David Nelson….Everyone’s Big Brother
by Jimmy Hawkins
Jimmy Hawkins played Tommy in "It's a Wonderful Life," Tagg on "Annie Oakley," Ricky Nelson and Paul Petersen's pal, Scotty, and Shelley Fabares' boyfriend.
David Nelson….as in… “Here’s Ozzie….Here’s Harriet…Here’s David and Here’s Ricky. America’s Favorite Family…THE NELSON’S.”
That’s what we all heard at the beginning of each episode of “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” which ran on ABC from 1952-1966. The longest running Family sitcom in TV History.
It was early 1962… Ozzie Nelson. (Mr. Nelson to all us young guys who worked on the show) had seen me on "The Donna Reed Show". He didn’t even want to meet me…just asked if I wanted to join the cast. I wanted to do that show when I originally saw it in 1952. It was a dream come true.
My first memory of David Nelson was that he was shy yet friendly. He had a sense of humor that came with a great laugh or a broad smile…depending on just how funny he thought something was. He was, in my opinion, a very under-rated actor. He did fine work in movies like, “Peyton Place” and “The Big Circus”. He was into sports and played baseball in High school… Even got a hit off of Don Drysdale.
On the first day of shooting, David and Skip Young (he played Wally) asked me to go to lunch with them. With that one gesture, David made going to work on “The Nelsons” fun for me... He made me feel like I was really a part of it.
Being on the series for 4 seasons, I observed David many times, but the thing that stood out most was that what you saw on the show was what David was like….Everyone’s Big Brother. He was easily accessible…Never stand offish…very creative, he even Directed about a dozen shows.
After the show went off the air, David and I did some projects together and he was always coming up with great ideas. He was conscientious about his work. He rooted for his friends and just seemed happy doing whatever he was doing.
I never noticed an inkling of Sibling Rivalry. Oh sure, I saw sports competition between David and Rick, like when we went on breaks during filming, and they threw the football around. Heck, I had that with my own brother. David was very supportive of Rick during the Teenage Idol period. In fact, David was first to teach Rick some chords on their Dad’s 4 string guitar.
But David said they really became friends when he and Rick moved in together. David wasn’t sure it would work because David had his friends and Rick had his own. It was like the odd couple, David was neat and Rick could care less.
I remember a story I heard about David’s support for Rick from the Soundman on the TV show. He told me that David flew down to location where Rick was starring with John Wayne in a movie entitled, “RIO BRAVO”.
He noticed Rick was so tied up working on his riding and fast draw that Rick never got a chance to read the script. So David sat up with him all that night and read every page aloud and talked with Rick about his character. David even broke down each scene, speech by speech. He wanted the best for his little brother.
When Rick passed away David was appointed Executor of his Estate and made sure all of Rick’s wishes were carried out. It was tough at times because some family members thought things should be different. But David saw his duty and did what he had to do. That’s not always popular.
He also felt a great responsibility to Rick. He was taught to look after his younger brother. When Rick died David had not only lost his brother but somebody he had watched over all their lives. He often asked himself, “What more could I have done?” David was very humble.
The Nelson family on TV wasn’t the way it was…just the way it should have been. David had problems with trying to live up to the family on TV and the family in real life, but he did the best he knew how. He was a good Son, a great Brother, and wonderful Husband, Father, and Grandfather.
He left the world a better place, and isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?
Thanks for that lunch invite so many years ago, David. As I remember, you even picked up the tab. I was thrilled to know you and your family and will never forget your kindness. You ran the race well. God bless David Nelson.
“THE ADVENTURES of OZZIE & HARRIET”