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Ozzie Nelson's Wife Harriet Gave up Career When She Fell in Love & Wanted a Family with Him before They Wed

Junie Sihlangu
May 23, 2022
03:40 A.M.
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Ozzie Nelson's wife, Harriet, was so dedicated to her relationship with him that she let go of her career. She was determined to give up her performing career for something she felt was more fulfilling.

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In the 1950s, Harriet and Ozzie Nelson's relationship was what Americans deemed an ideal couple. Their show, "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," dominated television and featured their sons, Ricky and David Nelson.

The couple's sitcom ran for 14 years, from 1952 to 1966, as the Nelsons portrayed a fictional family. Ozzie appeared as a goofy father who never seemed to hold down a job and was always around the family's Colonial house.

Ozzie and Harriet Nelson in a portrait for "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" in Hollywood, California, on March 1, 1949. | Source: CBS/Getty Images

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Harriet appeared as a stay-at-home mother who was seen in aprons and in the kitchen most of the time. Their sons starred as good-looking boys whose biggest issue seemed to be how to ask Ozzie for his car keys.

The other problem they battled with was finding a high school prom date. However, to get to that level, Harriet had to make some sacrifices in her life that left her with uncertainty as she joined Ozzie.

HOW HARRIET AND OZZIE MET

Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard in a promotional studio portrait, circa 1945. | Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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According to the book "The Adventures of Ozzie Nelson: The Life and Career of America's Favorite Pop," Ozzie alleged that he initially saw Harriet in "Musical Justice." He then officially met her after a show.

Harriet was a professional performer who could sing and act. Ozzie realized he couldn't run another New Year's Day show on his own, and the actress was exceptionally talented.

Harriet Hilliard and Ozzie Nelson in bathing suits sitting on a diving board above a pool at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California, circa 1935. | Source: Dick Whittington Studio/Corbis/Getty Images

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He also thought she was quite beautiful and was captivated by her. At the time, Harriet was only 22 years old, but she managed to leave Ozzie in awe of "how much poise she had" at such a tender age.

Funny enough, in Ozzie's autobiography, he changed the age he'd first met her from 22 to 17. However, the truth lay in the fact that the performer was born on July 18, 1909.

OZZIE PURSUED HARRIET PROFESSIONALLY

Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Nelson read a script at an ABC microphone in circa 1955. | Source: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Ozzie decided he wanted Harriet because he felt she could sing and would be able to match his energy. However, this quest proved difficult because the soprano songstress was doing well with her show.

Harried didn't need Ozzie the way he needed her for his band. The musician's task was quite challenging, and he spent a week in Connecticut trying to figure out how to approach the songstress with his idea.

Ozzie Nelson smiling in a black-and-white unspecified photo. | Source: John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Getty Images

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Ozzie took a two-hour train ride to New York to be able to watch the actress's floor show. He wanted to concentrate on Harriet without being distracted by leading his band.

The band leader made sure to get a table booking as close as possible to the stage. However, when the pair were finally supposed to meet, Ozzie got lost and arrived late at the meeting, which made for a bumpy start.

Harriet Hilliard posing for a photo, circa 1945. | Source: John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Getty Images

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When he made it, he explained to Harriet that he'd never been to the meeting spot, and she surprisingly told him she hadn't either. Harriet's honesty stuck with him, and that's what he focused on instead of the mishap.

Ozzie honestly told the vocalist that he actually couldn't afford the salary she was making in Hollywood. Harriet had initially been hired at $75 a week and proved herself capable of working as an emcee.

Harriet Nelson standing at a microphone in an unidentified image. | Source: George Rinhart/Corbis/Getty Images

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Without Harriet, who was now earning double that amount, the Hollywood show's success wasn't guaranteed. She was an intelligent woman and figured Ozzie was a rising star and decided to take a chance on him.

She agreed to give the working relationship a summer trial run. Little did she know that the relationship wasn't only going to remain professional but would evolve into a romantic one too.

GETTING MARRIED AND HOW HARRIET GAVE UP HER CAREER AGAIN FOR OZZIE

Harriet and Ozzie Nelson in "Love, American Style" with a November 10, 1969, airdate. | Source: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images

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Ozzie and Harriet became so close after years of being bandmates that he ended up proposing marriage to her. However, the artist was turned down by the former performer because she felt she wasn't ready for that step.

Despite the refusal, it was clear to the public that the couple was getting close to tying the knot. During a driving trip to Houston for an event, Harriet and Ozzie sat behind in one of his cars as Harold Lane drove them.

Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Nelson posing together, circa 1947. | Source: NBC NewsWire/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

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The couple had performance adrenaline and couldn't sleep. Halfway to their destination and probably just before dawn, Ozzie broke the silence by asking Harriet to marry him for a second time.

The songstress agreed and then shouted to Lane, "Hey Harold, I've just been proposed to." She informed the driver that she and Ozzie were going to get married, to which Lane replied:

"I thought he'd never ask."

Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Nelson on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" in an unspecified image. | Source: NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

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Before she and Ozzie got engaged, Harriet had been offered an acting contract. The vocalist had even gone for a screen test to star in her first feature film, which would've been her acting debut.

However, when she became engaged, the star was more interested in settling down and starting a family with Ozzie and refused the offer. The film's producer tried raising Harriet's pay to lure her into taking the role, but she kept refusing.

Harriet Hilliard and Ozzie Nelson at their wedding held in Hackensack, New Jersey on October 8, 1935. | Source: NBC NewsWire/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

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Eventually, Ozzie was roped in to try and convince his fiancée to take the deal. He urged Harriet to consider the role because it was a deal that never could be repeated, and she relented, stating her ultimatum as such:

"Okay, but just this one picture. Then I'm going back home and we're going to start a family."

Harriet Hilliard and Ozzie Nelson at their wedding in Hackensack, New Jersey on October 8, 1935. | Source: NBC NewsWire/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

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On October 8, 1935, Ozzie and Harriet exchanged their wedding vows before Reverand William Russell at the band leader's mother's home in Hackensack, New Jersey. The only people who served as witnesses were four people.

Ozzie's mother, Ethel, his older brother, Alfred, his brother's wife, Kay, and his younger brother, Don, were all present. The wedding still became public news with the media reporting on it.

Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard in a Honeymoon Lodge, US lobby card, circa 1943. | Source: LMPC/Getty Images

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Peter Jones, the writer and director of the documentary, ''Ozzie and Harriet: The Adventures of America's Favorite Family,'' once revealed that Harriet was "a bombshell." He said she liked gay people, risque jokes, and having cocktails at night.

It was evident that whatever project Harriet and Ozzie [Nelson] chose to establish, it would become a success until their luck ran out in 1973.

Jones noted how the star had so much talent she could've become a big celebrity. However, she gave all that up to become Ozzie's wife, but the writer thought every year, the songstress wondered what would've been if she hadn't.

THE COUPLE'S SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE, CAREERS, AND DEATHS

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Ozzie and Harriet Nelson photographed at home with their sons Ricky and David on June 15, 1944, in Los Angeles, California. | Source: CBS/Getty Images

Harriet became a mother for the first time on October 24, 1936, when she welcomed their first son, David. It took a couple of years before the couple's second child and son, Eric, was born on May 9, 1940.

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Ozzie and Harriet's second son was later known as Ricky. The Nelsons went on to find success with their family show, "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," and earned the title of "America's favorite young couple."

The series alow had a radio version that ran for ten years. It was evident that whatever project Harriet and Ozzie chose to establish would become a success until their luck ran out in 1973.

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The "Ozzie's Girls" project failed to have the same success. A few years later, in 1975, Ozzie passed away at his California home after battling cancer before Ricky joined him.

Ricky had established himself as a rock star when he died in a plane crash on December 31, 1985. His older brother ended up finding a career as a television producer.

David was left alone with his mother, who lived in retirement. Harriet lived to a ripe old age before she finally went to join her husband and child on October 2, 1994, in California.

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