Father Knows Best


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About

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.

Highlights
Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best
04:55
Jane Wyatt on her character "Margaret Anderson" on Father Knows Best and becoming an iconic TV mom
03:27
Elinor Donahue on the Father Knows Best producers' reactions to her real-life pregnancy and wearing a wig when she cut off her ponytail
05:45
Jane Wyatt on the town of Springfield on Father Knows Best and the show's sponsors, cancellation, and network switch
01:43
Elinor Donahue on her Father Knows Best character "Betty Anderson"
00:36
Jane Wyatt on the popularity of Father Knows Best
00:38
Who talked about this show

Elinor Donahue

View Interview
Elinor Donahue on getting cast as "Betty 'Princess' Anderson" on Father Knows Best; on her familiarity with the radio show and working with Robert Young
07:36
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best producer Eugene B. Rodney, her wardrobe, her character, "Betty Anderson," and "Betty's" relationship to her parents and siblings
13:54
Elinor Donahue on a typical production week on Father Knows Best and the popularity of the show; on her favorite episodes, real-life pregnancy, and why the show went off the air and a reunion show
14:17
Elinor Donahue on why the popularity of Father Knows Best continues on
01:00
Elinor Donahue on Father Knows Best reunion shows
04:21
Elinor Donahue on a picture of her with the cast of Father Knows Best
00:14

Jane Wyatt

View Interview
Jane Wyatt on how she got cast and production on Father Knows Best
02:02
Jane Wyatt on the radio version and premise of Father Knows Best
03:06
Jane Wyatt on her character "Margaret Anderson" on Father Knows Best and becoming an iconic TV mom
03:27
Jane Wyatt on Father Knows Best scripts and guest stars
02:25
Jane Wyatt on her co-stars on Father Knows Best - her "children" played by Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray, and Lauren Chapin
01:48
Jane Wyatt on her co-star on Father Knows Best - her "husband" played by Robert Young
01:04
Jane Wyatt on the writers on Father Knows Best
01:01
Jane Wyatt on the filming of Father Knows Best
00:48
Jane Wyatt on the directors on Father Knows Best
00:55
Jane Wyatt on the town of Springfield on Father Knows Best and the show's sponsors, cancellation, and network switch
01:43
Jane Wyatt on the popularity of Father Knows Best
00:38
Jane Wyatt on her favorite episodes of Father Knows Best
01:56
Jane Wyatt on the Anderson family on Father Knows Best as the ideal American family
01:31
Jane Wyatt on why Father Knows Best ended
02:03
Jane Wyatt on being typecast after Father Knows Best ended
00:36

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