On television, the Nelsons were billed as "America's favourite family." In The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, they were the idealized TV family of the 1950s and '60s. In real life, everything was not so rosy for the offspring of Ozzie and Harriet. In fact, grandson Matthew Nelson was quoted in an August 5, 1991 People magazine article ("Nelson, the Next Generation") as saying, "We come from the grand-daddy of dysfunctional families."
Ricky Nelson, the youngest of Ozzie and Harriet's two sons, married Kristen Harmon on April 20,1963 in what Life magazine called "The Wedding of the Year." The nuptials took place at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church in Los Angeles, California. Rick and Kris had four children: Tracy Kristine Nelson (born October 25, 1963), identical twin sons, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson (born September 20, 1967) and Sam Hilliard Nelson (born August 29, 1974).
|Wedding of Rick and Kris in 1963|
The breakup of Kris and Rick Nelson's marriage was bitter and acrimonious. According to Gunnar, right before his parents separated, "my mom started drinking really heavily." He said, "She went to AA, but there were drunken battles that none of us will ever forget."
Tracy Nelson, the eldest of the four children, is 47 years old. She began her acting career at a young age. In 1968, when she was less than 5 years old, Tracy played one of Henry Fonda's daughters in the film Yours, Mine and Ours. In 1982, Tracy won the role of Valley Girl Jennifer DeNuccio in the short-lived TV high school sitcom, Square Pegs. Square Pegs only ran for 20 episodes, from 1982 to 1983.
|Tracy in Square Pegs|
On July 25, 1987, Tracy married actor William R. Moses, one of the stars of the prime time television series, Falcon Crest. The wedding took place on Catalina Island. A month after the marriage Tracy was diagnosed with Hodgkins disease, a form of cancer. She underwent surgery to remove parts of her liver and lymph nodes. After months of chemotherapy, her weight dropped drastically, but the cancer went ino remission. Tracy returned to television in 1989 as Sister Stephanie "Steve" Oskowski in The Father Dowling Mysteries.
The Father Dowling Mysteries (titled Father Dowling Investigates in the U.K.) began airing regularly in 1989 and ended in 1991. The series centred on the adventures of a Chicago priest named Father Frank Dowling, played by Tom Bosley of Happy Days fame. Aided by his sidekick, Sister Steve, the savvy priest and the streetwise nun continually stumbled on crimes such as abduction and murder. The clerical duo worked tirelessly to solve the cases.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Tracy made guest appearances on such television series as Family Ties (2 episodes, 1984-85), St. Elsewhere (1984), Matlock (1994), Melrose Place (4 episodes, 1994-1995), Touched by an Angel (1996) and Seinfeld (1998). In 1995, she performed on Broadway as Rizzo in Grease.
Tracy and Billy Moses divorced in 1997. They are the parents of a daughter named Remington Elizabeth Moses, born August 11, 1992. Tracy also has a son, Elijah Nelson Clark, born August 22, 2001. Elijah's father is director Chris Clark. (Editor's Note: On the IMDb website, Clark is described as Tracy's ex-boyfriend).
|Gunnar and Matthew|
Matthew and Gunnar are 43 years old now. Always musically inclined, they recorded a demo at the age of 11. Music became their refuge from the stress and unpleasantness of their parents' bitter divorce. In the fall of 1985, when they were 18 years old, due to issues with their mother, the brothers decided to move in with their dad. They were devastated when he died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve of that same year.
The blond-haired twins evenually formed a pop/rock band called Nelson. Their debut album was titled After the Rain, an allusion to their rueful family history. The album was a huge success and produced a Number 1 hit in 1990, "(Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection."
The matriarch of the family, Harriet Hilliard Nelson, who died in 1994 at the age of 85, lived to witness the accomplishments of her twin grandsons. She had great affection for Matthew and Gunnar. In 1991, she described them as her "pride and joy." She said, "I went out to the studio where they shot their video and felt at home again."
On July 14, 1995, Matthew Gray Nelson married model/actress Yvette Shilo Stevens. On March 10, 2009, he filed for divorce in Los Angeles, citing irreconcilable differences. Gunnar Nelson currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee. In recent years, the brothers have performed together on cruise ships. In February of this year, twenty years after After the Rain, they released a new album titled Lightning Strikes Twice.
Sam Nelson, the youngest of Kris and Rick's children, is now 36. He is an actor and a musician. As a child, Sam was caught in the middle of the ugly custody battle between his parents. It was filled with accusations of profligate spending, poor parenting and drug abuse. At the age of six, Sam was placed in the care of his maternal grandparents, former football star Tom Harmon and his wife Elyse, a movie actress of the 1940s.
After Rick Nelson's death, young Sam was once again embroiled in a tug-of-war custody battle, this time between his mother and her brother, actor Mark Harmon. In 1987, Mark and his wife, Pam Dawber (of Mork and Mindy fame), attempted to win custody of their nephew on the basis that Kristen was an unfit mother.
Kristen Harmon Nelson had been plagued by psychological problems, drug and alcohol addictions. Prior to her well-publicized court battle with her brother and his wife, Kris underwent treatment for substance abuse at New Beginnings, a respected facility at L.A.'s Century City. She was eventually granted custody of Sam, although Mark and Pam were given visitation rights. Kris, Sam and Mark all agreed to participate in family therapy sessions.
Sadly, the nasty custody battle tore the Harmon family apart. Kris told People magazine that her parents "expected her to be a perfect person - and I guess I tried to be that." She said they were not pleased about her breakup with Rick. "As Roman Catholics, they've never forgiven me for getting the divorce. And they've never forgiven me for not being perfect." According to Kris, her family "never found fault with Ricky - they always blamed me for everything."
Sam Nelson survived his traumatic childhood. He became lead singer of a band called h is orange. Apparently, the group's name is derived from Sam's memory of seeing words and letters in colour. It represents a way of looking at things from a new and different perspective.
To watch a video of an interview with Sam Nelson, click on the link below.
To watch a video of Sam, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson singing their father's hit son, "Garden Party." click on the link below.
Rick Nelson also fathered a son named Eric Jude Crewe , born February 14, 1981. Eric's mother is Georgeann Crewe, whom Nelson met in 1980 at the Playboy Resort in Great Gorge, New Jersey. A 1985 blood test later confirmed that Rick was the child's father and he agreed to provide $400 per month in child support.
Editor's Update: (January 26, 2014): Matthew Nelson married model and actress Kari Ahlstrom in the fall of 2013. They are the parents of a son, Ozzie Matthew Nelson, born August 29, 2014.
Editor's Update: (December 28, 2014): Gunnar Nelson married Lila Kersavage on October 7, 2014. Here is their wedding photograph.