Behind The Scenes And Facts Of ‘Father Knows Best’

Since it released in 1954, Father Knows Best became the mold for modern sitcoms. Even after the show ended, it continued to air on primetime and appeal to families everywhere. Throughout the decades, cast and crew have revealed some fun, surprising facts about the sitcom.

Even die-hard fans might not know about the episode created for the U.S. government, or which parts of the set were real home appliances. If you’ve ever enjoyed Father Knows Best, check out these behind-the-scenes facts about the historic show.

Before the Anderson family formed, Father Knows Best featured entirely different characters on the radio and pilot episode.

Jim’s Character Was Much Different In The Radio Show

Jane Wyatt and Robert Young in promo shot for Father Knows Best
MovieStillsDB/Father Knows Best
MovieStillsDB/Father Knows Best

The radio version of Father Knows Best was much darker than the TV show. Jim Anderson acted far more rude to his family, often calling his kids names. For instance, he once said, “What a bunch of stupid children I have.” He also told Bud to, “Go jump in a lake.”

Jim also had a sarcastic mood, which spread throughout the entire family. At the time, his domineering behavior was typical of radio show characters. In contrast, Margaret acted as the paradigm of patience and reason, with rare exceptions.

The Pilot Episode Featured An Entirely Different Cast

Father Knows Best from left: Billy Gray, Robert Young, Elinor Donahue, Lauren Chapin, and Jane Wyatt
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

When Father Knows Best first aired on May 27, 1954, it wasn’t called Father Knows Best. It was originally named The Ford Television Theatre, and this name only appeared in one episode: “Keep It in the Family,” the series’ pilot.

The pilot included an entirely different family. The only actor who remained in Father Knows Best was Robert Young, who played the head of the Warren family. Other actors in the pilot include Ellen Drew, Sally Fraser, Tina Thompson, and Gordon Gerbert. CBS didn’t air the first real episode of Father Knows Best until October 3rd of that year.

Although Jim Anderson seemed happy on the show, behind the scenes, Robert Young was struggling.

Both Margaret And Betty Were On Star Trek

Jane Wyatt as Spock's mom in Star Trek: The Voyage Home
MovieStillsDB/Star Trek: The Voyage Home
MovieStillsDB/Star Trek: The Voyage Home

Besides her role as Margaret, Jane Wyatt is popularly known for playing Amanda, Spock’s mother on Star Trek. She appeared in the episode “Journey to Babel” and later in the 1986 film, Star Trek VI: The Voyage Home. However, some fans don’t know that Elinor Donahue, who played Betty, also appeared on Star Trek.

On the episode “Metamorphosis,” Donahue played the role of Commissioner Nancy Hedford, who embodies the entity called “The Companion.” Jane Wyatt appeared on the very next aired episode. While the actresses weren’t in the same episode, they debuted on the same show back-to-back.

After Father Knows Best Was Canceled, It Still Ran On Primetime

actors Robert Young and Jane Wyatt embrace while holding the Emmy Awards they won for their work on the television series, 'Father Knows Best'.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Father Knows Best ran for six seasons, from 1954 to 1960. Even after it stopped, CBS continued to play reruns of the show during peak viewing hours. CBS always played the show around 7:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m., although the days switched from Tuesday to Wednesday to Monday.

In 1962, Father Knows Best jumped from CBS to ABC. The new company played the show on even better times, including Friday and Sunday around 8:00 p.m. Few shows have remained on primetime for as long as Father Knows Best.

Robert Young Struggled With Depression While Filming

 Promotional portrait of the cast of the television series, 'Father Knows Best'. Clockwise from lower left: Billy Gray, Elinor Donahue, Robert Young, Jane Wyatt and Lauren Chapin
Screen Gems/Getty Images
Screen Gems/Getty Images

Many fans don’t know that behind the camera, Robert Young struggled with his roles in both Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, M.D. He grappled with acute depression that eventually escalated into alcoholism. He even said, “I wasn’t Jim Anderson, but it was hard for the public to accept that.”

Eventually, doctors ran tests and prescribed Young medication for his chemical imbalance. He eventually recovered and spoke openly about his personal experiences. He also advanced the passage of the 708 Illinois Tax Referendum, which established a tax to support mental health programs.

Although the show is popular now, in the ’50s, it was failing.

One Episode Was Made For The U.S. Government

screenshot from Father Knows best episode, 24 Hours in Tyrant Land
Youtube/CONELRAD6401240
Youtube/CONELRAD6401240

The cast of Father Knows Best filmed a propaganda episode that never aired on NBC. In 1959, the U.S. Treasury Department commissioned the episode “24 Hours in Tyrant Land.” The feature promoted the Department’s savings-bond drive, and it was distributed to churches, schools, and civic groups.

In “24 Hours in Tyrant Land,” the Anderson children struggle to live happily under a dictatorship. Although it never appeared on TV, you can watch it on Youtube. Some versions of the Season One DVD include the episode as well.

The Show Wasn’t Popular At First

Promo shot of the Anderson family from the sitcom Father Knows Beest
MovieStillsDB/Father Knows Best
MovieStillsDB/Father Knows Best

For its first three seasons, Father Knows Best never skyrocketed in popularity. It didn’t even crack Nielsen Ratings’ Top 30 list. As the show aired seasons four, five, and six, its popularity slowly climbed the charts. Around season four, it ranked number 25; by the final season, it jumped to number six.

Because Father Knows Best received its highest ratings near the end, the show continued to air through 1963. It played next to other hit shows such as The Rifleman and The Jetsons. Their remaining popularity is rare for a show, especially a sitcom.

Father Knows Best Was Canceled Twice

American actress Elinor Donahue receives the attention of hair stylist Hazel Keats and make-up artist Ray Sebastian
Screen Gems/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Screen Gems/Archive Photos/Getty Images

When Father Knows Best‘s first season aired, it flopped. The show’s 10:00 p.m. time slot, which prevented kids from watching it, may have resulted in its low popularity. Regardless, CBS canceled it in March of 1955. Afterward, fans wrote into CBS complaining about the cancellation. This inspired the production to bring back Father Knows Best.

The show continued to run until 1960, owning an 8:30 p.m. time slot almost the entire time. Around that time, Robert Young grew tired of playing Jim Anderson. He retired, and Father Knows Best ended for good.

Can you guess which cast member is now a real housewife of Beverly Hills?

Americans Watched The Show While President Kennedy Got Shot

ABC's interruption broadcast signaling the death of President John F Kennedy
Youtube/David Von Pein’s JFK Channel
Youtube/David Von Pein’s JFK Channel

In 1963, ABC continued to air Father Knows Best and played reruns during the daytime hours. On November 22, many Americans in the Mountain Time Zone were finishing the episode “Man About Town.” Around 12:30 p.m., the broadcast broke out about President John F. Kennedy.

President Kennedy was shot around 12:30 p.m., and pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m. Some Father Knows Best fans will forever associate “Man About Town” with one of America’s most shocking assassinations. You can watch the full broadcast, including the first seven minutes of the episode, on Youtube.

The Anderson’s Kitchen Served The Entire Production Team

The Andersons eat at the kitchen table on the episode of 'Father Knows Best' titled 'The $10.00 Question,'
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Unlike other TV sets, where all the furniture is fake, the kitchen in Father Knows Best was real. Every morning, staff made sweet rolls and coffee to share on set. Other members of the production team stored their lunches in the refrigerator. Although you can’t distinguish color in the show, the kitchen displayed real red wallpaper, blue counter-tops, and white cabinets.

The rest of Columbia Pictures’s $40,000 set was fake. The production team used one area for all four bedrooms, where they interchanged wallpaper and furniture in between scenes. Stage 11 (not Stage 10, as some sources claim) also included a patio, driveway, and garage.

A Real Housewife Was In The Father Knows Best Family

Kyle Richards attends The Glam App Celebration Event
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

Many people know Kyle Richards from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Before she went on Bravo, though, Richards acted in several sitcoms, including 18 episodes of Little House on the Prairie. In 1977, Richards appeared in two movies, The Father Knows Best Reunion and Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas. She played Ellen, one of Betty’s daughters that she had to raise on her own.

Richards didn’t join the American housewives until 2010. As of 2019, she’s the only original cast member still active on the show. Including her early sitcom days, Richard’s acting career has spanned an impressive 40 years.

Other famous sitcom fathers began their career on Father Knows Best. Can you guess which ones?

Father Knows Best Wasn’t Filmed Like Other Sitcoms

Father Knows Best opening on an antenna TV
Facebook/Antenna TV
Facebook/Antenna TV

Most sitcom studios employ at least three cameras to capture different angles. In contrast, Screen Gems only used one camera and a closed set. Cinematographers claim that using one camera results in a more “intimate image or feel” for the viewer.

Screen Gems also devoted more time and resources to detail than other sitcoms. Instead of having only three walls, all of their sets had four. This set allowed for a broader range of camera angles that gave the impression of a real house. On top of that, Screen Gems shot with better film, 35 mm, as opposed to most networks’ 16 mm film.

Four Other Sitcom Dads Appeared On The Show

American actor Robert Reed as Mike Brady in the US TV sitcom 'The Brady Bunch'
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

As Father Knows Best rose in popularity in the late 1950s, future TV dads used the show as their footstool. Robert Reed, who later played Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch, acted as Mr. Cameron in the episode “The Imposter.” In “Grampa Retires,” Herbert Anderson played Verle Wisman. He would later take the role of Henry Mitchell in Dennis the Menace.

In the 1958 episode “Betty, the Pioneer Woman,” two future sitcom dads appeared. William Schallert, who later played Martin Lane on The Patty Duke Show, acted as Jennings. Then there was Dick York, better known as Darrin Stephens in Bewitched. He played Tom Wentworth in a Father Knows Best episode.

Coming up: fascinating facts about the Anderson’s family home.

Jane Wyatt Started Off On Broadway

Jane Wyatt, American actress, 1934-1935.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Jane Wyatt, who played Margaret Anderson, didn’t start her acting career on TV. Her first job was on Broadway, as an understudy for actress Rose Hobart. Wyatt received favorable reviews for her understated beauty. Eventually, she transitioned to Universal Pictures.

In 1934, Wyatt debuted in her first TV role in One More River. Three years later, she acted in Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon. Before Wyatt joined the show Father Knows Best in 1954, she performed in None but the Lonely Heart, Gentleman’s Agreement, Boomerang, Task Force, and House by the River.

Do You Know The Anderson’s Address?

The Andersons house as displayed in the Father Knows Best opening
Youtube/Zooby360
Youtube/Zooby360

Most Father Knows Best fans know that the Anderson’s lived in Springfield, although the show never specified where “Springfield” was. It was implied that Springfield sat in Midwest America, perhaps in the same location as The Simpsons.

However, few fans know the Anderson’s actual address. The house sits at 607 South Mable St. in Springfield, Illinois. The house remains in that spot today. In the show, Jim Anderson worked for General Insurance Co. in Illinois. This confirms that the Anderson’s did live in the same city as the Simpson’s.

You Can Spot The Anderson’s House In Other Sitcoms

house used for both The Partridge Family and Father Knows Best
Pinterest/Century 21 Koeckeritz Realty
Pinterest/Century 21 Koeckeritz Realty

Over the years, the Anderson’s house has remained intact, with only minor changes on its front porch. Columbia Pictures initially built the home for the 1941 film Blondie, and producers continued to recycle the set over the years.

After some remodeling, the cast of Hazel used the home in their sitcom. Later, the building became Anthony Nelson’s home in I Dream of Jennie and Samantha’s abode in Bewitched. In the 1970s, the house belonged to The Partridge Family; in the 1990s, it sheltered Dennis the Menace.

Have you ever heard of the Father Knows Best lost episodes?

The Scripts Were Based On Real Family Events

cast of Father Knows best in Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas
Twitter/@gettv
Twitter/@gettv

Like many family shows, Father Knows Best drew inspiration from real life, but not from the actors’ families. The show’s writers, Paul West and Roswell Rogers, garnered ideas from their own families. West had four children; Rogers had three.

Rogers and West specifically targeted plots that would cause viewers to say, “that happened to us once.” They highlighted character-building and what Robert Young called “built-in moral lessons.” The show’s producer, Eugene B. Rodney, placed great emphasis on the script. Good scripts weren’t big action or bagfuls of jokes,” he said. We sought character, motivation.”

Wilma Flintstone Voiced The Radio Version Of Margaret

American actress Jean Vander Pyl poses with a cardboard cut-out of Wilma Flintstone, whose voice she provides
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

On the radio show, June Whitley portrayed Margaret Anderson. Later on, Jean Vander Pyl overtook the role. Her voice might sound familiar if you watch Hanna-Barbera cartoons; she played Wilma Flinstone in The Flintstones and Rosie the maid in The Jetsons.

Unlike Robert Young, Vander Pyl never moved on to the TV show. She remained in voice work until her death in 1999. She has played various roles on Scooby Doo and The Yogi Bear Show. She only worked on Father Knows Best during the radio show’s run in 1949.

The Cast Reunited In 1977

Father Knows Best reunion special aired on NBC in 1977
Youtube/stevations
Youtube/stevations

For some families, there was no better Christmas gift in 1977 than two back-to-back movies of Father Knows Best. Seventeen years after the sitcom ended, the entire family reunited to make two movies. The first was a 90-minute NBC special called The Father Knows Best Reunion which aired on May 15, 1977.

The movie featured the Anderson kids all grown up: Betty as a mother and widow, Bud racing motorcycles, and Kathy engaged with two kids. On December 18, the cast released their holiday special, Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas. In this movie, Jim considers selling the family home.

Thirteen Episodes Of The Series Are Lost

American actor Jane Wyatt sits on a ladder and jokes with American actor Robert Young on the set of 'Father Knows Best'
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Over six seasons, 203 episodes of Father Knows Best officially aired. However, fans have theorized that thirteen more episodes have disappeared over time. Two were originals, and eleven were “flashbacks” that the producers may have cut because they didn’t work as reruns.

At least one of these episodes was substituted in the DVD release. The flashback episode “Margaret Goes Dancing” with 3-4 minutes of new material did not appear in the DVD set. On the other hand, the DVD sets included 187 episodes of uncut footage that ran a full 26 minutes.