Father Knows Best
Family life in the post-war years changed considerably from that which was common in the depression-ridden 1930s. For the first time, thanks to the G. I. Bill of Rights, everyday people could afford to get an education and a decent job or career - with returning veterans by the thousands taking advantage of the opportunity to establish themselves a far more solid foundation than they had known in the previous decade. Thus, gradually, America developed a new economic base with a new and ever-increasing standard of living. This new middle-class lifestyle, coupled with the baby boom that ran throughout the 1950s, changed the country from a rural/urban mix into a rural/urban/suburban culture -- with housing developments, highways, shopping centers, and all of the other hallmarks of this new society becoming the norm.
As always, radio reflected the culture of its audience -- and never more so than with the rise of the situation comedy in the late 1940s. There had always been versions of this type of program, of course; it can be argued that the first sit-com of all was "Amos 'n' Andy," the continuing saga of two rural black men trying to become successful in the fast-paced and treacherous world of urban Chicago. Some sit-coms of the early 1930s actually began life as comic strips, with shows like "The Gumps," "Gasoline Alley," "Skippy," and "Joe Palooka" attracting large audiences thanks to the familiarity listeners had with their newspaper counterparts. In the later part of the decade, "Blondie" joined this line-up and, coupled with well-produced family shows like "The Aldrich Family" and "The Great Gildersleeve," the genre was well established by the end of World War II.
The brainchild of actor Robert Young and writer Ed James, "Father Knows Best" began as an audition disc in December of 1948. In its initial incarnation, the series was not much different than similar situation comedies of the period -- shows like "Ozzie and Harriet" and "The Life of Riley," the concepts of which were basically that "daddy is a well-meaning dumbbell, but we still love him." (In fact, the original title of the series was "Father Knows Best?" -- with a definite question mark at the end of the phrase.) However, by the time the show was bought by General Foods for its Maxwell House Coffee brand and first aired over NBC on August 25, 1949, most of the clichés had been removed. What was left was a solid, well-written portrayal of typical Midwestern family life -- with a surprising emphasis on well-shaded characters, rather than outlandish situations, to bring out the humorous side of suburban life.
As portrayed by Robert Young, the title character of Jim Anderson is a successful insurance salesman living in Springfield with his wife Margaret (June Whitley, Jean Vanderpyl) and their three children: Betty (Rhoda Williams), Bud (Ted Donaldson), and Kathy (Norma Jean Nilsson). Jim is ambitious, likable, and a good provider for his family -- though he often grows exasperated by the turmoil that is a part of his everyday home life. The plots generally begin quite simply - Jim surprises Margaret with tickets to a show, for instance - then quickly become complicated as the plans, schemes, commitments, and miscommunications of their children and their friends and neighbors get in the way. As with all sit-coms, the complications are never all that serious and are, of course, all resolved by the end of the show -- but, thanks to excellent writing and the outstanding acting talents of the principals, these hilarious slices of everyday life rise above the norm to make "Father Knows Best" one of the highlight series of late-era network radio entertainment.
Heard today, "Father Knows Best" still retains its ability to hilariously reflect the interpersonal relationships of a typical American family. Though life is certainly more complicated and diverse today than it was in the 1940s and 1950s, listeners can still easily recognize a bit of themselves and their children in the characters, their quirks, and their foibles. After all, though times change, people don't; raising good kids today is no easier or less complicated than it was in 1950, as you'll discover when you listen to these delightful episodes.
Thursday, January 18, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee
Thursday, January 25, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee
Thursday, February 1, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee
What Was His Name?
Thursday, February 8, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee
Orchid for a Lady
Thursday, February 15, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee
Always Tell the Truth
Thursday, February 22, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee
A Discussion of Diet
Thursday, September 20, 1951 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee
Thursday, May 15, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sustaining
Watching the Dog
Thursday, September 11, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Instant Postum
Thursday, September 18, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Post 40% Bran Flakes and Instant Postum
Should Women Work?
Thursday, September 25, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Instant Postum
Betty and the Crooner
Thursday, October 9, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Instant Postum
Bud Quits School
Thursday, October 16, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Post 40% Bran Flakes and Instant Postum
A Carnival in Town
Thursday, October 30, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Post 40% Bran Flakes and Instant Postum
Selling the House
Thursday, November 6, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Instant Postum
The Missing Pipes
Thursday, November 13, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Post 40% Bran Flakes and Instant Postum
A Phantom Prowler
Thursday, November 20, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Instant Postum
A Worried Witness
Thursday, December 11, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Post 40% Bran Flakes and Instant Postum
The Kids Revolt
Thursday, December 18, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Instant Postum
Shared Christmas Gifts
Thursday, December 25, 1952 - 30:00 - NBC, sponsored by Post 40% Bran Flakes and Instant Postum