TV Sitcoms of the 1950’s

Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s.  Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every week.

Welcome to 50’s study hall.  In this section, I will be publishing a series of lists that will allow readers to use them as a reference for the given topic. Please feel free to message me if any of the info needs correcting, or if you have anything to add.  I hope this section will help readers to find lots of Fifties Facts in one single place!

Today we’ll be studying sitcom television shows of the 1950’s era. The 50’s was the decade that TV began to take off. For the first time, practically every household had a television set. From dramas to comedies, to variety shows and westerns, television was apart of the new American dream.

Let’s have a look at the classic sitcoms from the Fabulous Fifties.

“The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet”

The Nelsons, yo.
The Nelson Family in 1952: Clockwise from top: David, Ricky, Ozzie and Harriet.

Years aired: 1952-1966 | Starring: Ozzie, Harriet, David and Ricky Nelson

This show was so popular, it began in 1952 and ran through half of the 1960’s. The Nelson family consisted of Ozzie, his perfect wife, Harriet and their two sons David and Ricky. However, the Nelsons were not just actors, they were a real family. When you think about it, in some ways, this was the world’s very first Reality Show! The episodes were scripted, but the relationships of the people were real. In the mid-1950s, Ozzie and Harriet could be seen on ABC on Wednesday evenings at 9pm.

“Date With The Angels”

Bill Williams and Betty White in Date With The Angels

Years aired: 1957-1958 | Starring: Betty White and Bill Williams

“Date With The Angels” was a short-lived sitcom that followed the lives of the Angels, a newly wed couple: Vicki (Betty White) and Gus (Bill Williams). A unique twist for the show was Vicki’s daydreaming sequences. However, this idea was scrapped by the show’s sponsor (Chrysler Plymouth) because they felt that this format would confuse the audience. Betty White stated that the show was just a run-of-the-mill sit com without the dream sequence aspect, and she was happy when the show was canceled so she could move on to something else.

“Dear Phoebe”

Years aired: 1954-1955 | Starring: Peter Lawford, Marcia Henderson, Charles Lane, Joe Corey

“Dear Phoebe” was a sitcom about a man named Bill Hastings (Peter Lawford) who worked at a newspaper. He would letters in an advice column, pretending to be “Phoebe”. The show lasted one season (32 episodes) and aired opposite the far more popular “Our Miss Brooks”.

“Father Knows Best”

Cast of Father Knows Best

Years aired: 1954-1960 |Starring: Robert Young, Jane Wyatt, Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin

This show originally began as a radio program that eventually came to television. It starred Robert Young as Jim Anderson, the model father of three who worked as a General Manager of an insurance company. Jim was married to his perfect housewife, Margaret (Jane Wyatt). As the title suggests, Jim always had the best advice for his family. There was Betty, the oldest daughter, also known as “Princess” (played by Elinor Donahue), Bud (aka James Anderson Jr., played by Billy Gray) and little Kathy Anderson (aka “Kitten”, played by Lauren Chapin) The Andersons were the idyllic family that could do no wrong. In the 203 episodes that aired, Americans were not only entertained by The Andersons, but given a set of role models to emulate as well.

“The Honeymooners”

L-R: Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph

Years aired: 1955-1956 | Starring: Jackie Gleason, Audrey Meadows, Art Carney, Joyce Randolph

Although very short-lived, “The Honeymooners” is probably the second-most recognized of sitcoms from the ’50’s. Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) was a gruff bus driver with a wife named Alice and a best friend named Norton. Norton had a wife named Trixie. The show mainly focused on the four main characters in the Kramden’s modest Brooklyn apartment. Ralph was always scheming on how to become rich quickly, but inevitably his ideas would fail. He’d argue with Alice, who always forgave him at the end of the show, and so it was on to the next.

“I Love Lucy”

Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, Desi Arnaz and William Frawley

Years aired: 1952-1957 | Starring: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley

Pretty much everyone has heard of Lucille Ball, America’s Favorite Funny Lady of the Fifties. Although the color of Lucy’s iconic bright red hair could not be seen on TV, her hysterical antics made Americans laugh for 5 years. Lucy Ricardo was a feisty housewife married to Cuban hubby Ricky (Desi Arnaz), and had a best friend named Ethel (Vivian Vance). Lucy and Ethel would find themselves in ridiculous, but funny (at least to the audience) situations and then later Lucy would have to explain herself to Ricky. “I Love Lucy” is probably the most memorable television show of the 1950’s, and has been enjoyed in re-runs for decades.

“Leave It To Beaver”

Tony Dow, Barbara Billingsley, Hugh Beaumont and Jerry Mathers

Years aired: 1957-1963 | Starring: Hugh Beaumont, Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers as The Beaver

Few sitcoms have become as classic as “Leave It To Beaver”, the show about a boy named Theodore who went by the nickname “Beaver”. For six years, audiences followed the adventures of Beaver (Jerry Mathers) and his older brother Wally (Tony Dow) who were guided by the do-good morals of their parents: Ward (Hugh Beaumont) and June (Barbara Billingsley). Although four years of its run technically happened in the 1960’s, “Leave It To Beaver” is still synonymous with the 1950’s and is often cited as an example of such.

“The Life of Riley”

The Life of Riley title

Years aired: 1953-1958|Starring: William Bendix, Tom D’Andrea, Marjorie Reynolds, Lugene Sanders, Wesley Morgan

This show began as a radio program in the 1940’s, then a film in 1949, and finally a television series begining in 1953. On the TV series, Chester A. Riley (William Bendix) was a bumbling family man who found himself in comedic predicaments often aided by his best friend Jim Gillis (Tom D’Andrea). Chester Riley’s family consisted of his wife Peg, daughter Babs and son, Junior.

“Life With Elizabeth”

Life With Elizabeth (DVD cover)

Years aired: 1953-1955 | Starring: Betty White and Del Moore

This early sitcom was the television debut of America’s Senior Sweetheart, Betty White! Elizabeth was an independent-thinking housewife married to a man named Alvin (Del Moore). Each episode was about 8 minutes long and referred to as an “incident”. Elizabeth would do things such as burn dinner, borrow Alvin’s car without asking (and have a fender-bender) or confuse things in the office while answering phones. Every incident would end with the announcer asking “Elizabeth, aren’t you ashamed?” and Elizabeth would start to nod, then smile devilishly and shake her head no.

“Make Room For Daddy” aka “The Danny Thomas Show”

Cast of The Danny Thomas Show

Years aired: 1953-1964 | Starring: Danny Thomas, Jean Hagan (later Marjorie Lord)

This popular and now classic show introduced America to the beloved personality of Danny Thomas. It followed the life of Danny Williams (Thomas) who worked as a comedian at the Copacabana. Danny was married to Margaret (Jean Hagan) and they had two children, Terry and Rusty. By season three, Jean Hagan left the show after issues with Danny Thomas and by season four, the show was re-named “The Danny Thomas Show”. The absence of the character of Margaret was explained by her sudden death, since the topic of divorce was unacceptable in those days. As the series continued, Danny met and married the character, Kathy (Marjorie Lord), who had a daughter of her own.

“Our Miss Brooks”

Robert Rockwell and Eve Arden in Our Miss Brooks

Years aired: 1952-1956 | Starring Eve Arden, Gale Gordon, Don Porter and Robert Rockwell

“Our Miss Brooks” was a show about a pretty high school English teacher named Connie Brooks (Eve Arden). It was adapted to television from the original radio show. The plot revolved around Miss Brooks’ relationships with her students and colleagues. As part of the on-going plot, the biology teacher Mr. Boynton (Robert Rockwell) was romantically interested in Connie. Eve Arden’s portrayal of Connie Brooks is considered a groundbreaking female role because she was neither a ditzy girl nor a typical housewife type.

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