Ricky Nelson only performed on The Ed Sullivan Show once and his father is to blame

Here's why the teen idol missed being on the show at the peak of his popularity.

Read to Me

The Ed Sullivan Show was the ultimate fame factory of the Fifties and Sixties. Any act that performed on the show immediately had a majority of eyeballs on them. A whopping 60 million people, a mind-boggling 82.6% share of all television viewers, watched Elvis on Sullivan. An even greater 73.7 million tuned in to see the Beatles.

Both of those legendary performances helped turn Elvis and the Beatles into… well, Elvis and the Beatles.

In the spring of 1957, The Ed Sullivan Show was the No. 2 show on television, even in its "down" nights. At that same moment, another television star was making his pop-music debut. Ricky Nelson, the young son from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, dropped his first single, "I'm Walkin'" b/w "A Teenager's Romance." Both sides of the 45 were radio smashes, turning Ricky into an immediate teen idol.

He might have been even bigger, one of the true eternal faces of rock 'n' roll, had he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show that year.

But Ricky Nelson did not appear on The Ed Sullivan Show that year. Nor the next year, when his "Poor Little Fool" hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Nor the following year, when he saw four of his tracks break into the Top 10. Nor in 1961, when "Travelin' Man" topped both the Billboard and Cashbox charts, the only time he achieved that feat.

In fact, Ricky Nelson would not appear on The Ed Sullivan Show until 1966, the very same year Ozzie and Harriet finally ended its run. That was not a coincidence.

"Ozzie [Nelson] kept his son from performing on other shows like The Ed Sullivan Show, so that fans would tune into the family's sitcom on ABC to see him," the official Ed Sullivan website explained.

Yep, that's right — dad wanted exclusive rights.

Ricky was marketed wisely and innovatively on Ozzie and Harriet. The episodes would often end with Ricky performing a number, in what were essentially early prototypes of the music video.

Alas, in 1966, nearly a decade into his pop career, Ricky was slumping commercially. Out of his last four singles, two of them failed to crack the Top 100, and two of them failed to chart entirely. 

So, when Ricky turned up on the Ed Sullivan stage wearing a checkered tan jacket, he sang "Fire Breathin' Dragon" and "Your Kind Of Lovin'" — two sides of one of those flop singles that never touched the charts.

He would never appear on The Ed Sullivan Show again. One of the era's biggest pin-ups appeared a single time.

Shortly after his Sullivan episode, Nelson transitioned to country music, a savvy career shift that revitalized his career.

In 1972, his country-tinged tune "Garden Party" rocketed into the Top 10. He was back!

Unfortunately, The Ed Sullivan Show had ended the previous year.

Watch The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show on MeTV!

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TheDavBow3 12 days ago
Actually I think Rick's music during his "flop" years (1964 - 1969) is great! Very underrated and under appreciated. He went from pop rock to country to psychedelic and finally to his great country rock music. Revived his career in the 70s. It was hard to compete with The Beatles and The British Invasion as well as the American groups of the time. Even Elvis struggled. But, again, Rick's mid to late 60s stuff was great.
LittleMissNoName 14 days ago
Don't really get this article! During the 50's/early 60's, he rivaled Elvis in popularity and even starred in the classic western, Rio Bravo alongside John Wayne, Dean Martin, Angie Dikenson and Walter Brennan. I even have one of his early albums in my collection. Someone like Carl Perkins would have made for a more appropriate story.
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Carl Perkins didn't have a tv show.

This article exists because MeTV airs snippets of Ed Sullivan on Sunday nights. So it's really a promo for that.

And Ozzie and Harriet fits into a station that airs only old tv shows. If it hasn't aired on MeTV, it would fit in.
Mark091 Michael 12 days ago
I would like to see Reruns of
The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet on METV.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Happy Days are
Very similar TV shows.
TAOO and H and HD both have
Malt shops. Ozzie and Harriet s
Malt shop is run by Jack (Jack
Wagner) And on Happy Days
The Malt shop is run by
Pat Morita) and Al (Al Molinaro).
Rick Nelson and Anson Williams Postie sing soft rock oldies.
Practical Jokers on Happy Days
Are Ralph Malph Donny Most
BAG ZOMBROSKI NEIL J Schwartz Bobby MELNER Harris Kal and Jenny Piccalo Cathy Silvers. The resident practical
Joker on The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet is The WALLY
PLUMSTEAD played by Skip Young...There is no character
On Ozzie and Harriet like
Fonzie Henry Winkler but Fonzie
Is in a class by himself.
The internet said that Eugene Belvin Denis Mandel and MELVIN BELVIN Scott Bernstein but in
The Book Harry and Wally's
Favorite TV Shows Harry and
Wally said that Wally Plumstead Skip Young Man was the biggest
Nerd in TV history.
Ralph Malph Donny Most had
Several girlfriends
Richie and Postie had dozens
Of Girlfriends Bag Zombroski
Had a Phantom Girlfriend named Mary Ann Mccarthy who
Bag mentioned in the HD Episode CRUISING.
Wally Plumstead Skip Young
Had a girlfriend Ginger Charlene Salerno.And Mr Cool Fonzie
Had more girlfriends than
Richie Postie and Ralph
Combined. The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet would fit in
Good in the MeTv schedule
Along with Happy Days
GOMER PYLE USMC.Andy Griffith show and Gilligan's island.
Mark091 Mark091 12 days ago
Wally and Harry who wrote the book Harry and Wally's Favorite
TV Shows said that Wally Plumstead Skip Young was the
Biggest nerd in TV History
But Eugene Belvin Denis Mandel and MELVIN BELVIN Scott Bernstein were nerd characters
On Happy Days according to the
Internet .I don't know if Moose played by Barry Greenberg was
A nerd or not but if Moose was
A nerd then he was a smart nerd because Moose didn't go to
The drag race at all between
Fonzie Henry Winkler and
Skizzy (Alan Abelou).
Rick and David Nelson on
The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet were definitely Not nerds and Wally Plumstead Skip Young was not a nerd either as far as I
Can tell. I don't consider EUGENE BELVIN Denis Mandel and MELVIN BELVIN Scott Bernstein were not nerds
Either .In fact EUGENE BELVIN
Had more sense than Jenny Piccalo Cathy Silvers because
EUGENE told Jenny Piccalo if
She didn't go on a date with
Him and call him Lovebuckets
He would tell Fonzie that Jenny
Started the rumor about
Mikki Crystal Bernard .
Rick Nelson was very wealthy
Appearing on Ozzie and Harriet
And he didn't need to sing on
The Ed Sullivan show because most EPISODES of Ozzie and Harriet had him sing wonderful
Soft Rock Oldies Songs.
I like Rick Nelsons songs like
Hello Mary Lou and Garden
Party which was a comeback
Song for Rick .I will look for
Record albums by Rick Nelson
And You Tube videos of Rick Nelson .James Burton played
Guitar when Rick Sang
His wonderful oldies songs.
Does anyone know if Kris Nelson
June Blair Nelson and Ozzie and
Harriet regulars Sean Morgan
And Greg Dawson who played
Fraternity brothers of Rick
Nelson on the show.

Mark091 Mark091 12 days ago
Ginger played by Charlene Salerno Wally Plumstead s girlfriend on The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet suffered with
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome
Before the syndrome was named for Chuck Cunningham
Because Ginger dissapeared from Ozzie and Harriet in
1965 with no explanation ten
Years before Chuck Cunningham Randolph Roberts and Gavan O Herlihy vanished from Happy Days.
MrsPhilHarris 14 days ago
Kind of odd. He would have been 21 in 1961. Didn’t he have a say?
Not if your father was Ozzie Nelson. I seem to recall reading he was your typical shrewd businessman and extremely controlling. I don't recall if he was as controlled w/older son David as he was w/Ricky. It seems like ON's personality fit the old adage: "My way, or the highway."
Michael 14 days ago
Don't forget, Mark Harmon's sister married Ricky Nelson in 1963. Mother of Tracy, of "Square Pegs" and "Father Dowling Mysteries " fame. She was also in that episode of Matlock with George Peppard that was going to be a spinoff, except George died.
cperrynaples Michael 12 days ago
Yes, and there were twin sons who recorded as Nelson! Their biggest hit was "Love & Affection"!
Mark091 14 days ago
I would like to see METV carry reruns
Of The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet. Some of the cast was:
Ozzie Nelson
Harriet Nelson
David Nelson
Rick Nelson
Wally Plumstead:Skip Young
Ginger : Charlene Salerno
Joe Randolph: Lyle Talbot
Clara Randolph: Mary Jane Croft
Doc :Frank Cady
Kris : Kristen Nelson
Sean:Sean Morgan
Greg: Greg Dawson
Thorny :Don Defore
Butch :Gordon Jones
Wally Plumstead played by
Skip Young and Ginger played by
Charlene Salerno are a very funny

Couple and Rick Nelson songs great
Oldies songs.
Please Add The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet on Metv sometime soon
Diana Mark091 14 days ago
Oh no no no! Such an impossibly saccharine show!
Moverfan Mark091 14 days ago
I think it's on Antenna TV at the moment.
Mark091 Moverfan 13 days ago
I will ask Cox Communications and Direct TV and Dish Network to carry Antenna TV
Maybe Antenna TV does carry
The Adventures of OZZIE and
HARRIET . I know that RETRO TV
Carries The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet MONDAY -FRIDAY
AT 9:30AM BUT I don't receive
RETRO TV either. I can ask Cox
Cable and Dish Network and
Direct TV if they will consider
Carrying Retro TV.
Some persons like to watch
Reruns of The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet and some
Persons don't like to watch
This show.
My favorite character on The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet
Was Wally Plumstead (Skip Young)and my favorite character on Happy Days was Bag Zombroski played by NEIL J Schwartz.Wally and Bag were
PRACTICAL JOKERS on their
Shows . Bag liked to play
Practical Jokes on Richie Postie and Ralph and Wally Plumstead liked to play jokes on Rick and David Nelson.Also Wally had a
Great girlfriend named GINGER
Played by Charlene Salerno.
Also Kris Nelson Rick's real life
Wife at the time was also a.great addition to the cast of
The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet.Maybe someday METV
Will decide to carry this show.
Also Ralph Malph Donny Most was also a fantastic practical Joker and scared when
Bruiser(Paul Linked) and
Rebel (REB BROWN) threatened
To beat him up.
Joe Randolph (Lyle Talbot) and
His wife Clara (Mary Jane Croft)
Were funny as The next door
Neighbors of Ozzie Nelson.
It's worth watching Ozzie and Harriet to hear all those wonderful oldies songs that
Rick Nelson sings on the show.
Mark091 Diana 13 days ago
That's why I like to watch
The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet
Mark091 Mark091 13 days ago
There are videos on YouTube
Called My Friend Skip Young
The Best of Bag Zombroski
The Best of Spike
The Best of Chachi
The 2 Chucks(Chuck Cunningham)
Whatever Happened to Chuck
CUNNINGHAM on Happy Days by
Dave Sundstrom
And several Fonzie videos on
You Tube
Also on You Tube is the epilogue
From the season one episode of Happy Days called Guess Who's
Coming to Visit which shows
MOOSE played by Barry Greenberg dancing with a cute
Girl played by Carey Williams
And a video called Professor
Fonzarelli which has the first appearance of Eugene Belvin played by DENIS Mandel.
We need funny shows like
The Adventures of OZZIE and Harriet and Happy Days.
On one Episode of OZZIE and Harriet Wally played a practical
Joke on David Nelson by giving
David an Exploding Book to give
A girl at her birthday party.
Whenever anyone opens the
Exploding Book it makes a
Loud noise. Bag played practical jokes on Richie and Postie in
The Happy Days episode called
The Deadly Dares . Bag played
Practical Jokes on HD in the
Episodes called Haunted and
Cruising
Pilaf Mark091 8 days ago
I couldn't bear Mary Jane Croft back then and even now, she's impossible to take. Why Ozzie Nelson saw her "ditzy, middle-aged dingbat" act as amusing is beyond me. This woman played the same character on "I Love Lucy."
harlow1313 14 days ago
"He might have been even bigger, one of the true eternal faces of rock 'n' roll,..."

Perhaps the author of this article is unfamiliar with the meaning of "eternal." It is interesting to think about how much importance I give to things that happen in my own short lifetime.
mdit21 14 days ago
I see that this Sunday's "The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show" has Ricky Nelson (and the Supremes!).
stephaniestavr5 mdit21 12 days ago
You seemed surprised by this. I guess you don't know METV's "tradition," (for lack of a better word,) about downloading a story or a quiz two days before airing an episode, of whom/whatever the story/quiz is about.
100%. MeTV does that frequently. All a part of their plan.( I can't think of a term for it likewise).
Adanor LoveMETV22 11 days ago
Yep, there was a quiz about the Walnuts episode on Dick Van Dyke and guess what? The Walnuts episode ran last night (Sunday, 6/6).
RedSamRackham 14 days ago
Although he seemed like such a nice guy Ozzie was indeed a control freak when it came to his family. The story of grandchild Tracy's birth indeed bizarre. ♣
No kidding! Apparently they put her in an incubator eleven though she was 7.5 pounds or something.
ncadams27 MrsPhilHarris 14 days ago
Also the fact that Ricky and Kris had not been married for 9 months when Tracy was born. Ozzie did keep a tight rein on his show and his family which are pretty much the same thing.
ncadams27 14 days ago
I don’t think the careers of The Beatles and Elvis were affected that much by their appearances on Ed Sullivan considering the hype surrounding them prior to their appearances. If they had not appeared, I don’t think much else would have been different. Same for Ricky Nelson. Appearing on Ed Sullivan wouldn’t have helped much as he had a weekly audience on Ozzie & Harriet.
Michael ncadams27 14 days ago
I wouldn't know.

I don't remember watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. But I can remember emulating them on my Mickey Mouse guitar (it was plastic, with Mickey Mouse), and I picture the apartment we were in 1964, so I must have seen it, and the hype. I was only four that February.
Moverfan Michael 14 days ago
I wasn't quite two. Nice to meet you!
AnnieM ncadams27 13 days ago
I was a newborn. Apparently, my christening party was the same night that the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. My godmother was 16 at the time, and has told me that she was holding me in front of the TV when they performed. No wonder I wound up being a lifelong Beatles fan.
Adanor ncadams27 11 days ago
WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT THE BEATLES WERE NOT AFFECTED BY THEIR APPEARANCE ON ED SULLIVAN? That was their introduction to America! That was the epicenter of their career! That was the major, major, major event that kicked off their career here!!!
15inchBlackandWhite 14 days ago
I only recently learned that he was flying in a DC-3 when he crashed. Whoa! Those planes were ancient, even in 1985. He couldn't find a better way to get to Texas?
* And couldn't JFK Jr. have found a safer way to get to his cousin's wedding? ♣
Sooo True about JFK, Jr., --- Yikes --- Private Pilot maybe --- Like Tiger Woods --- ummm
Let me Drive myself in an unknown area filled with Curves & Hills and yes, I will drive 100 miles an hour --- Both Tiger & John Jr., too much Testosterone, Fellas !
Reading about all these plane crashes reminds me of: John Denver who also died in one. He was piloting his own homebuilt plane while making test runs.
You mention JFKjr. His unfortunate death occurred just like his Uncle Bobby's. With them, others were on board and also perished. With John Denver, he was the only passenger. It is still tragic, but a bit less so, as he was the only one on board.
AnnieM 14 days ago
Rick Nelson will always be "one of the true eternal faces of rock 'n' roll" to me. ::sigh::
LEMONRUFFIN AnnieM 14 days ago
Ozzie Nelson gave me the Creeps and i was a child watching those shows at their inception...1950's
Also
"Also" what? What were you going to say? It looks like you cut yourself off and hit "Post" to soon.
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