Historian of Horror : ‘Tis the Season to be Horrid!

I know, I know, in my last missive I tantalized the populace with the prospect of an examination of the stellar, if flawed career of legendary British anthologist Peter Haining for this edition, but some new information has become available but not yet acquired. That posting must needs go onto the back burner for the nonce. Fear not, my faithful fiends, it will be forthcoming. For now, as Halloween is rapidly approaching, something more in keeping with the season seemed appropriate to take its place.

Holiday episodes of popular TV programs are a common occurrence, and indeed were even in the days when the dominant home medium was radio. After some research I have identified what appears to be the very first Halloween-related broadcast on what was in 1952 the new medium of American television: the fifth episode of the first season of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

Ozzie Nelson was a big band leader in the 1930s who married his lead singer, Harriet Hilliard before they moved from the ballroom stage to the airwaves as regulars on Red Skelton’s radio show, The Raleigh Cigarette Program. Along the way, the couple found time to spawn a pair of sons, David (1936-2011) and Eric Hilliard, born in 1940 and known to family, friends and fans alike as Ricky. In 1944, Ozzie had enough clout to start his own radio show, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, starring himself and his better half as themselves with actors portraying their offspring. It was a typical sitcom of the time and medium, and was quite successful. Halfway through its ten-year run, the Nelson boys were deemed old enough to play themselves, and so mote it was. 

By 1952, television had been around long enough to warrant its own versions of many popular shows from the old medium, including the Nelson family’s. That program lasted fourteen seasons, for reasons that, honestly, I do not understand. Even more so after watching the TV broadcast of October 31, 1952, “The Halloween Party”.

I have no recollection of ever watching The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet during its run from 1952 to 1966, the reason probably being that my father, who exercised a sort of benevolent dictatorship over the family viewing on the one set we owned at the time, found it so monumentally boring that he refused to allow it to be seen in our house. As he was fond of saying, it offended by its blandness.

For so it is. Feel free to watch that episode with its aimless depiction of Ozzie’s utter ineptness at planning and executing a Halloween party for the neighborhood adults. I don’t recommend it, except as a rather curious historical artifact.

Instead, may I direct your attention to the radio broadcast of exactly four years earlier, October 31, 1948, “Haunted House”. Rather than engaging in banal pursuits into contrived incompetence, Ozzie spends his half-hour air time playing around with the idea of investigating a supposedly haunted house in the neighborhood, with some fairly amusing results. It had an energy to it that the television show lacked for its entire run, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain from the few times I’ve been able to bring myself to watch the odd episode or two. As with so many programs that made the transition, it was better heard but not seen. 

Despite that, it lasted long enough for younger son Ricky to join the trend of juvenile television stars making the move into music. Following the collapse of the first generation of rock ‘n’ rollers by 1959, including the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson in a plane crash that February, Ricky and his peers filled the airwaves with a more adult-acceptable version of the genre, one that had its rough edges carefully excised. Ricky was more successful than most, but his fame petered out by the time Motown and the British Invasion reshaped popular music for the better a few years later.

He did make a comeback fueled by nostalgia in the 1970s, but himself died in a plane crash in 1985. Ozzie passed in 1975, and Harriet in 1994. The couple’s one genre-related TV performance was in the seventh episode of the third season of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery in a tale called “You Can Come Up Now, Mrs. Millikan”, which aired on November 12, 1972. Ricky appeared in the fifth episode of Tales of the Unexpected on March 9, 1977, in a story entitled “A Hand for Sonny Blue”. 

A minimal contribution to the genre, admittedly, but an historic one. Being first does count for something.

And so, until next we meet, I bid you, as always…

Be afraid.

Be very afraid.

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