Loyal viewers are familiar with those stalwart TV dads like Cliff Huxtable and Ward Cleaver. But in honor of Father's Day, we thought we'd salute some of the lesser-known, unsung TV patres familias who have been overshadowed by those with better syndication deals.
1. The Single Dad Who Wasn't Meant to Be
Eight is Enough was based on the writings of newspaper columnist Tom Braden. Dick Van Patten was cast as the patriarch of the Bradford family. The series was supposed to be a typical mom-dad-kids nuclear family comedy/drama, but Diana Hyland, who was cast as wife Joan Bradford, was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy after filming just four episodes. She never returned to the show, and her death was written into the show. Scripts were quickly re-written and Van Patten did an admirable job of playing a single dad raising eight children (none of whom looked like they could be remotely related to one another). The Powers That Be eventually decided that the Bradford family needed a mother figure, so Tom married Abby, who'd been written into the series as his son's tutor.
2. The Dad Who Was Inspired by the Show
The Courtship of Eddie's Father was based on a 1963 film. In the TV version, Bill Bixby played Mr. Eddie's Father (as he was always addressed by Mrs. Livingston, his Japanese housekeeper). He was a widower raising a young son (Brandon Cruz), and each episode featured some serious dad-and-son bonding time, when the pair would wander the beach or play in the park and ponder life's minutiae. It was all very crunchy granola parenting which was never practiced by any dads in my neighborhood"¦for that matter, none of the fathers on my block regularly sported wind-blown hair, bell bottom slacks and chest-revealing shirts. In real life, Bixby was so impressed with Cruz that he longed to have a family of his own. He eventually married and had a son, Christopher, on whom he doted. Tragically, Christopher was only six years old when he died of cardiac arrest brought on by acute epiglottitis. Bixby and Cruz remained close until Bixby's passed away in 1993.
3. The Dad Who Kept It Cool
When it comes to TV dads, was there any more tolerant than Steven Keaton? Remember his reaction on an episode of Family Ties upon returning home from a weekend vacation to find that Alex had turned the family home into a hotel for rabid college sports fans during his absence: "Parents are conditioned to put up with a few minor accidents when they leave their children home alone. A broken vase, spilled milk on the rug. There was a kangaroo... in my living room." (Spoken in the measured, even tones that Michael Gross made Steven's trademark.) Sure, there were times when he'd occasionally lose his cool (such as during a game of Scrabble, when he insisted that the family not only accept Zoquo "“ Greek for water sports - as a word, but must also use it in casual conversation), but overall he was the understanding, level-headed dad that we all wished we'd had.
4. The Dad Who Irritated His Sons
Ben Cartwright was nothing if not tenacious. The Bonanza patriarch went through wives like modern men go through tube socks. Luckily, despite Indian attacks and horse riding accidents, each of his wives lasted long enough to provide him with a son. Adam, Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright helped their devoted Pa to manage the half-million acre ranch called The Ponderosa. Behind the scenes, all was not well with the eldest of the Cartwright clan. Pernell Roberts, who played Adam, was tired of wearing his toupee, but since he was only 13 years younger than Lorne Greene, the producers wanted him to look as young as possible. Roberts also bristled at having to refer to Greene as "Pa," saying that a 34-year-old university-educated son would never address his father thusly. Roberts departed the show after six seasons, but Bonanza carried on for an additional eight without him.
5. The Dad Who Was a Cad Off Set
Charles Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie fame was the ideal dad to a generation of late 70s kids whose fathers were spending more time at work than at home. He was a hardscrabble bootstraps kind of guy who never had two nickels to rub together yet he always had time to spend with his ever-expanding family. It was Landon's hope that Little House fans would ignore the tabloid reports of his canoodling with on-set makeup artist Cindy Clerico (who would eventually become his third wife) and focus on the solid family values expressed on his show instead.
So who is your favorite TV dad? We left quite a few off our list, from Hank Hill to Doggie Daddy, because we were sort of on the fence about them and wanted our loyal readers to chime in with their votes.
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