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'Father Knows Best' Producer Dies

November 28, 1985|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Eugene B. Rodney, who helped conceptualize and then produced television's classic "Father Knows Best" series 30 years ago, died Tuesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 87 and had a heart condition.

Originally a publicist for East Coast theater owners and stage producers (he at one time worked for George M. Cohan), Rodney moved west when a theater chain he was managing was sold. In Hollywood he became an associate producer at Reliance Pictures and was involved in the filming of such classics as "The Last of the Mohicans," "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "Red Salute" with Robert Young in 1935.

The latter film marked the beginning of a lifelong affiliation with Young and led to the Oct. 3, 1954, television debut of "Father Knows Best," possibly the only television series to be taken off the air at the height of its popularity (for tax purposes, publicist David Levy said).

Derived from Radio Program

The series, which ran until April, 1963, and was ranked sixth nationally when it went into reruns, was adapted from the radio program of the same name. Young moved over from the radio cast to become TV's Jim Anderson, head of a mythical clan that included Jane Wyatt as his wife and Elinor Donahue, Billy Gray and Lauren Chapin as their children. The series, in which Young was a kindly, profound arbiter presiding over a series of familial peccadilloes, was not immediately popular, but when CBS announced in 1955 that it was being canceled, a flood of letters praising the Anderson family for its unfettered wholesomeness kept it on the air.

At its demise the series had won six Emmys and a loyal following around the world.

"The thing that scares you," said Rodney in a 1961 interview with The Times, "is the way people accept as gospel what the program tries to say. . . . We could have become an advice-to-the-lovelorn agency."

And did father always know best? the long-married producer was asked.

"I have two children, Bob Young has four and our writers had 17 among them. . . . We tried to show that the modern father must use a velvet glove, not a bass drum in dealing with his children. . . . If he does, he has a right to the throne. . . ."

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