FATHER KNOWS BEST

U.S. Domestic Comedy

Father Knows Best, a family comedy of the 1950s, is perhaps more important for what it has come to represent than for what it actually was. In essence, the series was one of a slew of middle-class family sitcoms in which moms were moms, kids were kids, and fathers knew best. Today, many critics view it, at best, as high camp fun, and, at worst, as part of what critic David Marc once labeled the "Aryan melodramas" of the 1950s and 1960s.

The brainchild of series star Robert Young, who played insurance salesman Jim Anderson, and producer Eugene B. Rodney, Father Knows Best first debuted as a radio sitcom in 1949. In the audio version the title of the show ended with a question mark, suggesting that father's role as family leader and arbiter was dubious. The partner's production company, Rodney-Young Enterprises, transplanted the series to television in 1954--without the questioning marker--where it ran until 1963, appearing at various times on each of the three networks.

Young and Rodney, friends since 1935, based the series on experiences each had with wives and children; thus, to them, the show represented "reality." Indeed, careful viewing of each of the series' 203 episodes reveals that the title was actually more figurative than literal. Despite the lack of an actual question mark, father didn't always know best. Jim Anderson could not only lose his temper, but occasionally be wrong. Although wife Margaret Anderson, played by Jane Wyatt, was stuck in the drudgery of domestic servitude, she was nobody's fool, often besting her husband and son, Bud (played by Billy Gray). Daughter Betty Anderson (Elinor Donahue)--known affectionately to her father as Princess--could also take the male Andersons to task, as could the precocious Kathy (Lauren Chapin), the baby of the family.

Like Leave it to Beaver creators Bob Mosher and Joe Connelly, Young and Rodney were candid about their attempts to provide moral lessons throughout the series. While none of the kids experienced the sort of social problems some of the real-life actors faced (Young was an alcoholic and the adult Chapin became a heroin addict), this was more the fault of television's then-myopic need for calm than Young and Rodney's desire to side-step the truth. Indeed, while the series certainly avoided the existence of the "Other America," so, too, did most other American institutions.

Young won two Emmy Awards for his role, and Wyatt won three. A well-known film actor before his radio and television days, Young went on to later success in the long-running series Marcus Welby, M.D., which may have been more appropriately called "Dr. Knows Best." After Father Knows Best moved into primetime reruns in 1960, Donahue played Sheriff Andy Taylor's love interest Miss Ellie on The Andy Griffith Show. In 1977, NBC brought the Anderson's back in two reunion specials, Father Knows Best: The Father Knows Best Reunion (May 1977) and Father Knows Best: Home for the Holidays (December 1977).

-Michael B. Kassel

CAST Jim Anderson Robert Young Margaret Anderson Jane Wyatt Betty Anderson (Princess) Elinor Donahue James Anderson, Jr. (Bud) Billy Gray Kathy Anderson (Kitten) Laurin Chapin Miss Thomas Sarah Selby Ed Davis (1955-1959) Robert Foulk Myrtle Davis (1955-1959) Vivi Jannis Dotty snow (1954-1957) Yvonne Lime Kippy Watkins (1954-1959) Paul Wallace Claude Messner (1954-1959) Jimmy Bates Doyle Hobbs (1957-1958) Roger Smith Ralph Little (1957-1958) Robert Chapman April Adams (1957-1958) Sue George Joyce Kendall (1958-1959) Jymme (Roberta) Shore PRODUCERS Eugene Rodney, Robert Young PROGRAMMING HISTORY 203 Episodes CBS October 1954-March 1955 Sunday 10:00-10:30 NBC August 1955-September 1958 Wednesday 8:30-9:00 CBS September 1958-September 1960 Monday 8:30-9:00 October 1960-September 1961 Tuesday 8:00-8:30 October 1961-February 1962 Wednesday 8:00-8:30 February 1962-September 1962 Monday 8:30-9:00 ABC September 1962-December 1962 Sunday 7:00-7:30 December 1962-April 1963 Friday 8:00-8:30 FURTHER READING Denis, Christopher Paul, and Michael Denis. Favorite Families of TV. New York: Citadel, 1992. Leibman, Nina. Living Room Lectures: The Fifties Family in Film and Television. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1995. Taylor, Ella. Prime Time Families. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1989. See also Comedy, Domestic Settings; Family on Television; Young, Robert


Father Knows Best

CAST

Jim Anderson ........................................Robert Young Margaret Anderson.................................... Jane Wyatt Betty Anderson (Princess).................... Elinor Donahue James Anderson, Jr. (Bud).......................... Billy Gray Kathy Anderson (Kitten)......................... Laurin Chapin Miss Thomas ..........................................Sarah Selby Ed Davis (1955-1959).............................. Robert Foulk Myrtle Davis (1955-1959)............................. Vivi Jannis Dotty Snow (1954-1957)........................... Yvonne Lime Kippy Watkins (1954-1959)..................... Paul Wallace Claude Messner (1954-1959)................... Jimmy Bates Doyle Hobbs (1957-1958)......................... Roger Smith Ralph Little (1957-1958)..................... Robert Chapman April Adams (1957-1958)........................... Sue George Joyce Kendall (1958-1959)....... Jymme (Roberta) Shore

PRODUCERS
Eugene Rodney, Robert Young

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 203 Episodes

CBS
October 1954-March 1955              Sunday 10:00-10:30

NBC
August 1955-September 1958      Wednesday 8:30-9:00

CBS
September 1958-September 1960      Monday 8:30-9:00 October 1960-September 1961          Tuesday 8:00-8:30 October 1961-February 1962        Wednesday 8:00-8:30 February 1962-September 1962         Monday 8:30-9:00 ABC September 1962-December 1962                                                Sunday 7:00-7:30 December 1962-April 1963                   Friday 8:00-8:30

FURTHER READING

Denis, Christopher Paul, and Michael Denis. Favorite Families of TV. New York: Citadel, 1992.

Leibman, Nina. Living Room Lectures: The Fifties Family in Film and Television. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1995.

Taylor, Ella. Prime Time Families. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1989.

 

See also Comedy, Domestic Settings; Family on Television; Young, Robert