Bachelor Father is an American sitcom starring John Forsythe, Noreen Corcoran and Sammee Tong. The series first premiered on CBS in September 1957 before moving to NBC for the third season in 1959. The series' fifth and final season aired on ABC for the rest of the show's run. A total of 157 episodes were aired. The series was based on "A New Girl in His Life," which aired on General Electric Theater on May 26, 1957.
Bachelor Father is the only primetime series ever to run in consecutive years on the three major television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC).
Bachelor Father follows the adventures of Bentley Gregg, a wealthy bachelor attorney living in Beverly Hills who assumes the responsibility of raising his niece, Kelly (Noreen Corcoran), after her parents died in an automobile accident. Other members of the cast included houseboy Peter Tong (Sammee Tong), teenage neighbor and Kelly's on and off boyfriend, Howard Meechum (Jimmy Boyd), Kelly's best friend, Ginger Farrell (Bernadette Withers) and Jasper, the dog. Withers appeared in 51 episodes from 1957-1962; Boyd in 37 from 1958-1962. Plots center on Bentley's adjustments to his new role as an adoptive parent, his search for the right woman to share his life, Kelly facing the usual problems of adolescence and young adulthood and her ritual of passage from high school to college and Peter's misadventures with his family, love life and financial schemes.
The program's final season storylines led to Kelly's impending marriage to Bentley's junior partner Warren Dawson (Aron Kincaid). The two met, became engaged, interacted with other couples and even met Kincaid's parents (who flew in from New York on short notice), all in a span of three episodes. Without mention or explanation, Kincaid's character was dropped after four episodes and by the series finale, Kelly is seeing a different man with no marriage plans. Meechum (Boyd) appears in several Season 5 episodes, but he is never developed as a serious romantic interest for Kelly. As the series was canceled after 157 episodes, Bachelor Father did not have a formal series finale.
According to John Forsythe, the Bentley Gregg character was based on two well-known Beverly Hills bachelors at the time. He combined their names and used it for the character's in the program. Because of the implication in the program of Gregg's aversion to marriage, no serious thoughts were given to casting a 'regular' or steady woman for him. Instead, Gregg is forever dating different women with only a handful ever getting a 'second' date with him.
Forsythe noted that casting the main characters took considerable effort. Then actor (and future California governor and United States president) Ronald Reagan, who hosted General Electric Theater from 1954-1962, suggested Corcoran for the role, believing her to be a 'typical teenager' and closer to what a normal 13-year-old was like, which Forsythe agreed. Corcoran was already an experienced actress with movie and television roles to her credit. She was 18 years old when the program left the air and had virtually 'grown up' into a young woman during the show's run.
Casting Bentley Gregg's houseboy was difficult as well. Sammee Tong was cast based primarily on his experience as a stand-up comedian. Forsythe believed much of the program's success resulted from the interaction between Tong and himself and that Tong had great comic timing. He also stated that Tong's character was unique for the time and that he was not the "typical" Asian house servant. Forsythe insisted on Tong being a major character on the program. Several of the program plots center around Tong, many dealing with his attempts to improve his position in life. Although none ever pan out (much like Bentley or Kelly) he does develop as a character through the life of the program.
Among the series guest stars were Edgar Bergen, Bill Bixby, Billy Gray, Ryan O'Neal, Frankie Laine, Mary Tyler Moore and singer Patti Page. Eddie Anderson, who portrayed "Rochester" on The Jack Benny Show, reprised his role in the Season 5 episode, "Pinch That Penny." Besides the 'Benny' link, the series had connections to The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show as Harry Von Zell appeared in five season three episodes as Bentley Gregg's friend and next-door neighbor. The Burns' son, Ronnie Burns, appeared on two episodes, as well. Fifteen-year-old Linda Evans also appeared in a guest spot on the series as one of Kelly's friends. Evans and Forsythe later starred in the primetime soap opera Dynasty together.