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What Happened to the ‘Father Knows Best’ Cast Before, During and After the Show

They were the Andersons, and we were happy to have their family become part of our own


Looking back at classic TV‘s earliest days, there are certain sitcoms that immediately come to mind, including I Love Lucy, Leave It to Beaver and, of course, the Anderson family in Father Knows Best. And what really stands out about the Father Knows Cast is how they so successfully painted the portrait of what we imagined a typical ’50s family to be.

The Father Knows Best cast was led by Robert Young as insurance salesman Jim Anderson, Jane Wyatt as his wife, Margaret; and then, as their three kids, Elinor Donahue as Betty “Princess” Anderson, Billy Gray as James “Bud” Anderson Jr. and Lauren Chapin as Kathy “Kitten Anderson.”

The show was based on the radio sitcom of the same name (though most of that Father Knows Best cast was different) and ran from 1954 to 1960, beginning life on CBS before it was cancelled after a single season, then picked up by NBC for three seasons and ending up back on CBS for its final two seasons for a total of 203 episodes. Through it all, the Father Knows Best cast stayed intact and America loved them.

Father Knows Best cast: Robert Young as Jim Anderson

Robert Young
Robert Young as he was seen in Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, M.D. in 1976.L-R: ©CBS/courtesy; ©NBCUniversal/Getty Images

By the time he came to star in Father Knows Best, Robert Young was very familiar with the character of Jim Anderson and the family dynamic, given that he had portrayed the patriarch on the radio version from 1949 to 1954, surrounded by an entirely different cast. In the book The Box, he expressed what he wanted from television. “I’d like to a do a family show,” he said. “I’d like to be the father, but not a boob. I don’t want to do William Bendix on The Life of Riley.” As head of the Father Knows Best cast, he definitely achieved his goals.

The cast of Father Knows Best
The Father Knows Best cast was led by Robert Young, who was determined that Jim Anderson not be a “boob.” ©CBS/courtesy

He was born on February 22, 1997 in Chicago, Illinois, and appeared in more than 100 films between 1931 and 1962, though most of them were considered to be “B” productions, shot quickly and inexpensively. Yet despite that seeming success, he found that offers were slowing down, which led him to the success of both the radio and television versions of Father Knows Best. But success, and his portrayal of Jim Anderson, came at a price.

Robert Young and Jane Wyatt from Father Knows Best
Robert Young and Jane Wyatt embrace while holding the Emmy Awards, 1958Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“I wasn’t Jim Anderson,” he explained, “but it was hard for the public to accept that, and it got to be a pain in the ass. The Andersons came out of my conversations about what we thought would be representative of a middle-class American family, if there was such a thing. People did perceive it as real life, I know that. But I don’t know if people compared themselves unfavorably to us, but maybe it helped with the realization that a family can exist without killing each other.”

The series would be followed by two TV movies in 1977, Father Knows Best Reunion and Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas.

The cast of Father Knows Best
Playing an idealized father image on the series caused personal difficulties for Robert Young.NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

In 1961, he attempted to follow up Father Knows Best with Window on Main Street, a comedy-drama about an author returning to his home town after being away for many years to write about the people and happenings there. Unfortunately, the show only lasted 17 episodes. Far more successful, however, was the one-hour drama Marcus Welby, M.D., which saw Young in the title role for 170 episodes as well as the TV movies The Return of Marcus Welby, M.D. (1984) and Marcus Welby, M.D.: A Holiday Affair (1988), which would represent his final filmed appearance.

The cast of Marcus Welby, M.D.
The cast of Marcus Welby, M.D., including James Brolin and Robert Young©NBCUniversal/courtesy

In his private life, Young wrestled with inner demons that manifested themselves in the form of depression and alcoholism. It would culminate in a suicide attempt on his part, which followed efforts to convince his wife of more than 40 years, Elizabeth, to join him in a suicide pact, which she refused to do. By all accounts, the outpouring of love from fans actually helped pull him back from the brink. While Elizabeth Young passed away in 1994, Robert Young joined her, at age 91, on July 21, 1998 of respiratory failure.

Father Knows Best cast: Jane Wyatt as Margaret Anderson

Jane Wyatt
Jane Wyatt, then as female lead of the Father Knows Best cast and at the 33rd Annual Celebrity Fashion Show and Auction in 2001.L-R: ©CBS/courtesy; Getty Images

Early success on the Broadway stage led to Jane Wyatt being cast in films, beginning with 1934’s One More River and efforts such as Lost Horizon (directed by It’s a Wonderful Life‘s Frank Capra), Gentleman’s Agreement, House by the River, Task Force and Boomerang.

Wyatt, who was born on August 12, 1910 in Mahwah, New Jersey, made her TV debut as female lead of the Father Knows Best cast, playing Margaret Anderson, a role that would nab her three Emmy Awards in the category of Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Following the show, she only appeared in a few other films and TV shows, including the playing of Amanda, the human mother to Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock. She did so on the original series episode “Journey to Babel” and in the 1986 feature film, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Leonard Nimoy and Jane Wyatt
Leonard Nimoy and Jane Wyatt on the original Star Trek, and then Jane in the 1986 film Star Trek IV: The Voyage HomeL-R: ©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

In 1989 she looked back at Father Knows Best and praised it: “Our shows were written to be entertaining, but the writers had something to say. Every script always solved a little problem that was universal. It appealed to everyone. I think the world is hankering for a family. People may want to be free, but they still want a nuclear family.”

In her private life, she was married to husband Edgar Bethune Ward for 64 years, and they had two sons, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Wyatt died on October 20, 2006 at the age of 96.

Father Knows Best cast: Elinor Donahue as Betty ‘Princess’ Anderson

Elinor Donahue
Elinor Donahue, then and at the 10th Anniversary of the Archive of American TV in 2007L-R: ©CBS/courtesy; Getty Images

What many people may not realize, is that in some ways actress Elinor Donahue is the face of classic TV. From 1960 to 1961 she played Elinor “Ellie” Walker on The Andy Griffith Show, from 1972 to 1975 she had the recurring role of Miriam Welby, girlfriend to Felix Unger, on The Odd Couple; starred in 1977’s Mulligan’s Stew, 1987’s The New Adventures of Beans Baxter, 1990 to 1992’s Get a Life, the recurring role of Rebecca Quinn on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman between 1993 and 1997; and, of course, before all of them she was “Princess” on Father Knows Best.

Elinor Donahue
Elinor Donahue in costume as a soldier in ‘Father Knows Best”, 1955Screen Gems/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Born in 1937 in Tacoma, Washington, at the age of 5 she began singing and dancing and actually worked in vaudeville before making the move to film. Her credits include Three Daring Daughters and Girls Town. Father Knows Best arrived in 1954, and she was thrilled to be a part of it. “It has a warmth and loving energy to it that was very special,” she says. “There was no mean spritedness to it. If anybody was mean-spirited, I think it was Princess occasionally. She was always on a crusade of some sort and kind of huffy about everything.”

Elinor’s most recent role was in four episodes of the daytime soap opera The Young and the Restless between 2010 and 2011. The mother of four, she’s been married three times, most recently to Lou Genevrino in 1992. Retired from acting, she’s 86.

Father Knows Best cast: Billy Gray as Bud Anderson

Billy Gray
Billy Gray, then and at the Chiller convention in 2012L-R: ©CBS/courtesy; Getty Images

Born on January 13, 1938 in Los Angeles, Billy Gray made his debut, at the age of 10, in the 1948 film Fighter Father Dunne. There would be 12 more movies before the debut of Father Knows Best, including Burt Lancaster‘s Jim Thorpe — All American and the sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. After the series, his roles were limited, appearing in five movies and a few guest appearances as well as the Father Knows Best reunion films.

Elinor Donahue and Billy Gray
Elinor Donahue and Billy Gray, two-fifths of the Father Knows Best cast©CBS/courtesy

Finding new interests, he would go on to race competitively at dirt tracks in Southern California, which was something that he did between 1970 and 1995. Additionally, he’s co-owner of BigRock Engineering, which markets a number of different products, some of which he invented himself.

Of the Father Knows Best cast members, he is the one who’s really not a fan. “Father Knows Best,” he has expressed, “purported to be a reasonable facsimile of life. The bad thing is, the model is so deceitful. It usually revolved around not wanting to tell the truth, either out of embarrassment or not wanting to hurt someone. If I could say anything to make up for all the years I lent myself to that, it would, ‘You know best!'”

He’s been married twice and is 85.

Father Knows Best cast: Lauren Chapin as Kathy ‘Kitten’ Anderson

Lauren Chapin
Lauren Chapin when she was on Father Knows Best and today

Being the youngest member of the Father Knows Best cast, Lauren Chapin also had the most difficult time adapting to life beyond it. She was born May 23, 1945 in Los Angeles, making a few guest appearances before the series made its debut, and less than a handful after it ended. The truth is, her life has been a difficult one.

Through various reports it was revealed that she was sexually abused prior to, during and after Father Knows Best; she was married at 16, separated two years later and divorced five years after that. She suffered numerous miscarriages and career setbacks (i.e. she was so typecast from Father Knows Best that she couldn’t land other roles), that she found herself spiraling down a dark path.

By Lauren’s own account, she spent 15 years living through broken marriages, drug addiction and jail sentences for a variety of charges. She ended up in a rehabilitation center in California for narcotic addicts and it took a year for her to become drug-free. But she did manage to turn things around for herself. In 1989 she cowrote the book Father Does Know Best: The Lauren Chapin Story, currently manages singers and actors and actually performs in what has been described as a live, interactive version of Father Knows Best for conventions, cruise lines and a variety of other events. And on top of that, she’s an ordained evangelist. She’s now 78-years-old.

Father Knows Best is currently airing on Antenna TV. To find Antenna TV in your city, go to

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