Monday, January 28, 2013

Early Classic TV Families Weren't All That Black & White


Father Knows Best.  Ozzie and Harriett.  The Donna Reed Show.  My Three Sons.  Leave It To Beaver.
These are the top five iconic television classics that were filmed in black and white.

However, contrary to popular opinion, from an organically-aesthetic perspective, each of these shows and their characters were not all that black and white. 
In fact, they were very colorful and multi-dimensional.

At times, and in retrospect, when any one of these programs are referenced in the spectrum of television in particular, and popular culture in general, they are too many times pidgin-holed as too sentimental or lacking depth, story and character development.
In reality, such an assessment could not be further from the truth.

The characters on each of these shows interacted with one another on very real terms; they treated each other as honestly as possible within the context of their time.  The shows may be products of their time; but they delivered as honest a portrayal of family life as was possible by the medium of their era (early 1950s-to early 1960s).
For example, on Father Knows Best (which began on radio) Jim and Margaret Anderson, as played by the elegant Robert Young and Jane Wyatt, on several occasions became legitimately and realistically upset with and disappointed in their children (played by Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin).  In fact, during one particularly startling moment from the series, when all three children were acting selfishly, Wyatt’s Margaret berated them as a group and actually called them brats!

On The Donna Reed Show, the iconic film star of big-screen classics like It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), transferred to the small screen by portraying a character who fully embraced being a housewife and mother.  She cared for and adored her husband (played by Carl Betz) and children (Shelley Fabares, and real-life siblings Paul Peterson - a comedic genius from the word go - and Patti Peterson), but was always sure to correct them in very straight-forward terms if she believed they were off-track in any way, shape or form (particularly when it came to not displaying loving-kindness).
Fred McMurray, as the star of My Three Sons, was one of the first widowed parents on television, and always took an amiable, but firm hand in raising his trio of teens (Mike Considine, Don Grady, and more real-life siblings Barry Livingston and Stanley Livingston (the latter of whom joined the series after Considine left).

Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsly as Ward and June Cleaver on Leave It To Beaver, watched over their two young sons (Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow) with a close but a respectful eye, making certain to allow their children the space that each human being deserves – at any age - for their own personal growth.  Leave it To Beaver, in fact, was one of the most mature family sitcoms in history, despite the fact that its stories were essentially told from the perspective of its youngest child.
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (which like Father Knows Best began on radio) displayed the king and queen of classic TV parentage raising their two sons, Ricky and David Nelson (who were in reality their real-life off-spring off-camera) with sound, spiritual hand; based on the very realistic stories of their very reality – as they were all playing themselves!

So, anytime anyone attacks these and other such family TV classics (even when they transferred into color) as being overtly-syrupy, I respond as did once the genius Michael Learned during an appearance on The Today Show.  Certain critics mistakenly attack The Waltons, the esteemed 1970s family series on which Ms. Learned starred as the matriarch, because, “Those who call our show too saccharine simply don’t watch it.”

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