Harriet Hilliard, a successful actress and singer in her own right, married bandleader Ozzie Nelson
in 1935. Although, as Harriet Hilliard, she was ascending to leading lady status in her film career - most notably playing second lead to Fred Astaire
and Ginger Rogers
in Follow the Fleet
(1936) - the couple, as a couple, had a successful run on Red Skelton
's radio show in the early-1940's and her identity as an independent woman began to be subsumed by her identity as Ozzie's wife. Once she partnered with him in their radio series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
(1944), her identity became Harriet Nelson, wife and mother.
The radio show's success made it a natural for the new, burgeoning world of network television and, in 1952, The Adventures of Ozzie And Harriet
began its 15 year run, becoming an iconic bit of Americana along the way. Part sitcom and part reality TV, the show made the Nelson's and their children, David
, into household names - especially Ricky, who became a teen idol and popular singing star.
After Ozzie died, Harriet stayed mostly out of the public eye, appearing only occasionally in guest spots on television - sometimes as Harriet Nelson and sometimes as Harriet Hilliard. When Ricky died, she withdrew into seclusion almost entirely, content to be a grandmother to Ricky's daughter, actress Tracy Nelson
, and his two young sons, Matthew
. A life-long heavy smoker who, due to her image as a "perfect mom", never smoked in public, Harriet Hilliard Nelson passed away in 1994 from emphysema and congestive heart failure. She will forever be remembered as one of America's iconic, idealized TV Mom's from the "golden age" of television, when innocence was the order of the day.