‘Father Knows Best’ put the like in Ike era

Yes, the ’50s could be repressive, especially for women, who were largely limited to homemaker roles and certainly had no chance of running for president.

But there was a good side, too, as shown so beautifully in Father Knows Best, a beloved 1954-60 sitcom about an average family of five in fictional Springfield, a place where growing up didn’t always mean dad Robert Young knew best, even if the title said so.

Indeed, Young’s warmly fatherly Jim Anderson was often the butt of jokes in episodes with more sitcom humor than you might expect for heart-tugging tales of familial tenderness. Still, the thread which ran strongly through the show, which Young also produced, was one of love, as Jim, wife Margaret (Jane Wyatt), oldest daughter Betty (Elinor Donahue), middle child Buddy (Billy Gray) and impish young daughter Kathy (Lauren Chapin) grew up amid innocence and earnestness for doing the right thing.

This didn’t mean being a fussy fuddy duddy, but simply being compassionate, as artfully shown in many of the 26 first-season episodes new on DVD from Shout Factory in a four-disc box set. The only drawback is that just over half the episodes — 14 — come in  syndicated edits, running almost three minutes shorter than the original full-length versions. But most work anyway, and it’s gratifying that such a warm-hearted and meaningful show — which also worked as a gentle sitcom — is getting new life more than half a century since it first aired.

Besides, there are extras, too, including Young’s home movies, an unaired episode made for the federal government and recent interviews of Donahue and Chapin.

So sit back and bask in the warm glow of an Eisenhower-era show when Dad didn’t necessarily always know best, but when the family unit was still a guiding force for kindness, understanding and compassion.

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One Response to “‘Father Knows Best’ put the like in Ike era”

  1. ‘Donna Reed Show’ DVD is reassuring TV ‘comfort food’ « Tripping the Light Says:

    […] press release and production notes. It’s a handsomely packaged set which, unlike the likes of Father Knows Best, appears to have preserved the original black-and-white episodes in their entirety, meaning they […]

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