Archive The Rick Nelsons Come of Age By Barbara Wilkins Published on May 27, 1974 12:00 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Trending Videos Ricky Nelson made it big when he was 8 years old, and he’s been trying to live it down ever since. Everybody remembers the cute little brat who sassed Ozzie and Harriet, first on radio and then on television, and later as a singer, sold 35 million records before he was 21. Nelson’s problem has been to get himself accepted as a grownup. Dropping the last letter of his first name was a cosmetic start. Much more importantly, he married Kristin (the daughter of Michigan football immortal Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox) 11 years ago and fathered three children. Now at 34, Rick Nelson seems at long last to have chased the adolescent-image albatross, scoring a second musical triumph as different from his first as the Age of Aquarius is from the decade of the ducktail. Meanwhile, Kristin, at 28, has become a successful painter commanding prices as high as $5,000 per oil. Rick recalls meeting Kris at a celebrity basketball game, when she was only another 12-year-old “fan of mine.” Three years later, their parents tried a tactic that would have backfired with most teenagers. “My family kept saying, ‘You should see Kris now—she’s really a lady,’ ” remembers Rick. “I was going out with girls who couldn’t put a sentence together, so I guess they were getting a little worried.” Kristin was then attending Marymount, a fancy Catholic girls’ school in Beverly Hills, where Mia Farrow was among her best friends. “I was so excited on our first date that I didn’t eat my dinner,” Kris recalls. Subsequently, Rick took her to the senior prom, of which she was the queen and Troy Donahue was master of ceremonies. Nelson also became a disruptive force by planting questions for her to ask in religion class. Today, neither Kris nor Rick attends church. Rick’s influence was also behind Kris’s plunge into painting at 17, which was a public succès fou from her first one-woman show in 1967. She did a painting in primitive style of the Kennedys in the White House that the late Robert Kennedy wanted to purchase, but which Kris gave to Jacqueline. Other works, including one of the LBJ Ranch, were purchased by the Johnson family. “I’m so excited about primitives,” says Kris, “they’re really coming into their own.” Except with the critics. William Wilson of the Los Angeles Times says, “Her stuff is no good. I’m really against the rich ladies in this town who paint because it’s something to keep them busy.” It has been just such sniping at Kris plus Rick’s career crisis that has proved the mettle of their marriage. “They support each other,” says one close observer, “like bricks.” Rick needed help first. “When the Beatles happened,” he reflects, “it kind of wiped out everybody who was an American.” He was still a big seller with the teeny-bop record buyers, and Ozzie, who is a lawyer, negotiated Ricky a 20-year contract with MCA Records in 1964 that made him financially secure for life, and which is reputedly the best deal in the industry this side of Elvis. The trouble was with Rick’s musical conscience. “I had no direction,” he says. “I stopped going on the road because I was just doing my old songs.” For a while he dabbled in karate and sports cars, but then in 1969 put together a band and began to experiment with his own compositions. The turning point came in 1971 at a Madison Square Garden rock ‘n’ roll revival concert. An audience of 20,000 booed him mercilessly when he sprung his new attempts among the golden oldies they had come to hear. Out of that traumatic evening came perhaps the most impassioned lyrical statement of Rick Nelson’s buttoned-up life: “You can’t please ev’ryone so you got to please yourself.” The song was, of course, Garden Party, and it has sold six million copies in less than two years. Now Nelson is back on top, with his new Stone Canyon Band. His latest album, Windfall, is a mixture of rock ‘n’ roll, country, and a bit of jazz. “It’s totally my thing,” Nelson says proudly, noting that he has finally won over a new constituency. “They’re from all walks of life,” he exclaims, “freaks, people who grew up with me, college kids and blacks.” The Nelsons are happiest in the pastoral pleasure of the acre-and-a-half they call “The Farm” in the San Fernando Valley. Their ménage includes three large dogs, two horses, a pony, rabbits, chickens, a 10-year-old daughter, Tracy, and 6-year-old identical twins, Gunnar and Matthew. They are expecting a fourth child in August. They avoid the Los Angeles scene, for, as Rick says, “It’s a full-time job if you get into it.” Adds Kris: “A lot of our social life revolves around taking the kids to Taco Bell” (a sort of Mexican McDonald’s). Among their closest friends are brother David Nelson (who now produces Daddy’s syndicated TV revival series, Ozzie’s Girls) and the parents themselves—Ozzie and Harriet, Tom and Elyse, who are Laguna Beach neighbors. In the vestigial case of the Nelsons anyway, the extended family is alive and well in Hollywood.