Father Knows Best

1950s American radio sitcom
from archive.org

In early 1949 General Foods, represented by Young & Rubicam and Benton & Bowles, dropped its sponsorship of the Burns & Allen radio program which advertised its Maxwell House Coffee. Executives blamed the cancellation on the program's weekly $17,500 price tag which they claimed had become too expensive for radio in a time of growing television power. Not ready to entirely abandon radio, General Foods (still through Benton & Bowles) committed $7,500 per week - less than half their budget for Burns & Allen - to a new domestic comedy, Father Knows Best.

The show was created by Ed James - who also scripted it initially - and developed by Rodney-Young Productions. Rodney-Young was a partnership formed years before between Eugene B. Rodney and Robert Young, the latter a Hollywood actor who would be cast as the series lead, the Anderson family patriarch Jim Anderson. Harold "Scrappy" Lambert, a former band vocalist who got into radio in the 1930s - packaged the entire deal.

Father Knows Best debuted on August 25, 1949 over NBC. In addition to Robert Young - a contract studio actor who earned over 100 film credits in 20 years on the big screen - Father Knows Best featured Jean Vander Pyl as mother Margaret Anderson for almost the entire run. Pyl's biggest fame came later in television, most notably as the voice of Wilma Flintstone. The eldest child, Betty, was played by Rhoda Williams, the middle child, Bud, by Ted Donaldson, and the youngest, Kathy, primarily by Norma Jean Nilsson.

At the beginning of its second season, director Kenneth M. Burton, head of West Coast radio production for the Burton & Bowles agency, died of a heart attack at age 51 in August 1950. He was replaced by Fran van Hartesveldt. Father Knows Best did not miss a beat and amassed its highest season rating of 13.4. During 1951 the program was sponsored over 39 stations of Canada's Dominion Network after appearing on the Trans-Canada Network. The series proved to be one of NBCs most popular programs in 1951 and it found large audiences in Canada as well.

Near the end of 1951 Ed James handed over writing duties to Paul West who "desquabbled" it according to radio historian Jim Cox, and he set the tone of the program that would endure into its television run. Beginning January 10, 1952, the Crosley Division of Cincinnati's Avco Manufacturing took over sponsorship from Maxwell House; however, they did not renew after the initial 13-week contract and General Foods resumed sponsorship. During this time lead actor and co-producer Robert Young was awarded the National Safety Council's Award of Merit for a highway safety campaign in which he participated.

In mid-1952 it was announced that Father Knows Best would be adapted to television, a project that came to fruition two years later in 1954. During the radio program's fourth season, 1952-1953, the producers decided to tape the program, allowing the cast - especially Robert Morgan - the opportunity to more easily do other projects as well. Even video taping created some logistical challenges, especially when Robert Young embarked on a 40-week theatrical tour with the show Country Girl. To accommodate his schedule the entire cast of Father Knows Best had to be periodically flown to whatever city in which Young was performing and subsequently tape as many episodes as possible. This included 13 recorded in Chicago.

With listenership declining, Father Knows Best transitioned to television for the 1954-55 season. Robert Young was the only member of the radio cast to go. After a rough beginning, Father Knows Best ran on the small screen until 1962. Young announced in 1960 that he'd grown tired of the role of Jim Anderson and wanted to step down. The show continued in reruns on primetime for a further two years and can still regularly be found on cable to this day.

Often used by contemporary writers (most of whom have little to no personal knowledge of the show) as a shorthand reference to an unrealistic and narrow vision of America, this author finds Father Knows Best has held up remarkably well. While it does not include the laugh-out-loud humor of such top comedies as the Jack Benny Show and Fibber McGee & Molly, that was never the intent of its creators. While it certainly avoided the hard issues of its era, so do many family-oriented sitcoms even to the present. It also lacks the racial and ethnic jokes and impersonations that have made some of its peer radio programs more cringe-worthy today.

Widely overlooked by old-time radio enthusiasts and remembered by the wider culture as a television relic, hopefully this Old-Time Radio Researchers release will rekindle interest in this homage to an idyllic America that maybe never really existed but is a place many would like to know.

OTRR Release Information:

Series Name: Father Knows Best
Release Status: OTRR Maintained
Release Date: December 2020
Release Version: Version 2012
Number of DVDs: 1

From the Old Time Radio Researchers Group (OTRR).

  1. Old Time Radio Researchers Introduction (2.8Mb)
  2. Father Knows Best Synopsis (3.2Mb)
  3. Robert Young Audio Biography (2.8Mb)
  4. Jean Vander Pyl Audio Biography (2Mb)
  5. Edward James Audio Biography (2.1Mb)
  6. Audition (19.6Mb)
  7. New Year's Eve (27.6Mb)
  8. Safety Campaign (27.5Mb)
  9. Elusive Card Game (27.2Mb)
  10. A Weekend in the Country (27.4Mb)
  11. Jim's Birthday (27.5Mb)
  12. Income Tax (27.5Mb)
  13. An Uncontrolled Dog (27.2Mb)
  14. The Golf Challenge (27.3Mb)
  15. Betty's Screen Test (40.6Mb)
  16. Superstitious Folk (40.6Mb)
  17. Time for a New Car (40.4Mb)
  18. Father's Day Trip (40.5Mb)
  19. A New Housekeeper (40.3Mb)
  20. New Arrangements (40.3Mb)
  21. Vacation Arrives (40.4Mb)
  22. An Efficient House (27.1Mb)
  23. Family Car Stolen (27.1Mb)
  24. Who Has the Time (27.2Mb)
  25. A New Girlfriend (27.2Mb)
  26. Family Spending (27.2Mb)
  27. The Skunk Must Go (27.3Mb)
  28. A Spooky Cemetary (27.2Mb)
  29. Too Many Problems (27Mb)
  30. The Bad Barbecue (27.2Mb)
  31. Enterprising Kids (27.2Mb)
  32. A Modern Thanksgiving (27.2Mb)
  33. Betty's French Teacher (27.3Mb)
  34. Father Becomes Ill (AFRS) (23.5Mb)
  35. Father Becomes Ill (27.2Mb)
  36. A Hans Christian Andersen Christmas (27.2Mb)
  37. Party Preparations (27.2Mb)
  38. Taking on City Hall (27.3Mb)
  39. Missing Furniture (27.2Mb)
  40. Redecoration Woes (27.3Mb)
  41. Sound Matchmaking (27.1Mb)
  42. Jim Inherits a Ranch in Arizona (27.2Mb)
  43. What was his Name? (27.3Mb)
  44. Orchid for a Lady (27.4Mb)
  45. Always Tell Truth (27.3Mb)
  46. Rehearsing a Play (40.5Mb)
  47. Being a Better Father (27.1Mb)
  48. Tax Interruptions (40.2Mb)
  49. Stranded Strangers (40.4Mb)
  50. Both Bosses Visit (40.4Mb)
  51. It Pays to Borrow (40.4Mb)
  52. Carrot Costume Party (40.5Mb)
  53. Anniversary Secret (40.3Mb)
  54. Aunt Martha Visits (40.1Mb)
  55. A Missing Salesman (40.3Mb)
  56. Junk Around the House (40.3Mb)
  57. Locked out of the House (40.5Mb)
  58. Anniversary Event (40.3Mb)
  59. Going to New York (40.5Mb)
  60. Father's Day Picnic (40.4Mb)
  61. Mother Drives a Car (40.4Mb)
  62. Wedding Preparation (40.4Mb)
  63. Meaning of Freedoms (40.3Mb)
  64. Saving Money to Buy a Boat (40.6Mb)
  65. The Circus (27.4Mb)
  66. A Diet Discussion (27.4Mb)
  67. Billiard Table (40.7Mb)
  68. The Rug (40.6Mb)
  69. Gossip (40.6Mb)
  70. The Tie (40.9Mb)
  71. Father of the Year (27.5Mb)
  72. The Music Business (40.7Mb)
  73. Thanksgiving Prayer (27.4Mb)
  74. The Meteor (40.6Mb)
  75. Attic Auction (40.6Mb)
  76. Planning a Christmas Party (40.6Mb)
  77. The Chaperone (27.5Mb)
  78. The Family Behind the Man (27.5Mb)
  79. The Fashion Expert (27.4Mb)
  80. The Motor Scooter (40.9Mb)
  81. Emancipation (41Mb)
  82. Valentine's Day Party (40.6Mb)
  83. Secrets of the Attic (27.5Mb)
  84. Keeping Up With the Jones (27.5Mb)
  85. No Partiality (27.6Mb)
  86. Flowers and Candy (40.6Mb)
  87. New Washing Machine (6.8Mb)
  88. My Name is Sam (40.6Mb)
  89. Kathy's Twin Sister (40.6Mb)
  90. Home Management (26.6Mb)
  91. Driving Back from Toledo (40.6Mb)
  92. Sorting Through Old Trunk (40.6Mb)
  93. Aunt Ethel (40.6Mb)
  94. Lead Your Own Life, Bud (40.6Mb)
  95. Betty is Stage-Struck (41.1Mb)
  96. Treasure Hunt (54.7Mb)
  97. Kathy's Engagement Ring (40.6Mb)
  98. Watching the Dog (27.3Mb)
  99. Weekend Away From Home (27.2Mb)
  100. Should Women Work (27.3Mb)
  101. Betty and Crooner (27.2Mb)
  102. Bud Quits School (27.2Mb)
  103. Carnival in Town (27.2Mb)
  104. Selling the House (26.6Mb)
  105. The Missing Pipes (26.8Mb)
  106. The Phantom Prowler (26.7Mb)
  107. A Worried Witness (26.7Mb)
  108. The Kids Revolt (26.7Mb)
  109. Shared Christmas Gifts (26.8Mb)
  110. Southern Manners (26.7Mb)
  111. Second Family Car (26.8Mb)
  112. The Boy Next Door (26.9Mb)
  113. Bud Dislikes Girls (26.8Mb)
  114. Aunt Thelma Visits (26.9Mb)
  115. Babysitting Miseries (25Mb)
  116. Modernizing the Home (27.1Mb)
  117. Banged Up Fender (27.1Mb)
  118. Overdue Vacation (27.2Mb)
  119. To Build a Brick Wall (27.2Mb)
  120. The Missing Wedding Ring (27.4Mb)
  121. Uninsured Robin (27.2Mb)
  122. Bud's Panama Cat Business Venture (27.4Mb)
  123. How to Face Problems (27.2Mb)
  124. Family Getaway to Beaver Falls (27.2Mb)
  125. Old Father Time (27.1Mb)
  126. Springtime Woes (27Mb)
  127. The Good Old Days (27.2Mb)
  128. Sophisticated Bud (27.1Mb)
  129. Paper Drive Management (27.1Mb)
  130. Remembering Names (27.3Mb)
  131. Big Inheritance (27.3Mb)
  132. Mind Your Manners (27.2Mb)
  133. A Date Mix-Up with Leonard and Ralph and Betty (40.8Mb)
  134. The Value of Money (27.3Mb)
  135. The Life of the Party (27.3Mb)
  136. Too Many Peanuts (27.3Mb)
  137. Halloween Blues (27.2Mb)
  138. Moving to Chicago (27.3Mb)
  139. Betty's Engagement (27.4Mb)
  140. Missing Uncle (27.3Mb)
  141. Thanksgiving (6.9Mb)
  142. Too Many Rabbits (27.4Mb)
  143. An Old Fashioned Christmas (27.4Mb)
  144. New Year's Sitter (27.3Mb)
  145. Taking Pictures (27.4Mb)
  146. An Unusual Bet (27.3Mb)
  147. The Mink Coat Woes (27.4Mb)
  148. Trash Can Lids (27.3Mb)
  149. The Telephone Mix-Up (27Mb)
  150. Betty's Freedom (27.3Mb)
  151. Check Writing (27.3Mb)
  152. Spring Cleaning (AFRS) (23.5Mb)
  153. Spring Cleaning (40.9Mb)
  154. False Elopement (41Mb)
  155. Income Tax Mix-Up (40.9Mb)
  156. Rainy Day Activity (41Mb)

MP3 files hosted by archive.org.