Father Knows Best — “New Year’s Eve”

Father Knows Best (1949-1954) aired “New Year’s Eve” on December 29, 1949 as the 19th of its 217 episodes. Carried by the NBC Radio network, it starred film star Robert Young (1907-1998, photo at left), who would later also star in the beloved tv series (1954-1960) of the same name. The radio show features a “typical” suburban midwestern American family, the Andersons, where the father (Jim) is an insurance salesman, his wife (Margaret) is a homemaker, and their three children are Bud and Betty–both teenagers with Betty the slightly older–and younger sibling Kathy. The photo at right is of the television Anderson family, and from left to right we have Lauren Chapin as Kathy, Billy Gray as Bud, Robert Young as Jim, film star Jane Wyatt as Margaret, and Elinor Donahue as Betty, as they hold hands to say grace before a meal. While both the radio and television shows were hits and retained the basic family structure and setting (the generic town of Springfield with house being on a generic Maple Street), a few things differed when the show moved to television. First, Robert Young was the only member of the radio cast to make the transition to the tv show; and second, at his specific request the father’s character became softer, less irritable and hard-nosed, becoming warmer and gentler, a more thoughtful and wise father than portrayed on radio, the one thing he actively disliked about the show. It worked, of course, and the television show became one of the most fondly remembered family sitcoms ever to air on tv. Of peripheral interest for fans of the show and other tv shows of the 1950s and into the mid-1960s is that the Anderson’s middle American house was also the same house repurposed for the Dennis the Menace show (1959-63), and later as the home of Major Nelson (played by Larry Hagman) for I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70, starring Barbara Eden).

Interesting also is that after having roles, or starring (many times as the handsome male lead), in over 100 films dating from the 1930s, Robert Young made a conscious decision to quit his film career in 1954, and almost immediately after the demise of Father Knows Best on radio in 1954 was one of the prime movers in getting the show on television, and in the same year. He never looked back, having become thoroughly disgusted with how Hollywood worked and how it treated most of its actors. Coincidentally, his final film in 1954 was Secret of the Incas starring Charlton Heston (Heston, photo at left; Young in center of photo at right). If ever there was a precursor or model for the Indiana Jones films, this was surely it. Heston plays Harry Steele in Secret of the Incas as a pilot, adventurer, and tour guide in Peru, who then gets involved in attempting to find a  “golden starburst” relic stolen from the ancient Temple of the Sun, believed to have the power to restore the once proud Incan civilization. Lux Radio Theater ran an hour long dramatization of the film in December of 1954 with most of the major film actors reprising their roles.

It would seem that Robert Young himself, with his role in both the radio and tv versions of Father Knows Best, the factoid about his final film role having a link to the future Indiana Jones films, and the home of the television version of the show having ties to two other famous tv sitcoms, would be enough to help fuel cocktail party conversations should the need arise to help fill any inevitable voids (and there is much more of interest surrounding the show and Young that could be told). Suffice it to say that both radio and television versions of Father Knows Best, in different ways for individual people or entire families, touched enough emotional chords to make the show one of the most iconic representations of an idealized midwestern family ever shown. It has been released in tv reruns on numerous stations over the ensuing decades, and even now can be seen daily on the OTA (Over The Air) Antenna TV network.

Last week’s Old Time Radio episode featured a Jack Benny Christmas show where Jack admitted he had a dual personality: the kind, benevolent Jack he showed to the world, and a short tempered Jack he continuously fought with internally. Oddly enough, this Father Knows Best New Year’s Eve show has Jim Anderson setting his New Year’s resolution to curb his own temper, but he needs a little help from Margaret. It seems the effort to control one’s temper around the holidays is not an uncommon goal, and is something the writers for both shows recognized and dealt with openly–through humor. Listen now to see how humor is used to overcome Jim Anderson’s tendency to be short-tempered over everyday trials and tribulations as he and the Anderson family enjoy “New Year’s Eve.”

Play Time: 29:57

[Left: Before the New Year’s Eve party this is the kind of girl you hope to meet and impress. – Center: Your classy inner self is what you hope to project to the girl you hope to meet at the party. – Right: At the party you have a few drinks to get your courage up before approaching the girl you’ve spotted across the room, but before you know it several drinks have led to a few more, and then a few more and you end up forgetting the girl and singing at the top of your lungs with some new found friends.]


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