Conversations With Our Past
James Cusumano writes to Ozzie Nelson

I grew up with you, Ozzie. I’m the oldest of 10 children. We got a 12-inch television, black-and-white, in 1956, and your show, the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, was one of our favorites. It was kind of a dream, looking at your Hollywood life and saying, “Wow, someday we could live like that.”

You weren’t just an entertainer—you were an entrepreneur. You followed your dreams. You were a bandleader during tough times, the 1930s, and then you were a pioneer on TV.

I have a lot of respect for what you accomplished. We have a lot of common links, even though we were decades apart.

I was really enmeshed in professional rock and roll when I was at Rutgers. I played parties at the fraternities—and all over the United States—with The Royal Teens. But I had no doubt in my mind I wanted to be a scientist. My guitar player, who was a Rutgers student, and I were probably the only ones studying calculus in the back rooms of nightclubs.

You took risks, and you followed your passion. That’s a lot of what I’ve done in my life, too. When you’re passionate about something, you find the energy to do it. You did the same thing, Ozzie.

By the 1970s, I had a Ph.D. from Rutgers and was starting a Silicon Valley company, Catalytica.

Ozzie, you built one of the first really successful TV shows. There was no template. You created it. You had a lot of drive to pull that off.

James Cusumano
RC’64, GSNB’68

Science Guy
After earning his bachelor’s degree, Cusumano stayed at Rutgers for a Ph.D. in physical chemistry. He was inducted into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2011.
Rock History
The Royal Teens hit? That’d be “Short Shorts.” In the early heyday of rock, Cusumano worked with Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly.

Ahead of His Time
Before everyone knew about Silicon Valley and clean energy, Cusumano cofounded Catalytica, a company that developed cleaner means of production for the energy industry (and served the pharmaceutical industry).

A New Path
Cusumano and his wife turned a 17th-century castle into Chateau Mcely, an eco-friendly, five-star luxury hotel and spa near Prague in the Czech Republic.

Ozzie Nelson
RC’27, NLAW’30

Duo of Degrees
Along with his bachelor’s degree, Ozzie Nelson earned a law degree from Rutgers.

Reality TV
Nelson and his wife played themselves on the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Sons David and Ricky joined when the show was still on the radio.

Ozzie and Harriet was “a television staple, an American icon,” as the New York Times put it, and “may have preceded Seinfeld as the first show that was really about nothing.” 

Working Man
Genial on TV, Nelson was known as a driven businessman and workaholic.

Distinguished Company
Nelson, who died of cancer in 1975 at the age of 69, was inducted posthumously into the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1989.