Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Tribute to Robert Young, "Marcus Welby," "Father Knows Best," and Everything That's Right About Television

For the last few months, I have had the chance to watch reruns of "Marcus Welby, M.D." and DVDs of "Father Knows Best," both TV classics - and both starring the ever-so affable Robert Young (who passed away in at age 90 in 1998).

I grew up watching "Welby," and had not seen the episodes in a long time. As fate would have it, one of the first segments that I viewed (since their original run) featured Lindsay Wagner, in a pre-"Bionic Woman" appearance. As the author of The "Bionic" Book, I was pleasantly surprised and delighted with this particular segment. From there, I was hooked - again - by "Welby's" realistic medical plot lines and and Young's charming and comforting lead and "fatherly" performance.

Meanwhile, I was introduced to "Father Knows Best" years after the original series ran in the 1950s and 1960s. I heard about it, but never saw a segment. That is, until 1989, when I happened to catch a rerun of the 1977 "Father" holiday reunion special, "Father Knows Best: Home For Christmas." The budget for this TV-movie was not high, but the caliber of talent, on-screen and off, was "off-the-charts." Original cast members Young, Jane Wyatt, who returned to the role of Young's on-screen wife (and who had also played "Spock's" mother on "Star Trek"), and Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin as the "Anderson" children - were all in top form. This was the second reunion special for wich they had regrouped (another had aired only six months prior), and it was as though they had never left the set of the original series.

I, of course, could not legitmately make such an observation without seeing episodes of the original series. But upon first viewing "Home for Christmas," it was clear that something special was happening. The movie was videotaped and not filmed like the original show, but again, the cast was wonderful. The story was sweet. And the directing was on-the-mark.

I was then inspired to watch the orignal "Father" series - again and again.

With "Welby," it was as if Robert Young had retired from insurance (his on-screen "Father" career), and went into medicine. However, Young had retained that same screen charisma, charm, wit and nurturing persona that so many had appreciated for years on "Father Knows Best."

One recent "Welby" rerun happened to feature a young woman who had experienced a substantial weight loss. In doing so, and by today's standards, she would have been considered "hot." The episode starred a pre-"Mary Tyler Moore" Cloris Leachman and the iconic William Schallert (who for years played a comforting TV dad himself on "The Patty Duke Show") as the young girl's parents.

I found it ironic that the name of the young girl in "Welby" episode - which was directed by the late, great Leo Penn (father of Sean) was named "Cathy." "Cathy" was the name of Lauren Chapin's young character on "Father Knows Best," and "Cathy" was also the name given to one of Patty Dake's twin-personas on "The Patty Duke Show."

Now, here they all were - together - lead by Robert Young - and the episode was remarkable.

Leo Penn's direction was astounding, and the turmoil and tribulations of the young girl, who was once considered unatttractive and now "easy," was played so convincingly well. Cloris Leachman gave her usual A-list performance, this time, as a self-absorbed mom - and William Schallert was, well, William Schallert - perfect as usual.

I actually stayed completely off the Internet - including Facebook! - for the entire 60-minutes of this episode of "Marcus Welby, M.D."

THAT'S a testament to not only the merit of this particular "Welby" episode, but proof that classic shows this and "Father Knows Best" (and "The Patty Duke Show" and "The Donna Reed Show," for that matter) have the "staying power" for today's audience.

"Welby," "Father," et al., along with actors like elegant Robert Young - offered comfort that not only was "everything going to be okay," but these shows and stars like Young represented everything that was - and still could be - right about television.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

robert young was a great actor i agree, he portrayed the wise,warm doctor. we need that doctor today.