually written by Ozzie himself and one of the strengths of the show is the writing.) Ricky would eventually turn into a mega singing star in the 1950's all the way to the 1980's.

While the very nuclear Nelson family was a pie-in-the sky look at America, it really has been the focal point of my many conversations dealing with entertainment of that era. And it's no wonder as it was a darn funny show.

If I include the first year of the show, I'd rank it about #65 on my list of 75 best. But when I forget about the awful first year and rank the show aside from that, I would probably rank it somewhere much higher -- probably around #17 or #18. That shows you how much I disliked the show with Benederet and how much I liked the show without her.

©Jimbo 2010/2011


  1. I often ask myself if I like this show because when I was younger I enjoyed the tv show and eventually Ricky's singing. Whatever, I do like the show and everyone in the show has an important role.

  2. Am I the only one who hates "Gloria?" (Benederet's character sounds a lot like several other OTR charcters that I also cannot stomach...)

  3. BTW, see today's "Silent Radio" post...


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