Saturday, November 6, 2010


The recent passing of Barbara Billingsley (Leave it to Beaver) and Tom Bosley (Happy Days surrogate TV father to "the Fonz") reminded me of the incredibly talented and lately sometimes controversial (whose judging?) TV personalities who have played the roles of Moms and Dads on our TV screens since the early 1950’s. Those first roles were fairly bland since they were rarely allowed to openly address any significant, real issues of the day for, after all, they were representing the perceived normalcy of the day. I am reminded of a Gay and closeted Robert Reed’s thoroughly straight and sometimes reluctant portrayal of Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch and that TV Mom Lucille Ball was always “expecting” with Desi, Jr. and never “pregnant”. Those issues were never (even remotely) addressed while those shows ran and as you might imagine with that kind of puritanical mindset most of this early programming was mostly gooey, naïve, sublime, domestic and exceedingly civil comedy/drama with the occasional wink and nod towards reality – surreptitiously and discreetly offered by the players.

Billingsley was often hailed as the perfect TV Mom and perhaps she was for her role in Leave It to Beaver. But she had a lot of competition that included my personal favorite – the always wise Harriet Hilliard Nelson (The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet) and other stalwarts like Jane Wyatt (Father Knows Best), Donna Reed (The Donna Reed Show), Florence Henderson (The Brady Bunch), Shirley Jones (The Partridge Family), Meredith Baxter (Family Ties), Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show), Joanna Kerns (Growing Pains) and Tom Bosley’s better TV Half - Marion Ross (Happy Days). We could go on and on but the numbers prevent that as family sitcoms have apparently been the most popular TV offering – ever – even invading the modern cartoon realm. I will also have to admit a certain deference to Murphy Brown as the always hot single Mom played by Candice Bergen and for no other reason than she was and still is…

Our original TV Moms including Barbara Billingsley and Harriet Nelson were post WWII reflections of America where the Woman of the House returned from her role as Rosie the Riveter to the idealistic and mostly compliant domestic engineer even in their high heels and pearls. Her place was in the home. That interpretation didn’t last long and within ten years our TV Moms, with or without domestic untranquility (single moms), blasted out of the home and back into the workplace.

Our TV Dads have mostly become iconic and they include my estimation of the more important actors including but not limited to Fred MacMurray of My Three Sons, Lorne Greene of Bonanza fame, Michael Landon of Little House On The Prairie, Ed O'Neill of the painfully funny and dysfunctional Married... with Children, Hugh Beaumont of Leave It to Beaver, Bill Cosby of The Cosby Show, Robert Young of Father Knows Best, Andy Griffith of The Andy Griffith Show, Red Foxx of Sanford and Son, fellow Sig Ep John Goodman of Roseanne and my personal favorite Dad Ozzie Nelson of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. No surprise that growing up I never missed an episode of Ozzie & Harriet.

No need to burden this post with the very interesting and motivating biography of Ozzie Nelson, but if you want to be inspired - pursue information on this man who so seemingly benign and befuddled on TV was in reality a tiger in a bottle and creative genius behind the scenes.

With the exception of Ozzie Nelson of Ozzie & Harriet and Hugh Beaumont of Leave It to Beaver, these fictional TV Fathers much like our TV Moms represented a wide variety of roles and interpretations of the modern Family. From the sublime innocence and seemingly never ending wisdom of Harriett to the sometimes grotesque passive/aggressive caricature of an always whining blue collar and overweight Roseanne who acts about as well as she sings, this genre survives and thrives. In their respective generations they have been a sociologist’s delight - a reflection of our times, our ever changing social mores and really the changing cultural footprint of our own nation.

Barbara Billingsley and Tom Bosley taught us a thing or two about life and while they never could replace our own parents they offered us entertainment and mostly sage advice/counsel becoming the models for the perfect American Mother and Father. Compare that with our current sophisticated Reality Mentality where we have apparently careened to the other side where we are showcasing Families that are mostly dysfunctional. Maybe they are doing us a great service by relating to the issues of the day though many viewers appear incapable of recognizing parody and emulating that example have been sidetracked into a soap opera mentality that deifies the likes of celebutante and always “tongue-in-chic” Paris Hilton and arrogant and always defiant Lindsay “Trainwreck” Lohan. It has been said that the likes of those two will probably make many wax nostalgic for the good old days of sex, drugs and rock and roll.


Ned Buxton

PS. If you want an incredibly well written and accurate analysis of Family sitcoms from the 1950’s to present please go to Lynn Spigel’s extraordinary Family on Television article at the Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC) site at which includes the threads and raison d'être for that programming. Well done. NB

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything about missing the good ol' days, except 1 thing & this reason is the reason I don't like today's programs.
You can't watch a thing today that isn't "sexy"..That's why I'd reather watch things from 1960's /1970's.