Merry Christmas! I hope you are all enjoying a peaceful and happy day. We have a lot of holiday traditions in our family. When it comes to pop culture “must see” shows, we always watch Frosty, The Snowman; How the Grinch Stole Christmas; and a Charlie Brown Christmas, and the other specials are extras if we get them in. Christmas movies are different for each generation. I like White Christmas, while my oldest son never misses Elf. But when it comes to television, one episode we all agree on is “Busy Christmas” from the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Our family makes an effort to watch this every year together. There is something charming about watching an episode that is more than 60 years old but still speaks to us in how we celebrate Christmas. Ozzie, after vowing not to, involuntarily agrees to so many Christmas activities that he has no time to put up lights or buy a tree.
The show first aired in December 19, 1956 . It was the 12th episode of season 5. It was written by Jay Sommers, Don Nelson, Ozzie Nelson, and Alfred Nelson. Alfred’s only writing credits were 4 Nelson episodes. Ozzie, of course, helped write almost every episode. Don Nelson, another brother, enjoyed a long writing career. He helped Ozzie write the movie Here Come the Nelsons and he went on to write for a variety of shows including Bachelor Father, the Donna Reed Show, the Mothers-in-Law, the Doris Day Show, Bridget Loves Bernie, Herbie the Love Bug, Julia, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Nanny and the Professor, as well as a few episodes of Ozzie and Harriet’s later show, Ozzie’s Girls and 326 episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Jay Sommers got credit for 146 of the Nelson episodes and went on to write for Dennis the Menace, wrote many Petticoat Junction shows, almost all the Green Acres scripts, and, surprisingly, Hello Larry which we looked at a few weeks ago.
Produced by Ozzie and Leo Pepin, the show’s set decoration was created by Jack Moore. Moore had six Academy Award nominations and won for Little Women in 1949. The costume designer was George Sedilla, and the show was filmed at the General Service Studios, 1040 N. Las Palmas, Los Angeles.
In addition to the regular cast, Phil Arnold appears as a tailor and Isabelle Randolph is Mrs. Brewster.
This episode opens with Ozzie and Harriet looking at some of their Christmas cards. Ozzie mentions he wished people took time to write in their cards. He sees one that is a perfect example of what a card should say. It has a very warm and sentimental message. When Harriet agrees it is nice and asks who sent it, Ozzie replies, “Acme Cleaners.”
Modern Christmas cards were started by the Hall brothers whose company would become Hallmark. They were post cards, but people did not have enough room to write what they wanted to tell people they didn’t see often. In the 1930s, Hallmark switched to a “book format” which is our card today. The cards increased in popularity from the mid-1930s to the 1960s. Hallmark began commissioning famous artists to design cards including Salvador Dali, Grandma Moses, and Norman Rockwell. The Nelsons would have had to use regular postage stamps, because Christmas stamps did not debut until 1962. It’s funny that the switch to these cards was made so people could write more, but Ozzie’s complaint (and one you hear often today) is that people didn’t write anything personal.
Scene 2 cuts to Ozzie trying to maneuver through a mad rush of people shopping in a department store. His arms are full of wrapped packages. He tries to ask a clerk for a Donkey Party game. Giving up, he takes cover in a seating area and ends up sitting next to Mrs. Brewster. We learn it is a week before Christmas. They are watching a busy crowd and listening over the speaker as Irving Muller is lost and they attempt to find his mother. Eventually they find her, but now Irving is gone. Ozzie reminisces about a Christmas when he and Harriet were first married. They were looking at the tree when all the sudden they heard “Silent Night” and were caught up in the beauty of the song and the carolers on Christmas Eve. Mrs. Brewster says that is perfect because they would like the Nelsons to join them for caroling this Christmas Eve. Ozzie says he’ll talk to Harriet, and if she agrees, they will. Mrs. Brewster smiles and says Harriet has already agreed to it if Ozzie was willing. Over the loudspeaker they hear little Ozzie Nelson is missing and then the message is corrected that Mrs. Nelson is looking for Mr. Nelson.
Donkey Party was a version of pin-the-tail-on-the donkey. It came with a poster and 24-30 tails. Some of the other classic toys from this year are Candy Land, Mr. Potato Head, a Slinky Dog, and a Lone Ranger guitar.
Following World War II, the nation displayed an era of peace, productivity, and prosperity and this could be seen in the nation’s department stores. At Christmas the windows were magical places where beautiful scenes were created, often with moving parts. Ozzie’s presents were wrapped because that was a service department stores provided, saving the customer time later. Here are some vintage options Ozzie might have been able to choose from.
By Scene 3, a few days have passed. Ozzie is helping Harriet hang a wreath on the wall. When Harriet asks him about the tree and putting up lights, he says it’s too early to get the tree, and he decided not to put up lights this year. He tells her he is not going to get overly busy again this year. The doorbell rings and Doc Williams enters in. Doc tells Ozzie that he has been appointed entertainment chairman of the Men’s Club for Christmas, and instead of the regular pageant, they have decided to do a shortened version of the Christmas Carol. Doc will be playing Bob Cratchet. Ozzie tells Harriet this is exactly what he was talking about. They make one of the busiest men in town chairman and how unfair that is. Doc looks confused and then starts to laugh. He assumes Ozzie is auditioning for the role of Scrooge and he gives him the role. Doc asks when the lights are going up, and when Harriet says Ozzie isn’t putting them up this year, Ozzie says yes he is, he just hasn’t gotten around to it yet.
I have a beautifully illustrated book of The Christmas Carol, and I try to find time to read it each year. I also have a Scrooge in his striped night shirt, who is about 4 feet and I love him, although most of my family find him creepy. My grandfather had a set of Dickens books and liked The Christmas Carol, and I find it inspiring that many generations have enjoyed and learned from this book.
Scene 4 finds Ozzie in his garage a day or so later trying to untangle lights. His friend Joe Randolph stops by and says the guy who always helped as Santa at the orphanage Christmas Eve party moved away. Now they realized he used his own suit. Ozzie offers his suit; however, Joe thinks his is also offering to be Santa. Joe has to hurry off before Ozzie can explain.
Ozzie would be filling in for Santa because the real Big Guy was too busy Christmas Eve delivering gifts. NORAD began tracking his movements in 1955, so the Nelsons would have been able to follow his progress around the globe.
Scene 5 is December 23. Mrs. Brewster has dropped off a song, and Doc has dropped off his part. Ozzie climbs the ladder to hang lights and has Rick practice the part of Scrooge with him. Rick, wearing a sheet like a ghost, leans out the window and plays Marley, ad-libbing the part till Ozzie tells him he must learn the part the way it’s written. David comes in the room and tells Rick to take off the sheet because it’s from David’s bed. The boys get into a conversation and walk off, leaving Ozzie wondering what is going on. Ozzie remembers he has to get the Santa suit out of the attic and goes to retrieve it. Mrs. Brewster stops by before he can get back on the ladder to bring more music and asks him to please learn the bass part, because she is short on basses. As he goes back up the ladder to put up the lights, he is called to dinner.
Scene 6 begins on Christmas Eve day. Ozzie is walking around practicing his play part and singing his bass parts. He is just leaving the house to get a tree when the phone rings. It’s Joe Randolph saying that there are so many children at the orphanage, they will have to do two parties instead of one. Then Doc stops by and says he was called to the hospital for an emergency and Ozzie will have to go pick up the costumes. David offers to drive him. They rush to pick up costumes from the tailor, then to the orphanage, and then to the play. During the play, Ozzie knocks a picture off the wall, then drops a prop and, when he picks it up, his pants rip.
Everyone is back at home for Scene 7. Ozzie is complaining that once again he was too busy. He talks about how embarrassing the play was and how he hurt his knee hopping in and out of the car. David says the audience thought what Ozzie did was part of the play and it was funny. Then David says he got a parking ticket. That is the last straw for Ozzie, but when Harriet inspects it, she realizes it is an invitation to the Policeman’s Ball. At that moment, the carolers arrive to pick up the Nelson family. They are singing “Silent Night” and the family gets quiet and listens to the song, realizing how beautiful it is and what Christmas is all about. Ozzie goes to get his coat which Harriet has put in the den. Ricky comes into the hall with a Charlie Brown tree saying that was all they had left when he got to the lot. As Ozzie opens the den door, a huge tree is revealed decorated with bulbs and tinsel with tons of presents under it. Harriet and Ricky said they did it while Dave and Ozzie were gone.
Tree decorations is one area that has changed drastically today. Rarely do you see tinsel, garland, or snow flocking. Back in the 1950s you might have seen bubble lights, or popcorn strands, and the rainbow colors of Shiny Brite ornaments.
They go outside for Scene 8 to join the carolers. It begins to snow lightly. Doc mentions it’s too bad lights didn’t get put up, but then Ricky hits the light switch and he explains he and Harriet took care of those too. The group moves off singing “Deck the Halls.”
That’s the end of the 1956 episode, but in 1964, Ozzie replayed this show and added a Scene 10. It is now 1964. David is married to June Blair and they have a son Danny. Rick is married to Kris Harmon and they have a daughter Tracy. The entire Nelson family gathers around the tree. Ricky plays his guitar, sitting in front of the fireplace and decorated tree and sings “The Christmas Song.” While he sings, the camera pans around watching the rest of the family. It ends with everyone wishing the viewers a merry Christmas.
So much of our culture has changed today from 1956; however, thankfully many Christmas traditions remain. We still send and get cards, although some of them are on the computer. We still put up lights and a tree; we just tend to do it earlier, so we can enjoy it longer. We still do things for others like orphanage parties; we just don’t have actual orphanages much anymore. We also can get quiet, listening to “Silent Night” and be deeply touched by the season and what it means to us. This episode is a reminder of that for me every year, and I look forward to it.