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America's Family

The Nelsons were the epitome of life in the '50s; their only feature film is now on home video.

January 22, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For three decades, Ozzie, Harriet, David and Ricky Nelson were the first family of the airwaves.

They played themselves in the enormously popular radio series "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" from 1944 to '52. And in 1952, "Ozzie and Harriet" moved to television for a successful 14-year run.

But before making the transition to the small screen, the Nelsons starred in their only theatrical feature, "Here Come the Nelsons," which debuts this week on Universal Home Video ($15).

The fluffy family comedy, which was released in 1952, also stars a young Rock Hudson as, believe it or not, a traveling salesman who peddles women's foundation garments.

Ozzie Nelson had been pursued for several years to do a TV series, says his brother, Don Nelson, who co-wrote the film and was a writer on the radio and TV series.

"He had put it off as long as he could and he decided [to do the movie] to see what the family looked like [on screen]. In a sense, it became a pilot."

In "Here Come the Nelsons," Ozzie actually has a job--he works at an advertising agency owned by Gale Gordon (who later played Mr. Mooney on "The Lucy Show").

One of the subplots finds Ricky kidnapped at a centennial fair by a group of hoods out to rob the fair office. Ozzie manages to save the day, though, by stopping the thugs' car by stringing elastic girdles across the road.

Barbara Lawrence also stars as the pretty sister of a school friend Ozzie invites to stay with the family during the centennial celebration.

"It wasn't intended to be anything serious," says Nelson, who also wrote the Disney movie "Hot Lead and Cold Feet" and episodes for such TV series as "Bridget Loves Bernie," "Julia" and "The Jetsons." "It was intended to be something amusing and family-oriented. Oz didn't want to rock any kind of boat. You never saw Oz without a smile on his face."

Universal, not Ozzie, cast Hudson, Nelson says. "Ozzie was a little askance because he was looking for someone of more of a reputation and name. Ironically, Rock Hudson was only a contract player at Universal at that time."

Nelson says America loved the Nelsons because they were a "family that could be trusted. We have been blamed for all the ills of the '50s and '60s and have been praised for all the good things [about those decades] because it presented a way of life that was a little idyllic. We would manufacture a show out of whether it was appropriate for David to now have his own key or Oz getting stuck on the top of the house. It was the harmless kind of things that affected the family."

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Also new this week from Universal are three more titles ($20 each) in its popular "The Deanna Durbin Collection": 1948's "Up in Central Park," with Dick Haymes and Vincent Price; 1948's "For the Love of Mary," with Edmond O'Brien; and 1947's "Something in the Wind."

The only musical available for preview was "Something in the Wind," a featherweight farce that finds Durbin as a singing deejay-- with the world's worst hairstyle-- who is mistaken as a gold digger by a rich family. A turgid John Dall plays her love interest. The film is stolen from under Durbin's nose by then-21-year-old Donald O'Connor, who is utterly charming as the family's poor relation.

Republic's "Betty Boop Confidential" ($10) features 13 vintage Boop cartoons, including her first cartoon appearance in "Dizzy Dishes."

Arriving Tuesday from Kino on Video are two groovy British rock movies ($25 each). "Expresso Bongo," a musical drama from 1959, features a terrific performance from Laurence Harvey as a sleazy, low-rent music agent named Johnny Jackson who finds a potential teen idol, "Bongo" Herbert (English rock legend Cliff Richard), playing at a small Soho club.

Sylvia Syms also is featured as Harvey's long-suffering stripper girlfriend.

A real curio is 1962's "Beat Girl" starring Gillian Hills ("Blow-Up") as a teen sex kitten who loves hep jazz and hates her playboy father's (David Farrar) new young wife (Noelle Adams). Christopher Lee, rock star Adam Faith and a young Oliver Reed also star. John Berry supplied the music.

To order either Kino film, call (800) 562-6880.

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