Ricky Nelson was born on May 8, 1940 at 1:25 p.m. at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, New Jersey. He was the second son of big band leader Ozzie Nelson, who was of half Swedish descent, and his wife, big band vocalist Harriet Hilliard Nelson (née Peggy Louise Snyder). Harriett remained in Englewood, New Jersey with her newborn and her older son David while Ozzie toured the nation with the Nelson Orchestra. The Nelsons bought a two-story Colonial in Tenafly, New Jersey, and six months after the purchase, moved with son David to Hollywood, California where Ozzie and Harriet were slated to appear in the 1941-42 season of Red Skelton's The Raleigh Cigarette Hour; Ricky remained in Tenafly in the care of his paternal grandmother. In November 1941, the Nelsons bought what would become their permanent home: a green and white, two-story, Cape Cod Colonial at 1822 Camino Palmero in Los Angeles. Ricky joined his parents and brother in Los Angeles in 1942.
Ricky was a small and insecure child who suffered from severe asthma. At night, his sleep was eased with a vaporizer emitting tincture of evergreen. He was described by Red Skelton's producer John Guedel as "an odd little kid," likable, shy, introspective, mysterious, and inscrutable. When Skelton was drafted in 1944, Guedel crafted the radio sitcom, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, for Ricky's parents. The show debuted on Sunday, October 8, 1944 to favorable reviews. Ozzie eventually became head writer for the show and based episodes on the fraternal exploits and enmity of his sons. The Nelson boys were first played in the radio series by professional child actors until twelve-year-old Dave and eight-year-old Ricky joined the show on February 20, 1949 in the episode, "Invitation to Dinner."
In 1952, the Nelsons tested the waters for a television series with the theatrically released film, Here Come the Nelsons. The film was a hit and Ozzie was convinced the family could make the transition from radio's airwaves to television's small screen. On October 3, 1952, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet made its television debut and was broadcast in first run until September 3, 1966 to become one of the longest running sitcoms in television history.
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