Pop Culture TV

Hollywood’s Nelsons via Tom Hanks, The Fonz & Jethro Gibbs

Ricky Nelson Rio Bravo 1959
Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo

What do hair metal, a 1950s sitcom, Tom Hanks, and Arthur Fonzarelli all have to do with each other? Like me, I’m sure you get this question on a daily basis. Today the mystery ends.

A few months back author Melissa Tagg and I began discussing movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood. After a few months off we’re back now with a format that makes sense to us and a new title. The feature formerly known as Classic Cinephiles is now ready to roll full time as CLASSIC MOVIE GUSH.

After a summer hiatus to work on books, we’re back today with a vlogging masterpiece, talking about the excellent 1959 John Wayne-Dean Martin flick Rio Bravo.

The topic of actor and singer Ricky Nelson came up while we recorded this episode. He became famous by starring with his real life family on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet which ran through the 1950s and into the 60s. Ricky Nelson remained famous and toured all over until his stunning death in a plane crash on New Years Eve 1985.

I know what you’re thinking, GET TO THE FONZ. Okay okay, I’m getting there.

I asked Melissa if she knew about Ricky Nelson’s twin sons Matthew and Gunnar who became famous in 1990 with clever branding that included A) calling themselves Nelson, B) having long blonde hair, and C) being identical twins so my sister Shannon and her friends could debate which IDENTICAL TWIN was hotter. Their hit song After The Rain took the nation by STORM. (See what I did there?) Melissa didn’t even know about this masterpiece.

I figure ignorance of the Nelson family is at an all-time high these days, so no one probably even realized that their sister Tracy Nelson is in the beginning of the video.

Tracy co-starred in a 1980s TV show called Father Dowling Mysteries which featured Tom Bosley as a crime-solving priest. I know, makes PERFECT sense because all the priests I know are constantly poking around murder scenes. Bosley, you should know, was Mr. Cunningham the dad on the television show Happy Days which was created by Garry Marshall, but we’ll get back to that momentarily.

Tracy also appeared in the television version of A League of Their Own before it was cancelled after like two weeks. I have proof that this really was a thing.

Know who else remembers this forgettable entry into 1990s pop culture? Tom Hanks who directed one of the only episodes of the ill-fated show. That was almost Hanks directorial debut except for a 1992 episode of Tale From The Crypt in which he also made a cameo and promptly had himself murdered, but I digress. Tracy Nelson played Evelyn Gardner in the show.

In the movie version, Gardner (played there by Bitty Schram) has perhaps the most iconic scene of all along Hanks.

Aside from working with Penny Marshall on A League of Their Own, Hanks starred in Penny’s movie Big (1988) which became the first female-directed film to ever top $100 million. But that wasn’t the first time Hanks worked with the Marshall family. He starred opposite Jackie Gleason in a film called Nothing In Common (1986) which was directed by Penny’s older brother, the aforementioned Garry Marshall.

But that wasn’t the first time he worked for Garry. Yes, Tom Hanks once FOUGHT The Fonz on Happy Days.

I know RIGHT? Gotta love the irony of Pat Morita, THE FUTURE MR. MIYAGI, standing by helpless. But I think even Father Dowling, er, Mr. Cunningham would approve of Fonzie’s peace-nurturing ways.

But back to Tracy Nelson. Turns out she is the niece of actor Mark Harmon. These days Harmon plays curmudgeonly Jethro Gibbs on NCIS (did you know his character was a spinoff from that show JAG?).

I could wrap all these connections up by telling you that Harmon played Freddy Shoop in the 1987 comedy Summer School which was directed by Carl Reiner who goes way back with Garry Marshall including time together as writers on the Dick Van Dyke show in the 1960s. Or I could connect Carl Reiner’s son Rob to Garry’s sister Penny since those two were married for about a decade (Rob and Penny, not Carl and Garry).

But instead, how about the time Mark Harmon appeared in an episode of Laverne & Shirley, a hit show also created by Garry Marshall and starring his sister Penny. Check out this gem from 1976.

Basically what I’m saying is that I think it’s time Hollywood gives us a crossover in which Tom Hanks fights Jethro Gibbs while Nelson plays in the background.

By Clay Morgan

Clay Morgan is the author of Undead. Say hi on Twitter.