Father Knows Best was pictured as the perfect family during its run of 203 episodes from 1954 to 1963 on CBS and NBC. The show also ran during the days of old time radio with only an entirely different cast except for Young who also portrayed the father in the radio version.
Robert Young portrayed the father Jim Anderson while Jane Wyatt was his wife Margaret Anderson in the series. The children were played by Elinor Donahue who was Betty, Billy Gray played the role of Bud and Lauren Chapin portrayed Kathy.
They may have been close to perfect as a television family but there were some problems in real life for Young, Gray and Chapin.
Robert Young suffered from alchoholism and depression off screen and attempted suicide in 1991 before dying of respiratory failure in 1998 at the age of 91.
Jane Wyatt had a long and relatively healthy life and was married to investment banker Edgar Bethune Ward for 65 years before his death in 2000. She died of natural causes in 2006 at the age of 96.
Elinor Donahue was married to producer Harry Ackerman for 30 years. Ackerman produced Leave it to Beaver, Gidget, Donna Reed Show and Bewitched. She is currently married to contractor Louis Genevrino and has been married to him for 17 years. She is presently 72 years old.
She appeared in many television roles since leaving Father Knows Best including 12 appearances on the Andy Griffith Show as pharmacist Ellie Walker and played Nurse Hunnicut on Days of Our Lives for three years.
Billy Gray would encounter some problems with the law after leaving the show and was arrested for possession of marijuana and served time in jail for the offense. Even though he had no criminal record before or after his arrest he couldn’t land acting jobs for a few years once the word was out about his criminal past.
Gray had this to say about Father Knows Best:
"I think we were all well motivated, but what we did was run a hoax. Father Knows Best purported to be a reasonable facsimile of life. And the bad thing is that the model is so deceitful. ... If I could say anything to make up for all the years I lent myself to that kind of (bad language omitted), it would be: You know best."
He makes his living today as an inventor and is co-owner of BigRock Engineering. He will be 72 on January 13th.
Lauren Chapin who is now 64 experienced many problems after leaving the show and this article details how her life unraveled after her time on Father Knows Best:
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