*Transcript of the Video is Below*
Hey, hey, hey, Kim here! I couldn’t let Father’s Day get passed me without stopping to pay tribute to one of those popular classic television topics. Favorite TV Dads.
When going back through the golden years of television, there’s alot of TV Dads to choose from, so no one’s list is going to look similar. As most know, I pride myself on being “unique”… so I really wanted to jump into this list and avoid some of the old stand bys. We all love Ward Cleaver and Rob Petrie. However, what happens if we look to the sitcom dads outside of the usual TV Land or Nick at Night fair.
Is there a certain amount of “thirst” at play in this list, but that’s for me to know, and regular viewers to figure out themselves.
Without further ado, here are my Top 5 favorite Classic TV Dads.
5.) Lucas McCain
Regular readers will recognize Lucas McCain, who pops up with some regularity on Ticklish Business. Heck, he’s even in our credit sequence.
The Rifleman premiered in 1958 as part of the unending wave of westerns which took over the airwaves towards the tail end of the 1950s. The show ran five seasons before its cancellation in the spring of 1963.
Chuck Connors starred as Lucas McCain, a rancher and homesteader struggling to raise his young son Mark — played by Johnny Crawford— on the wild west frontier. Connors packed the physicality of your typical western hero into a smart and complex portrayal of a single father. Connors was a professional athlete before he turned to acting, playing not only for the Boston Celtics, but also in Major League Baseball with the Dodgers organization. Throughout the run of The Rifleman, Lucas reflects openly about having to play the role of both parents which stands apart from the rough, rugged figures common the other westerns of the period.
And.. have you seen him handle that rifle?
4.) Henry Mitchell
Okay, Henry Mitchell is one of the deeper cuts on this list. In truth, Dennis the Menace is a series for which, I’ve only recently gained a recent appreciation . The series premiered in 1959 and ran four season before it came to an end… also in 1963.
As Henry Mitchell, Herbert Anderson is one of the unsung joys of the classic TV era. I recently jumped back into the series after a long time away… I’m sorry, but Dennis is… Dennis. He’s an acquired taste. However, I’ve gained a new appreciation for not only Herbert Anderson as Henry, but actress Gloria Henry as Alice. these two are delightful.
These two stand out as two of the more realistic of the sitcom parents. Henry packs all the cardigans and pipe smoking of his contemporaries without seeming quite as “Dad Like”. While there was always a distinct feeling that people in the fifties were so grown-up; Henry and Alice were far more human. They sometimes got overwhelmed, they didn’t always want to be parents and were sometimes were far more interested in each other. Revisiting Dennis the Menace with the perspective of age has been a delight I honestly wasn’t expecting thanks to Herbert Anderson as Henry Mitchell.
3.) Gomez Addams
We all know the theme song. The Addams Family is our shortest running show on this list, airing for two seasons between 1964 and 1966; however, it is probably the longest lasting in the popular culture is memory.
John Astin appeared in the show as patriarch Gomez and one half of what has to be the greatest sitcom couple ever, Gomez and Morticia Addams. And this right here is exactly why this show is so good. If Henry and Alice Mitchell didn’t completely conform to the norm of the mid-twentieth century sitcom parents, Gomez and Morticia reeeeeeally didn’t conform to the standard set by the era.
As Gomez, Astin injects a personality into the part which is so unlike anything else hitting the airwaves at the time. We see Gomez as a husband who’s barely able to hide his attraction to his wife. He likes his toys and he really doesn’t give a darn what everyone else thinks. It’s actually pretty refreshing.
2.) Ben Cartwright
Embarrassingly, Bonanza is probably the newest watch for me…. despite being the longest running show on this list. The legendary western premiered in 1959 and ran for an astounding fourteen seasons before it went off the air in 1973.
The show starred Lorne Greene as Ben Cartrwright, patriarch of the Cartwright clan and head of the Ponderosa ranch. The series– like The Rifleman above– was primarily a western with just a hint of family drama as Ben (also a widowed father) maneuvered life on the west, but also the lives of his grown sons played by Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker and Michael Landon. Sure, it might not be the most productive of family relationships, but Lorene Greene was just so… paternal so that it’s easy to overlook.
1.) Martin Lane
Last but not least, I’m bringing this list to a close with my… sure, slightly unconventional favorite… Martin Lane from The Patty Duke Show. The sitcom ran for three seasons between 1963 and 1966 and featured Patty Duke in dual roles as identical cousins Patty and Cathy Lane.
Martin Lane, like Henry Mitchell, is a bit of an unsung delight of the classic era of television. Actor William Schallert was a workhorse who put together a career of a prolific proportions– his filmography lists and astounding 386 credits.
Martin holds together the Lane clan and deals with two rambunctious teenagers in the early 1960s in his own steadying way, while still managing and running a newspaper. I suppose, he’s probably the most traditional sitcom dad on this list; however, the series makes beautiful use of his chemistry with Patty Duke, resulting in some of the most adorable and heartwarming work between the two. At the same time though, by the third season, The Patty Duke Show managed to not only find Martin and wife Natalie — played by Jean Byron– voice in the show. These moments between the two are refreshingly human and remind us that parenting is never as easy as it looks on TV.
Well, this brings my look at MY favorite sitcom dads to a close. Of course, there’s so many more who can be mentioned. In fact, this list could have been a lot bigger. Who are your favorite sitcom dads? Let us know in the comments.
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Podcaster at Hollywood and Wine, historian and filmmaker studying contributions of women in Classic TV. Film critic for Geek Girl Authority. Classic film lover for Ticklish Business.
You can find me on Twitter @kpierce624!