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A primer about ‘Father Knows Best’

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Clockwise from top; Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Billy Gray, Lauren Chapin and Elinor Donahue, got together in 1977 for "The Father Knows Best Reunion."</I>

Clockwise from top; Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Billy Gray, Lauren Chapin and Elinor Donahue, got together in 1977 for “The Father Knows Best Reunion.”

While every "Father Knows Best" fan knows that the family lived in the town of Springfield (no specified state, though apparently Midwestern), fewer know the address — 607 South Maple Street. Or that Jim Anderson was manager of General Insurance Co.

"FKB" became so associated with the "typical" American family that in 1959 the U.S. Treasury Department commissioned a special episode to promote its savings-bond drive among churches, schools and civic groups. Titled "24 Hours in Tyrant Land," it depicted the Anderson children attempting to cope with living under a dictatorship. It was never shown on television.

Robert Young won two Emmy awards (in 1957 and 1958) and Jane Wyatt won three (1958, 1959 and 1960) for their roles on the show. The series also garnered a Best Direction Emmy (by Peter Tewksbury) in 1959.

Two "FKB" reunion specials have been aired: "Father Knows Best: The Father Knows Best Reunion" in May 1977 and "Father Knows Best: Home for the Holidays" the following December.

While most sitcoms were filmed with three cameras in front of a studio audience — a practice pioneered by "I Love Lucy" — "FKB" was filmed movie-style, with one camera and no audience.

Thirteen episodes of the series have disappeared, two originals and 11 "flashback" shows. Presumably the distributors decided that flashbacks would not work well in rerun syndication and disposed of them.

In recent years there has been talk of a big-screen "Father Knows Best" movie, but so far it has not gotten beyond talk. Tim Allen has been mentioned for the title role.

Young died in 1998 at age 91. Before he moved on to play "Marcus Welby, M.D.," he starred for a year (1961-62) in "Window on Main Street," a conceptually intriguing but unsuccessful sitcom in which a man moves back to his hometown and views the passing scene from a hotel. Ironically, though cast so long in roles as a rock-solid, dependable patriarch, he confessed publicly that for a long time he struggled with alcoholism and depression, which led to a suicide attempt.

Jane Wyatt, who is 93, went on to act in dozens of television movies, dramas and sitcoms, well into her 80s.

Elinor Donahue, 67, likewise went on to further television success. Her acting resume is one of the longest in television, and includes roles as Tony Randall and then Andy Griffith's girlfriends on their series, as well as "Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman" and scores of other productions.

Billy Gray, 66, who had had numerous film roles before "FKB" (most notably in "The Day the Earth Stood Still"), found only a few parts in television and movies afterward, and his acting career languished. In 1998 he settled a libel suit he brought against film critic Leonard Maltin for wrongly labeling him a drug addict and pusher.

Lauren Chapin, 59, did not have an acting career after "FKB." Various sources say her life came apart in the succeeding years, bringing her many troubles, though her own Web site, www.laurenknowsbest.com, does not mention any of it and says she works as an entertainment manager and ordained evangelist.