Sunday, June 20, 2010

Classic TV Fathers We (Still) Love

As we wind down 2010's Father's Day, we've been thinking about television fatherhood. Though a while back we declared Charles Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie and Andy Taylor from The Andy Griffiths Show our favorite television dads, we've always had a soft spot for some of the other father characters from the 1950s and 1960s. We grew up watching these, if not in primetime, then certainly in afternoon reruns on our local independent stations. Frequently funny, sometimes even a little crazy, these dads had some super qualifications and appeal. We knew it was all make-believe, but that didn't stop these guys from getting to us!

In no particular order, but with much affection...

Ozzie Nelson as himself from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Cool, slyly hilarious, so completely relaxed, the original "no visible means of support" father (bandleader? office guy? who knew?), Ozzie Nelson was extremely personable and seemed like a lot of fun, in a Perry Como-kind of lazy, let-me-take-a-nap kind of way. Much funnier than he is generally given credit for, and that's unfortunate. Up with Ozzie!

Frank Faylen as Herbert Gillis in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Like so many TV fathers, Herbert was frequently exasperated by his dreamy son Dobie's girl troubles and Dobie's beatnik buddy Maynard, but he was also inspired, hep, nutty, hard-working, and realistically cynical. No sugar coating here! Credit creator and writer Max Schulman for making Herbert Gillis so unique in the annals of bland male father characters!

Robert Young as Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best. This was one of those sitcoms which wasn't particularly funny and in fact was often fraught with domestic issues. Jim Anderson was the serious kind of father, definitely employed, pretty square, but thoughtful and understanding. Good thing, because his family, consisting of smart and ambitious older daughter Betty, rambunctious teenage boy Bud, and sensitive youngest girl Kathy, seemed to have identity crises, school issues and performance anxiety incidents occuring on a regular basis. Much suburban angst was in evidence in the Anderson household, but Jim made it all better by the end of the half-hour, thank goodness!

William Bendix as Chester Riley on The Life of Riley. Closer to Herbert Gillis than Jim Anderson, Riley was a harried, blue-collar aircraft plant worker, and often perplexed by his family obligations in the form of a son and a daughter. He was a nice guy, definitely a comedy father, making The Life of Riley one of the genuinely funniest of the fatherhood series, and William Bendix one of the best and unfortunately slightly less well-known of the TV dads.

Hugh Beaumont as Ward Cleaver in Leave It To Beaver. Possibly my favorite of this bunch, Ward was a working dad, a quite modern and progressive parent, blessed with a keen wit and not unaware of the absurdities of raising kids in post-war America. He'd often mention how he was trying to parent differently from his own father, who in a different time had not spared the rod and certainly wouldn't have discussed disciplinary ethics with his kids before meting out punishment. Ward Cleaver liked his wife and wasn't afraid to show it, and also seemed to like his two boys, Wally and Theodore aka Beaver. He was a terrific father figure and funny as heck, too. Oo La La! (A quote from the wonderful episode "June's Birthday" where Beaver gives his mother a gaudy blouse with French pictures on it.)

William Schallert as Martin Lane in The Patty Duke Show. I've been watching this show lately and have been so impressed by Schallert's calm, decent, educated, and appreciative portrayal of the man who had to put up with his daughter Patty's schemes. The Patty Duke Show is very urban -- Martin Lane is the editor of a big NYC newspaper -- and Schallert brings a keen intelligence to the role, perfectly in tune with what you'd expect an editor to exhibit. No harried suburbanite or line worker, Martin Lane is upper middle class without being a snob, and authoritative without being a bully. Incidentally, the nearly 90-year old Schallert is still busy acting and we love him for that! What a treasure! Love that Poppo!

Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies. Jed, the lucky mountain man who discovered oil, remained the same unaffected and kind person even after he moved to Beverly Hills -- quite a feat, then or today. He was an understanding father to his animal-loving voluptuous daughter Ellie May, who also retained her sweetness amid the money-grubbing snobs of the Hills. He was the patriarch of a very nutty bunch, including his cantankerous mother-in-law and goofy nephew, but never lost his humanity or center. Whee Doggies!

Happy Father's Day!

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