Question: I am looking for the name of the TV series that had a character named Jim Anderson. Can you help me with so little information given to you? Thank you in advance! DD
Televisionary: That would be Father Knows Best, which featured the warm, nuclear-family experiences of Jim Anderson (Robert Young); wife Margaret (Jane Wyatt); son James Jr., aka "Bud" (Billy Gray); and daughters Betty, aka "Princess" (Elinor Donahue) and Kathy, aka "Kitten" (Lauren Chapin). On the series, which managed to appear on CBS, NBC and ABC during its initial 1954-63 run (only repeats ran after the 1959-60 season), Jim worked for the General Insurance Company during the day and served as counsel for his family at night.
The show started off as a radio series in 1949, taking its inspiration from Young's relationship with one of his four real-life daughters and its name from a phrase he used while trying to end an argument with her. Looking back, many write the show off as an uninspired relic of Eisenhower-era thinking, when families were supposed to be all smiles, voices were never raised in anger and Dad solved all crises, big and small, by the end of each episode. However, it was actually considered revolutionary for its time, since in those years so many programs featured a dad who was, according to a 1956 issue of TV Guide, "a real bumbling idiot, one of those guys who's always hanging doors upside down, falling in wet cement, [and] coming up with the wrong answers for the kids' homework."
Jim Anderson was the dad with fixes for all the problems, and America loved him for it. So much so that by 1959 Young was receiving 700 to 1000 requests for personal appearances per year. And as you might imagine, having legions of fans who want a piece of the same comfort and wisdom they see on TV can take its toll on a guy. "At first, when I began to realize how seriously people took me in Father Knows Best, I was badly frightened," Young said in 1959. "And I have found myself constantly being pushed further and further into extroverted situations for which I am sometimes not qualified and, in fact, for which there is seemingly no justification at all. They may be suited to extroverted Jim Anderson, but they are not necessarily suited to me. I am inherently shy. I don't move easily in a crowd. So I had to do some serious work on myself in order to meet the requirements of what was expected."
When he passed away at the age of 91 in 1998, Young was justifiably lauded for his community service, talent and professionalism. But the difference between wise family-man Jim, who always did the right thing with ease, and the real-life actor was striking. Young, who in the '70s would star in another TV hit, Marcus Welby, M.D., struggled with chronic depression and alcoholism for years, describing himself in a 1983 interview as hiding "a black terror behind a cheerful face" and surviving a much-publicized suicide attempt in 1991. Likewise, Lauren Chapin's life couldn't have been more different than Kitten's. Molested as a child by her real father and forced into acting by an abusive, alcoholic mom, she was a junkie at 17, fell into prostitution to finance her addiction and spent time in prisons and mental institutions. (Thankfully, she bounced back and is now a mother of two living in Orlando, Fla.)
All of which makes the following observation about the difference between life and the way we see it on TV all the more poignant. In 1958, Young told TV Guide how, when he admitted to one of his real-life daughters that he didn't know the answer to her question, she fired back by pointing out that Jim Anderson always knows. "Jim Anderson," the actor countered, "has two writers. Bob Young doesn't have any."