Father Knows Best — “A ‘Modern’ Thanksgiving”

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Father Knows Best (1949-1954) aired “A ‘Modern’ Thanksgiving” on November 23, 1950 as the 57th 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 televison Anderson family, and from left to right we have Lauren Chapin as Kathy, Elinor Donahue as Betty, Billy Gray as Bud, and film star Jane Wyatt as Margaret with Robert Young as Jim Anderson reading to his loving family. 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. We ran this episode in August of 2013–replete with color film stills with Heston in his (what would become) iconic Indiana Jones Adventurer garb here.

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 Antenna TV network. In this Thanksgiving episode the traditional family get together with the turkey dinner celebration (think Norman Rockwell) is challenged, but circumstances slyly reveal that sometimes the traditional became the traditional for a reason. Such an example as portrayed in this episode (not the details, but the essence) I can attest to personally, as I would guess almost anyone growing up of a certain age (at least in the United States in the 40s-60s) might also feel some kinship, and find themselves nodding a bit in agreement here or there as the episode goes forward. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

{Listen to this episode to discover the reason behind the food pictured below. What’s your choice for Thanksgiving?)


Play Time: 29:46

{The day after Thanksgiving and the airing of this episode of Father Knows Best found the still-stuffed neighborhood gang on the way to the corner newsstand to pick up a few pulps they hadn’t yet added to their collections. Future combined with Science Fiction stories (1950-54), while not a top-tier magazine, nevertheless was able to attract “name” authors and a fairly loyal audience. Both Future and Science Fiction began in 1939 and folded in 1941, only to be combined under one title in 1941 for another two years when it again folded in 1943. It was then revived in 1950 under the current title and in 1950 was a bi-monthly. Imagination (1950-58) was another of Raymond Palmer’s efforts, though he would sell the magazine after two issues where it would continue for 8 years. This debut issue sports a beautiful Hannes Bok cover with its obvious nod to Maxfield Parrish (I have this issue in my meager pulp magazine collection, but don’t know what it’s worth these days, if anything). In 1950 it was also a bi-monthly. Jungle Stories (1938-54) was a quarterly in 1950 and could always be relied upon for its stock in trade–danger and adventure (and a pretty woman) in each issue. Ki-Gor stories were a large draw, and having names like Seabury Quinn on the cover didn’t hurt either.}

      [Left: Future, Nov. 1950 – Center: Imagination, Oct. 1950 – Right: Jungle Stories, Winter 1950]


To view the entire list of weekly Old Time Radio episodes at Tangent Online, click here.