Nelson attended Gardner Street Public School, Bancroft Junior High, and Hollywood High School between 1954 and 1958 from which he graduated with a B average. He played football at Hollywood High and represented the school in interscholastic tennis matches. Twenty-five years later, Nelson told the Los Angeles Weekly he hated school because it "smelled of pencils" and he was forced to rise early in the morning to attend.
At Hollywood High, Nelson was blackballed by the Elksters, a fraternity of a dozen conservative sports-loving teens who thought him too wild. Many of the Elksters were family friends and spent weekends at the Nelson home playing basketball or relaxing around the pool. In retaliation, he joined the Rooks, a greaser car club of sideburned high school teens clad in leather jackets and motorcycle boots. He tattooed his hands, wrist, and shoulder with India ink and a sewing needle, slicked his hair with oil, and accompanied the Rooks on nocturnal forays along Hollywood Boulevard randomly harassing and beating up passersby. Nelson was jailed twice in connection with incidents perpetrated by the Rooks, and escaped punishment after sucker-punching a police officer only through the intervention of his father. Nelson's parents were alarmed. Their son's juvenile delinquency did little to enhance the All-American image of Ozzie and Harriet and they quickly put an end to Ricky's involvement with the Rooks by banishing one of the most influential of the club's members from Ricky's life and their home. One of Ricky's seldom publicized traits was his fierce loyalty to boyhood friends whom he regarded as trusted confidants. When young friend Bill Aken was in a crippling auto accident in New York City and confined to a hospital bed for months, Ricky would often phone Billy's mother asking about his progress and writing short notes and letters to Billy to cheer him up. They would be lifelong friends and Aken would record the only family authorized tribute record ("Gentle Friend") for the fan club after Rick's death.
Ozzie Nelson was a Rutgers alumnus and keen on college education, but eighteen-year-old Ricky was already in the 93-percent income-tax bracket and saw no reason to attend. At thirteen, Ricky was making over $100,000 per annum and, at sixteen he had a personal fortune of $500,000. Nelson's wealth was astutely managed by parents who channeled his earnings into trust funds. Although his parents permitted him a $50 allowance at the age of eighteen, Rick was often strapped for cash, and, one evening, collected and redeemed empty pop bottles to gain entrance to a movie theater for himself and a date. Accustomed to affluence, Nelson had a cavalier attitude about money and never managed his finances very well.
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