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A Day With Rick Nelson

Rick Nelson woke up at 7 A.M. and stretched his six feet and one hundred-sixty pounds. At the back of his sleepy consciousness there was a vague pulse of excitement beating away. Rick shut off the shrill alarm clock and lay there for a moment, trying to think what the excitement he felt was about.

The day ahead was to be like any other day . . . school, the last round of the tennis tournament . . . rehearsal for the family television show. . . . So why should he wake up this morning with a feeling of expectancy?

Still wondering, Rick climbed out of bed, scratched his tousled hair and began to dress. Then, a moment later, as though the color of his own red crew neck sweater shocked him into it, he remembered: Today was the day when, during the filming of the Nelsons’ weekly TV show, his own new record, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” would be played publicly for the first time before its release.

And there was something else that excited him as he tossed the sweater casually over his shoulders. And it sure as heck wasn’t the math test coming up third period today. Yesterday he’d been told the news that he was to make a personal appearance tour of four state fairs, singing his recent record hits. If that wasn’t terrific, then what was?

Happily, he pulled on his beloved rubber-soled white bucks, wrestled a careful few moments with his unruly brown hair, and took the steps downstairs two at a time, plunging into the breakfast room where Ozzie and Harriet awaited him.

Breakfast time at the Nelsons is a convivial period, if sometimes a little rushed, due to previous teenage dawdling.

“Good morning, Mr. Nelson,” Harriet said with a grin that seemed to add . . . “it’s about time”. . . .

“Good morning Mom, Dad. Say, where’s Dave?”

Ozzie looked up from his newspaper and his eggs. “He’s over at Twentieth Century-Fox. They’re doing a scene of his for ‘Peyton Place’ today.”

“Oh, that’s right,” Rick said, and proceeded to tear into his breakfast. “I almost forgot my brother’s a movie star now.”

Harriet smiled fondly at Rick and replied. “That’s all right. David’s brother is a recording star now . . . but you’re both still just the Nelson boys to me.” But her words did not completely hide the pride in Harriet’s voice.

“That’s right Mom,” Rick called over his shoulder as he ran for the front door. “Got to run. Math test . . . I want to cram during study period. See you at the studio later.” And Rick Nelson was off, leaving behind him a couple of loving, bemused parents named Ozzie and Harriet.

The study period went well, and so did the math test. Three periods later, Rick was whistling his way down the hall when a pretty, dark-haired girl he had dated a few times passed by.

“Hiya, Rick.”

“Oh . . . Hi.”

“I just bought another copy of your record, ‘Teenager’s Romance’.”

“How come another copy?” Rick grinned at her.

“I wore out the first one,” she laughed. “Say, sure wish I could go along and see you sing at the Indiana State Fair.”

As she spoke, Rick felt a sudden twinge of apprehension. The early morning’s excitement had only been a preparation for what he felt now: He was just plain nervous about singing, live, before a gigantic audience at these state fairs.

“Thanks a lot,” Rick said, moving down the corridor towards his next class, “See you later.” As he walked along, Rick thought: “It’s silly to be nervous. All Ive got to do is get up there and be myself . . . just myself . . .”

But being “myself” is always a tough job. Especially when you have as many selves as Eric Hilliard Nelson has. The Rick who grew up before America’s eyes and ears on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” is not quite the same fellow who recently began to search for his own individuality . . . picked up a guitar on the set between set-ups . . . started to strum it . . . groped for the chords he heard inside himself . . . began to hum and then . . . to sing!

For then suddenly quite a few “selves” seemed to be crowded out of the picture. The Rick who wanted desperately to play tennis on America’s Davis Cup team; the boy who threw himself into drag races driving a Plymouth stock car, trying to win with all his heart—these were suddenly replaced by a young man who wanted only one thing in the world: To sing his heart out!

But until now, it had been singing to a great unseen record audience. Except for that one unforgettable experience—that day in assembly period.

Singing at the assembly of a Los Angeles high school, Rick had suddenly tasted what the word fame could really mean. The kids, having their first glimpse of the boy whose record they’d danced to and hummed along with for months, went a little wild. He remembered the combination of exhilaration and nervousness he’d felt as the members of the school football team beat a path to his car for him, breaking through the overly-enthusiastic Nelson devotées.

Now, as he entered his fourth period classroom, he seemed to be feeling only the strangeness of having to face so many people at one time and in one place, all waiting for him to sing and dance. . . . During lunch period, he was still quiet and preoccupied.

But by the time he struggled into his tennis sweater, shorts and sneakers after school, these thoughts were replaced, for the moment, by the more pleasant thought that a certain girl (who had been Miss Illinois in the Miss America Contest) would be at the TV studio later.

He ran out onto the tennis court, anxious to do his best in the match. He half-wished he hadn’t made the date for today. He and his opponent could easily have scheduled it for another day. That way he would have had time to practice his guitar before the TV show. But the old love for tennis and the months and months of playing stood him in good stead and he played a good match, beating his classmate 6-2, 6-2, 6-0.

After a quick shower, he dressed, grabbed a candy bar, and drove off to the recording studios. He looked at his watch. He still had time to listen to one of his playbacks before he was due at the TV studio. “Hey, Rick, slow down,” he said to himself, as he noticed his speedometer had risen higher than it should.

“Hi, Rick, what’s up? You’re not cutting anything today, are you?” It was one of the sound engineers who recognized him as he entered the studio.

Rick shook his head. “Uh-uh. I just wanted to hear a playback of the one we did the other day. Would it be all right?”

“Sure. Go right in.” As Rick disappeared into the sound booth, the engineer turned to a co-worker and said. “Some contract that kid pulled with us. Twelve records a year. Not bad for seventeen years old, huh?”

“I’ll say,” answered the other. “His last record sold like ice in summer!”

And as the two watched Rick Nelson through the glass partition, listening to his own recording, they saw a kid with limpid blue eyes, who was the newest and hottest show business personality. And they saw a serious Rick, his face clouded with concentration as he listened intently. Unconsciously brushing a thick lock of brown hair off his forehead, they saw him lift the needle arm, and play a section over again three times.

The engineer shook his head in amazement as he remembered the bright, bouncy lad he’d seen so many times on the Nelsons’ TV show. It was the same youngster all right, but the boy sitting before him with an intense expression, was an artist as well as a teenager . . . a combination only a couple of guys have had recently . . . Presley . . . Boone . . .

“What do you think, Rick?” he asked when the record finished playing, and the boy emerged from the booth. Rick looked at him steadily and said, “I’m not sure . . . but I think it’s pretty good.”

“It’s got your mark on it, anyway. No imitation of anyone else. It’s pure Rick Nelson!” Rick’s serious expression burst into a clear-eyed smile.

“Thanks,” he said. “That’s all I ever want to be.” And he was off again, following out the pattern of his day.

At the studio where the Nelsons’ television show is filmed, they were shooting a big senior prom scene, and a whirling mass of couples was dancing to Rick’s new recording, “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?” Rick, not in the present scene, arrived and greeted his father, who stood aside, casting a careful director’s eye over the whole procedure.

In a moment, the lovely young Miss Illinois, one of Rick’s recent dates, resplendent in a radiant blue gown, waltzed by. Rick’s eyes opened wide as he admired her. “She’s really a doll, isn’t she, Dad?” Ozzie Nelson nodded in agreement, but his attention quickly reverted back to perfecting the scene.

Then a worried expression crossed Rick’s face, and he whispered: “Dad . . .”

“What is it, Rick?” Ozzie answered, preoccupied for the moment.

“I’m kind of worried about something. I’d like to talk to you about it.”

Instantly, Ozzie was all attention and the director was replaced by the father. “Sure, son. Tonight be all right?” Rick nodded and Ozzie added, “We’ll have a ‘bull session.’ ” He put his arm around Rick’s shoulder and the two Nelsons got back to work.

Ever since Rick could remember, he and Dave had been able to turn to their folks for advice and guidance whenever they needed it. And the advice was almost always right, too, even though he and Dave, like all kids, didn’t always listen.

Rick . . . Rick Nelson on the sound stage, please . . .” came a voice over a loud speaker. And Rick hurried to take his place onstage.

After dinner that night, all the Nelsons gathered in the living room and the family “bul! session” was on.

“It’s these four dates to entertain at state fairs,” Rick began seriously. “I’m suddenly realizing, I guess, how big and tough they look to me.”

Harriet Nelson spoke out what they were all thinking. “That sounds,” she smiled, “like a perfectly natural reaction. After all, these will be live audiences.” Ozzie and Dave nodded agreement.

“That’s just it, Mom,” Rick said. “With a record date you can always do it over and over, till you get something real fine. But with an audience right in front of you . . . well, you’ve got to give so much of yourself. A guy really has to entertain the people.”

“You’re learning fast,” Ozzie grinned.

Rick continued, “And suppose you’re standing in front of people who are there because they like you and want to hear you sing . . .”

“And suppose you goof, is that the idea?” Dave asked. Rick nodded.

It was Harriet’s turn. “Rick, we all have great confidence in you. Don’t forget that you’re the third generation of a greasepaint family. My mother was facing live audiences when she was your age.”

“And I was leading a band for dancing,” Ozzie added. “What your mother’s trying to say is that were proud of the success you’re making on your own. But, that doesn’t mean we’re not still a family unit.” Ozzie gave Rick a father-son wink.

“One for all, and all for one,” laughed, feeling better already.

“Exactly,” Ozzie said. “So we’re going to talk out the whole problem of this tour, and I’ll write some material for you. And we’ll help set your routines for you right here.”

“That’s great, Dad. Just like one of our own shows.”

“Now that we’ve got that squared away,” Harriet said with her particular brand of gentle humor, “how about housework?”

As with any other teenager, homework is an integral part of Rick’s day. Usually, week day evenings, he stays in and, if there is any socializing on the agenda, friends drop in but leave around nine or so.

The weekend, same as all over America, is Rick’s time to howl. And howl he does. There is no curfew at the Nelsons’. Ozzie and Harriet are reasonable about bedtimes on nights out. So . . . Rick is reasonable too. Especially since Ozzie digs down and helps his son with some green spending matter. (Most of Rick and Dave’s earned money goes into trust for them.) The give-and-take seems to work pretty well at the Nelsons’.

Tonight was no exception for social life. Rick finished his homework in good time, and soon the doorbell rang. A few young couples entered and within minutes, a rug was rolled back and Rick was whirling a young lady around in his own very special style of dancing (a cross between mambo and jitterbug. The girl was not Miss Illinois. Rick’s gone steady five times, but he’s playing the field vigorously right now).

When it was time to leave, one of Rick’s buddies said at the door: “Hey, Rick. I heard you were going to make a movie. That true?”

Rick’s laughing face sobered for a moment. “Uh-uh. Not right now. The right part hasn’t showed up.” He smiled. “They offered me a part in ‘Peyton Place,’ but it was a villain.”

“You, a villain?” His friend laughed. “Your fans would riot.”

“But you will make a movie, won’t you Rick?” a girl asked.

“One thing at a time,” Rick said, good humoredly. “Good night, gang.”

As he got ready for bed, Rick was remembering his early brush with movie making. He’d once played Farley Granger as a young boy in “The Story Of Three Loves,” and he thought it would be good to make another movie. But as Ozzie had said, there was no rush, even though he’d been told there had been thousands of letters asking when “that” launching movie would be made.

One thing at a time . . . First came the record album; and the state fairs. . . .

As he lay in bed, his eyes picking out the familiar, loved shape of his guitar, standing at his place at the foot of his bed, Rick felt doubly glad; glad that he’d had the courage to ask for help, and guidance from his family with a new experience on the horizon and glad that he had the kind of family who were always there when you turned to them.

Sleepily, he thought: “I feel pretty good now. I’m sure I passed the math test. . . . I’ll find out tomorrow . . . and Dad and I will work out these routines tomorrow night . . . ” Then, dropping into drowsy sleep, his last thoughts were: “Some day . . . a darkened theater . . . and a screen . . . and a movie . . . starring . . . Rick Nelson . . . and . . .”

The thought went unfinished because, after a day busy enough for half a dozen young men, Rick Nelson was sound asleep.





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