People of a certain age (like those of us born in the 1950s) have fond memories of the Golden Age of Family Television. More specifically, the Golden Age of Television Families. The Andersons of "Father Knows Best". The Cleavers of "Leave It To Beaver". The Williamses of "Make Room For Daddy". And - the best of all - the Nelsons of "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet".
I was reminded of this on a vacation last week in the most incongruous of settings - a cruise ship. On board Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas, one of the channels - for reasons I still haven't been able to fathom - showed nearly continuous episodes of "Ozzie and Harriet".
I'd completely forgotten how much I loved this show as a kid. Sure, the others were good - but I was fascinated by the idea that this was a real family, using their real names. Ozzie and Harriet were really married. And their names really WERE Ozzie and Harriet. Ricky and Dave were real brothers. Real life events like their marriages were incorporated into the show. It was reality television before anyone ever dreamed up that label.
Ricky was my favorite Nelson. As the youngest in MY family, I naturally related to him in that role. And damn, the boy had musical talent. Even after he grew older and became just plain "Rick", I always thought he was one cool cat.
Here's another reason Rick was cool: In 1977, he hosted a Saturday Night Live episode and appeared in a hilariously funny Twilight Zone-themed skit in which he played his former sitcom self trying to walk into his home - but kept finding himself in the houses of other 50s and 60s sitcom families. This was during an era in which he'd been trying to shed at least part of the "Ricky" period of his life, but was hip enough to know that this would make people laugh.
And I remember how badly I felt when I heard he'd died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve in 1985. One of my ABC Radio co-workers at the time, the late newscaster Tim O'Donnell, summed it up for many of us when he walked by my desk and said, "I know this will almost sound silly, but I feel really terrible about Ricky Nelson".
Over the years, I'd pretty much forgotten about all this, but the re-runs reminded me of how much fun that show - and that era of television - was. On another channel - not coincidentally - was a continuously running feature on Rick's twin sons, Matthew and Gunnar, who have played together for years and now incorporate many of their dad's songs into their act. In it, they describe how they started to miss him a whole lot less when they played his songs. It brought a tear to my eye. It really did.
Tomorrow, I'm taking out my "Best of Rick Nelson" CD and listening to it in the car on the way to work. TV and music were a huge part of my childhood, and adulthood as well. Rick played a big part. And he deserves a very belated thank you.