Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Feeling Sad? Watch The Nelsons Host a Fraternity Party


Before we get started…

Last week’s piece on the censorship of classic television generated several hundred comments on social media, almost all of which expressed a strong preference for allowing these shows to play as originally intended. I was gratified both by the magnitude of the response and the consensus viewpoint.


I was also not surprised to find a couple of 1-star ratings for my book suddenly posted that same week on amazon, when all the previous ratings for the past three months had been 5 stars. There were no reviews attached to those low ratings, of course. This is the way cowards chose to anonymously express their disapproval on that blog, and this is the backlash anyone risks for taking a position that runs contrary to that which is, sadly, currently in vogue.


But now is the time to speak, more loudly than ever, lest that privilege be forbidden as well.


And now, back to our regularly scheduled program.


Whenever I feel depressed, I have a handful of Comfort TV episodes I know I can always re-watch to lift my spirits. One of them is “The Kappa Sigma Party,” a 1956 episode of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet that was written, produced and directed by Ozzie Nelson, and was supposedly based on a true story that happened to his family. 



 Usually, on any show where the plot revolves around planning a party, viewers know they can count on some unexpected calamity to threaten the festivities. This series also gave us “Halloween,” in which Ozzie and Thorny forget the most basic essentials of party planning after taking charge of the annual Halloween get-together. And in “The Balloons,” Ozzie and some neighborhood kids spend an afternoon blowing up oversized balloons for a women’s club dance that night, and then realize they have no way to transport them from the house to the auditorium.


So when David, “the eldest of the Nelson boys,” as the credits remind us, meets two friends on campus worried about having to find a place to hold a fraternity party the next night, and David gets talked into hosting it at his house, we sit back and wait for what is bound to come next: the parental objections, the last-minute scrambling, the house getting torn apart, and whatever other mishaps that could result from 30 or so college kids overrunning your property. 



Except…none of that happens. Ozzie and Harriet are taken aback at first, but

Harriet quickly decides, “If we’re going to have a party here, let’s make it a good one.”


The whole family pitches in; Ricky wants to play his drums, Ozzie sets up games in the yard, Harriet stocks up on burgers and other provisions. That’s the first half of the show. In the second half the guests arrive, the Nelsons greet them, there’s music, food, dancing, conversation, everyone has a wonderful time and when they leave they say that’s the best party they’ve ever attended.


That’s it. That’s the show. And it’s wonderful. 




One of the appeals of classic TV to me is spending time in the worlds these shows inhabit. I don’t even need a storyline to enjoy the experience; it would be enough to just visit the home of a family like the Bradys or the Nelsons, or peer over Perry Mason’s shoulder as he meets with potential new clients, or watch the crew of the Enterprise go about their daily tasks.


“The Kappa Sigma Party” may be the closest any show gets to that type of exercise. It’s an almost completely conflict-free episode. I guess you could say it’s a show about nothing, or at least nothing remarkable – a quality hailed as revolutionary when Seinfeld did it 30 years later. It’s another reason I believe Ozzie Nelson should be remembered amongst the giants of 1950s television alongside Sid Caesar, Ernie Kovacs and Rod Serling. 



I do wonder how someone in their teens or 20s would react to this show. Would they find it corny, or wonder what the point is in spending 30 minutes watching a nice family plan a nice party, and everyone showing up and enjoying themselves?


Would they also find it unrealistic? That’s the charge most often leveled at these soothing vintage sitcoms. But we forget that there were also troubling events going on in the wider world when this episode aired in 1956 – the Cold War was escalating, Elvis Presley had some parents nervous about what their kids were idolizing – but even in tumultuous times it shows how it is possible to still celebrate the values of kindness and good manners and treating others with respect. There should never be anything unrealistic about that.


“The Kappa Sigma Party” can be viewed on YouTube.  


  1. What wonderful recommendations. Thank you

  2. Mr. Hofstede, you have seen the 1978 big-screen comedy "National Lampoon's Animal House," have you not? Imagine how HORRIFIED Ozzie and Harriet would have been if the Kappa Sigma people had behaved like the Deltas and Omegas in "Animal House"! "The Kappa Sigma Party" doesn't depict a toga party, right?

    1. It did not - coats and ties for the men, dresses for the ladies. And they all stayed on throughout the party.

  3. "Soothing" is an apt description for much of this series. I mentioned it here before, but a little over a year ago I was laid up for a couple months (following a kidney operation) and decided to watch every Nelson Family episode on Youtube, courtesy of a fan who had them in chronological order. My first time for all of them too, they never aired in syndication here in Pittsburgh. And this episode was a good one, its one of the handful I can truly remember.

    David, sorry to hear what happened with your book reviews--your last blog-post here was a great topic to be sure. Y'know, besides scenes being blurred or dialogue overdubbed, I think syndication was equally unkind to these shows with all that extra chopping for additional commercial time. I recently got the complete Bob Newhart Show on DVD and it's almost surprising seeing these episodes in their original air-date format.