Happy 110th Birthday, Robert Young!

Robert Young, born 110 years ago today in Chicago, Illinois, is best remembered nowadays for his television roles as a wise and affable dad on Father Knows Best and a kindly doctor on Marcus Welby, M.D., but Young also enjoyed a successful movie career in the 1930s and ’40s (he even had extra roles and bit parts in silent pictures in the late ’20s). Here are 10 RY Did-You-Knows:

  • Young’s father was an Irish immigrant who moved his family from the Midwest first to Seattle and then to Los Angeles before abandoning the family when Robert was 10 years old. Young would go on to attend Abraham Lincoln High School.
  • After high school, Young studied and performed at the famed Pasadena Playhouse before touring with a stock production of a play called The Ship.
  • Young was discovered by an M-G-M talent scout and made his talkie debut in 1931 in a Charlie Chan picture called Black Camel. Young appeared in more than 100 pictures over the next two decades.
  • Young was occasionally given the kind of role so frequently assigned to Franchot Tone and Robert Montgomery–spoiled young men from well-to-do families, but Young, while a reliable performer, was considered less appealing as a leading man than those two actors. “He has no sex appeal,” Louis B. Mayer is reported to have said of Young.
  • Young and his wife, Betty, met when he was 17 and she was 14. They would be married for more than 60 years and had four daughters.
  • Young tended to play amiable all-American types, but by the mid-1940s, after his contract with M-G-M came to an end, he was given a number of opportunities to play darker characters, even appearing in a handful of pictures that are today considered film noir classics.
  • As his movie career wound down in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, Young began to work more frequently in radio. In fact, it was on radio that he first assayed the role of insurance salesman Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best, which ran from 1949–54 on radio and on television from 1954-60.
  • Young was the only cast member to be carried over from the radio version of Father Knows Best to the television series.
  • During the 1960s, Young did occasional guest shots on television series and appeared in TV movies, including Marcus Welby, M.D.: A Matter of Humanities, which spawned a popular series by that same name (without the subtitle) that ran util 1976.
  • Young struggled with depression for more than four decades (and with alcoholism for more than 30 years) before conquering both in his later years.

Happy birthday, Robert Young, wherever you may be!

Robert Young

Goodbye to another glorious gal: Barbara Billingsley

The roles with which Barbara Billingsley is most closely associated place her outside the time frame on which we usually focus here at Cladrite Radio, but she had small roles in a number of pictures in the 1940s, and that’s good enough for us.

Billingsley, who died yesterday at age 94, played June Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver, and with her passing we feel almost as if we’ve lost a second mother. A good portion of our childhood was spent watching afternoon reruns of Leave It to Beaver (if we ever saw the show during its primetime run on ABC, we were awfully young and don’t recall it), and we’ve often told friends that our childhood was not unlike the Beav’s. That claim tends to inspire skepticism, but it’s true. Mom and Dad had the same calm, reasoned approach to parenting as the Cleavers did, and our little corner of suburbia really was almost as idyllic (or, in any case, so it seemed to us) as Mayfield, U.S.A.

The show stands up today. It’s often lumped with Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and other, blander shows of the era, but we’re of the opinion that it’s a much better show than any of those programs, accurately capturing a certain essence of childhood as it once was (and, to a certain degree, remains today) in a way those other shows didn’t.

Our mom didn’t wear pearls, as did Billingsley’s June (she wore them to hide a cleft or depression at her neckline with which she wasn’t pleased), and she showed a bit more spunk and verve than did June, but Karen and June would’ve gotten along just fine if they’d ever met at a PTA meeting.

To her credit, Billingsley kept working long after Leave It to Beaver ended, and she was willing to poke fun at her image with the memorable “I speak jive” scene in Airplane!. She was working as recently as 2003, at the age of 87.

We met Jerry “the Beav” Mathers a few years ago, and he spoke very highly of both Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont, who played Ward Cleaver, saying they were, to him, like a second set of loving and supportive parents. We can imagine that he and Tony Dow, who played brother Wally on the show, feel the loss of Ms. Billingsley very strongly today.

Frankly, it feels a bit as if we’ve all lost a mom.

R.I.P., Barbara. Thanks for the memories. Please give Hugh our best.