Sep 30, 2015

David and Ricky Nelson: Teen Idols Show Off on the Flying Trapeze

Sons of bandleader Ozzie Nelson and his wife Harriet, David Nelson (born 1936) and his kid brother Ricky Nelson (born 1940)  began their careers playing "themselves" on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, first on radio (1950-52) and then on tv (1952-1966).  They shared equally in their parents' fame.

But then one day in 1957, Ricky sang the Fats Domino hit "I'm Walkin'" on the show, and suddenly he was a superstar, arguably the first teen idol of the Boomer generation, selling millions of records, performing at sold-out concerts, interviewed in every teen magazine.

David. . .wasn't.




The brothers had always been very close, and it hurt Ricky -- and his parents -- to see David left behind.  But how could he help?

David was much more muscular than Ricky, an accomplished acrobat (and apparently much more gifted in the beneath-the-belt department).  If his voice wouldn't bring fame, maybe his biceps and bulge would.










Ricky and Ozzie used their connections to get him a starring role in The Big Circus (1959), as Tommy Gordon, a teenage trapeze artist with murderous intent.  Not only did he get to play against type, he spent most of the movie in a tight, revealing leotard.

David showed so much talent that Del and Babs Graham, "The Flying Viennas" who performed the movie's stunts, asked him to join their troupe.  He agreed, and Ricky, sensing an opportunity for fraternal togetherness, joined as well.  Soon they were performing as "The Flying Nelsons," with Ricky as the "flier" and David as the "catcher" (not the gay meaning).  Dad had a circus big top installed next to the studio for them to practice in.


Is it just me, or is there something decidedly homoerotic about the sight of Ricky hurling through the air and landing in David's muscular arms?

Ricky didn't really like hurling through the air, so after the brothers performed on a 1960 episode of Ozzie and Harriet, he dropped out.  But David starred as a trapeze artist in The Big Show (1961), doing all of his own stunts, and performed on The Hollywood Palace (1966) and several Circus of the Stars tv specials (1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982).  It was a lifelong passion, all due to brotherly love.

See also: Ricky Nelson; and 1970s trapeze artist and Playgirl model Jim Cavaretta;