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The Sons Also Rise

June 17, 1990|Dennis McLellan

As one of television's most famous sons, David Nelson is well aware of his white-bread image honed during 14 seasons on "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," a reputation that typecast him in "David Nelson" roles for years.

But Nelson gave up a chance to give straight-arrow Dave a slight edge when Ozzie Nelson, the show's director, was looking for some stage business for his oldest son to do in a scene.

"I was about 20 and because I smoked at the time, he said, 'Why don't you just go over and light a cigarette,' " recalls Nelson. "I said, 'You know, Dad, I don't think I could do that.' I tried, but it was so out of character for David Nelson--and yet I did smoke."

Although he and brother Rick were unique as television offspring--real-life sons playing themselves with their real-life parents each week--David Nelson has a lot in common with fellow former TV sons such as Jerry Mathers (The Beav on "Leave It to Beaver").

They played good boys--the kind of guys TV daughters had no qualms about taking home to mom and dad.

In an era of renegade TV sons such as Bud Bundy and Bart Simpson, David Nelson and Beaver Cleaver seem too good to be true.

But, as Mathers says, "Leave It to Beaver" then--and even "The Simpsons" now--was not meant to be a documentary.

"A lot of people say you can't live like that in real life," he says. "We were doing situation comedies, so it was supposed to be bigger than life. But the things that happened to the Beaver were things that really did happen to kids. They were taken from real life."

Still, he concedes with a laugh, when Beaver got in trouble, TV pop Ward merely took the boy into the Cleaver library for a stern but loving talk; in real life, Mathers said, the Beav would have "gotten his bottom tanned."

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