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Mesa Musings: David Nelson was the best role model

January 18, 2011|By Jim Carnett

Last week I experienced one of life's poignant little moments.

Leafing through the Jan. 12 edition of the Los Angeles Times, I came across an obituary for David Nelson ("TV family's last surviving star," LAT Extra). I spent a few moments in reverie and self-reflection.

Nelson was the last surviving member of the Nelson family: Ozzie, Harriet, David and Ricky. I grew up with the Nelsons on television. "America's Family" subtly influenced my own in the 1950s and '60s.

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The Carnetts — Bill, Betty, Jimmy and Billy — reminded me of the Nelsons, and we occasionally took little cues from our TV cousins. My brother and I liked to get summer buzz haircuts to make ourselves look like Ricky.

"The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" aired from 1952 to 1966, constituting an incredible 435 episodes.

My family — like most Americans — loved the Nelsons even after David and Rick had grown to manhood and become fraternity brothers.

When we first began watching the show, David was 16 and Ricky 12. I was 7, and my brother, Billy, was 5. A decade later, Jimmy and Billy were still watching.

I saw myself as David, the staid, stolid older brother. David was the straight man in the family. I viewed his progression through life as illuminating. It pointed the way to my destiny. He was in high school and dating girls when I began watching the show as a third-grader. Later, he was a serious college student and I knew I'd follow him there someday.

I saw my brash little brother, Billy, as the irrepressible and wisecracking Ricky. A distinctive laugh-track accompanied Ricky's every joke. Ricky and Billy possessed the same mischievous smile, and same smart mouth. They could get away with anything!

Girls at school used to tell Billy he looked like Ricky.

Ozzie Nelson — the former bandleader and father of the boys — bore a striking physical resemblance to my dad, Bill. "Oz" also possessed the same soft voice, same self-deprecating sense of humor, and same slightly flummoxed demeanor.

Here's one area where they differed: Ozzie was often seen around the house wearing a jacket or sweater with a tie. Never, my father!

My dad actually knew Ozzie. The Nelsons owned a home in Laguna Beach and lived there part of the year. My father drove a milk delivery truck in Laguna, and the Nelsons were his customers. Dad would tote bottles into the Nelsons' kitchen, and place them in the refrigerator.

Ozzie and Harriet, he said, were always gracious.

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