From: "TV Month" (June 1960)
evening not long ago two young American millionaires, aged 23 and
19, put on a flawless flying trapeze act in a circus tent in Los
Angeles, and in doing so made strange history.
two boys were none other than the Nelson Brothers, celebrated
Rick of the rock 'n' roll records, the movie "Rio
Bravo" and the "Ozzie and Harriet Nelson"
television series, and his elder brother Dave. Never in the story
of American show business had a star of Rick's stature risked
life and limb on a flying trapeze.
former circus acrobat Burt Lancaster, the Nelson Brothers had no
circus tradition behind them. Nor was their acrobatic stunt done
for a movie, where doubles are used for the long shots and the
close-ups of the trapeze itself are filmed within a foot or so
from a very steady floor. Had the boys gone crazv? Was this a
manifestation of an idle "we'll show 'em" mood? Nothing
of the sort.
debut of the Nelson brothers at the Great Western Livestock Show
in Los Angeles was sprung as a surprise on the thousands who had
settled around the arena to watch a circus in action. It was a
calculated presentation that had no ingredients of a publicity
stunt or any other stunt for that matter, and had been carefully
prepared. In fact, the parents of the two boys, Ozzie and Harriet
Nelson, were in the audience. They watched more breathlessly than
the other spectators as the brothers flew through the air-Dave
the "catcher," Rick the "flier" but they knew
the act before-hand. Dad and Mum had watched their sons rehearse
under the top of a huge empty soundstage next to the one on which
the Nelsons' TV series is filmed. It had been specially converted
for the brothers' flying act."It was Dave's idea," Rick
recalls today. "I simply went along."
circus run over, the brothers repeated the same act in an episode
of the Nelson family TV series which was seen in America in late
January. The show caused a furore around the nation. Rick's
teenage fans hung on with bated breath as they watched their
singing-idol-turned-acrobat swing from a trapeze, to be caught by
brother Dave hanging upside down from another, in a traditional
flying trapeze act. Two weeks after the show, as a new kind of
fan mail began pouring in, with Rick's fan clubs imploring him to
be careful, Dave set out for Hawaii for another two-week circus
stand. Rick went along, but only for the ride, and then stayed on
for a new motion picture in which he has a second lead, "The
Wackiest Ship in the Army." By the look of things since
then, brother Dave is taking his circus career seriously.
background story is deeply human. Ever since the brothers joined
their famous parents on the Nelson family radio show 11 years
ago, Rick and Dave .Nelson have been a team. "There aren't
two brothers who are as devoted to each other as these two,"
Ozzie Nelson says proudly. What with the television adventures of
the Nelsons stretching out over eight years of weekly
coast-to-coast shows, the two boys grew up right in front of
their multi-millionaire audience. No attempt was made to keep the
two boys at a certain age and to replace them as they grew out of
their roles. The writer of the series, who happens to be dad
himself, made sure that his new episodes fitted the boys as they
grew older, taller and stronger. Eventually, one evening it
who had developed a pleasant singing voice, had been given a song
to do, written into the script. The morning after the network was
showered with calls, telegrams and letters from viewers. On that
day a new rock 'n' roll star was born: Ricky Nelson. His parents,
also brother Dave, had to step aside. . . .
that day in May, 1957, Rick Nelson has acquired international
rating as a rock 'n' roll and popular ballad singer. He has cut
four albums, all of which made the top ten in popularity in the
U.S. Of the ten single records he made six earned the gold record
trophy for passing the 1,000,000 mark. Total sales of Rick Nelson
records by now have exceeded 13 million. The records have
showered a rain of gold on the young boy to the tune of 1,000
dollars a week in salary from the record company, Imperial
Records, plus the usual royalties. In addition, Rick became a
"hot" concert artist, wanted for personal appearances
all over the country at fees of additional thousands of dollars a
week. To Dad Ozzie, who has managed and mastermined the four
Nelsons since the radio service started, Rick's special career
has become an important sideline, even more lucrative than the
popular TV series itself.
Dave? Somehow, the older Nelson boy was lost in the shuffle. Dave
couldn't sing. Nor did he possess a magnetic personality like
Rick. He was good at acting, but he didn't register as especially
outstanding. "It wasn't fair," says Ozzie Nelson,
"but these are the ways of fame." It hurt dad and mum
to see Dave pushed into the background, but it hurt Rick even
more. Then, last year while working for Allied Artists, "The
Big Circus", Dave discovered his calling. Cast as a
"catcher" in an aerialist act, he found that he could
do what was required of a "catcher" without resorting
to tricks or help from a stuntman.
aerialists in the picture, were Del and Babs Graham, stars of
"The Flying Viennas" trapeze troupe that appeared with
the Ringling Circus for three years.
The Grahams had been hired
to "double" for the stars, including Dave Nelson, and
to serve as technical advisers on the picture. "Dave showed
so much natural ability as an aerialist," Del Graham
recalls, "that when the film was finished we offered to
became a Graham protege. He practised with them every weekend and
occasionally during the week when he had no TV scenes to film.
"His progress was amazing," Graham says. "It was
so unusual that one day I told him that if he'd ever want to join
my troupe as a 'catcher,' the job was his. So he said, 'What's
wrong with right now?"
through the air wasn't exactly Rick's cup of tea, but exposed to
his brother's enthusiasm and realising that at Iong last Dave had
found himself, Rick decicded to trail along. Dave's obsession had
separated them. It was bad enough that Dave had moved into a
bachelor house all his own while Rick was continuing to live with
their parents. Even if Rick was spending more and more nights in
Dave's house he missed his brother forever away at circus
training. He had to join Dave.
the brothers found themselves reunited on a flying trapeze, with
Rick busily catching up with Dave in hours upon hours of
practice. Rick became the "flier" of the team. What
about their parents? "I never worry about what Dave and Rick
are doing," says mother, "when they have control of
their actions." Adds Harriet Nelson with a brave smile,
"I never worry about them. They can take care of
themselves." Dad? "They're safer up there," says
Ozzie Nelson, "than at the wheel of a motor-car on a highway
down here." Even if they were worried at first they wisely
decided not to interfere. Dad, who had that private circus arena
built next door from the Nelson's TV home is demonstrating his
faith in Dave's ability as "catcher", a
"catcher" is much more important than a
"flier", by refusing to take out additional insurance.
course, even if the brothers break a limb they don't need
insurance money, they've accumulated plenty of their own. The two
probably are the richest bachelors in Hollywood today. Meanwhile,
ever since that January show, more and more fan letters are
arriving at the Nelsons' own private post office at General
Service Studios (where they employ five postal clerks) addressed
to . . . Dave Nelson.
newly-found acclaim for brother Dave. Rick, who averages 9,000 to
11,000 fan letters a week couldn't be happier about it.
"Dave deserved it," he grins, "even if he almost
broke his neck to earn it!"