Mar 18, 2023

Beefcake Dads of 1950s Sitcoms

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a fad of nuclear family sitcoms, set in small town Mayfields, with a pipe-smoking Dad, a Mom who did housework in high heels, groovy teenagers, and wise-cracking preteens.  They actually weren't very popular at the time; adults preferred Westerns, swinging detectives, and musical-variety shows.  But the first generation of Boomers remembers getting their first glimpses of what family life was like -- or what they thought it should be like -- from the nuclear family sitcoms.

They generally identified with and/or mooned over the teenage boys: the muscular physiques of Bud (Billy Gray) of Father Knows Best and Wally (Tony Dow) of Leave it to Beaver, the blatant bulges of Ricky and David Nelson (Ozzie and Harriet), the teen idol cuteness of Jeff (Paul Petersen) of Donna Reed.  But there's a lot to be said for the dads, too.

Unfortunately, they weren't always as gay-friendly as their tv sons.

1. Born in 1906, bandleader Ozzie Nelson and his wife, former dancer Harriet, started The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet on the radio in 1944. They transitioned to television in 1952, and lasted until 1966, making Ozzie and Harriet the longest-running fictional program on radio/tv.  Still not satisfied, he tried a spin-off, Ozzie's Girls, in 1976 (in which Ozzie takes in three college girls as boarders).

Ozzie and Harriet had many gay friends in real life, although no openly gay characters appeared on their show (that would have been impossible in the 1950s).

2. Robert Young (here apparently informing us of his size) was not only less than adequate physically, he was homophobic.

After his tenure on Father Knows Best ended, he starred in Marcus Welby, M.D., one of the most homophobic tv series of the 1970s.  In one episode, Dr. Welby diagnoses a man with "homosexual tendencies," but assures him that with the proper counseling, he can overcome his affliction.  In another, he treats a gay pedophile, with the implication that all gay men are pedophiles.  Gay activists protested, but the network -- and Dr. Welby -- wouldn't budge.

3. Born in 1909, Hugh Beaumont started out as a minister, but moved into acting during World War II.  Although a devout Methodist, he played his share of scoundrels, in Apology for Murder (1945) and The Blue Dahlia (1946), plus hard-boiled detective Mike Shayne.  Leave It to Beaver was meant to be a change of pace, but he was so typecast as Ward Cleaver that he took only a few roles afterwards, and ended up retiring to grow Christmas trees.

No data on whether he was a gay ally or not, but apparently his tv wife, Barbara Billingsley, was nonchalant about gay people.

4. The youngest of the 1950s sitcom Dads, ex-football star Carl Betz was only 36 when he was cast as Dr. Alex Stone, husband of the practically-perfect Donna Reed.  He had been making the rounds of tv adventure series, with guest parts on The Big Story, Waterfront, Sheriff of Colchise, Panic!, and Perry Mason, and he continued to be a sought-after performer throughout his life.

While he was playing the titular lawyer in Judd for the Defense (1967-69), one of his clients was a father who thinks that his son's friend is "recruiting" him into the "homosexual lifestyle."  Judd assures him that there's no cause for believing such a scandalous rumor.


  1. Are you sure some of the kids didn't watch those sitcoms? I always had this image of Baby Boomers, at least white ones, as having this, well, naïve image of the 50s. As one would expect: Children don't know much beyond their own lives. Out of sight, out of mind.

    TV dads of my time weren't exactly gay-friendly either, of course. Never too overtly on a sitcom, other than Al Bundy looking up a customer's dress and getting a surprise. Bart had to write a Dear John letter to Mrs Krabapple after Bart catfished her, and Homer kept adding "PS I am gay" to the letter.

    1. The first generation of Baby Boomers (1945-55) watched them, since there was one tv in the house and three channels, so everybody pretty much watched everything. But I'm in the second generation (1955-65). By the time I was old enough to remember watching tv, the nuclear family sitcoms were gone or doddering with age, replaced by "my secret" sitcoms like "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie"

  2. HOW did you leave out Chuck Connors???

    1. Chuck Connors starred in "The Rifleman," a Western, not a sitcom.

  3. Yes I know its not a sit com but Brian Kelly was one hot tv dad on "Flipper" - and he had lots of excuses to take off his shirt

  4. Boomer you missed the most anti gay of the Marcus Welby episodes "The Outrage" in which a teenager is raped by one of his high school teachers. The boy requires surgery because of the injuries- the teacher rapist ends up in prison

    1. Sorry, but I never actually watched that show -- not a fan of medical dramas -- so I was just going by what I remember from gay history books. Maybe "The Outrage" is the one about the gay pedophile?

    2. Yes its about the boy getting raped- it was interesting to watch because they go out of their way to make the villain not seem like" a gay man- it was more about how the parents handled the situation. "The Other Martin Loring" is the episode about the closeted married man who Dr Welby actually suggest is not really gay and all he needs is therapy which has dated badly- anyone curious can see both episodes on You Tube


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