The Dennis O’Keefe Show

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1959-1960

DAD: Hal Towne (Dennis O’Keefe ) / Widower

DAD’S JOB: Newspaper columnist

KIDS: Randy (Rickey Kelman) (10)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead. Unknown cause.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Sarge (Hope Emerson) / Housekeeper

Classic elements of TV Single Dad shows abound in this series — Dad, a newspaper columnist (watch how often THAT career pops up in TV Single Dad shows) has a bulldog of a housekeeper, aptly named “Sarge”, to watch his precocious son. Meanwhile, DAD’S newsy entertainment column lets him rub elbows and stuff with movie stars and supermodels. Lucky for him mom’s dead, huh?

Dudley Do-Right

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1959-1961(ABC), 1969-1970(CBS)

DAD: Inspector Ray K. Fenwick (voice of Paul Frees) / Widower

DAD’S JOB: Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman

KIDS: Nell (voice of June Foray) (18-ish)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead – Unknown cause

STAND-IN “MOM”: Nobody

Part of Jay Ward’s Rocky and his Friends show, Inspector Fenwick suffered like any TV Single Dad, worrying over his naive daughter Nell and his even-more-naive subordinate future-son-in-law, Dudley Do-Right. Cartoon TV Single Dads always seem to have to worry more, with their daughters constantly being tied up by mustachioed villians like the
archtypical Snidely Whiplash.

Dudley wound up with his own show, a decade after Rocky‘s premiere, on CBS.

Trivia: watch for Hans Conreid (the voice of Snidely Whiplash) popping up in other TV Single Dad shows as the decades spin by. Toward the end of Mr. Conreid’s life, a fan asked him to “do a Snidely Whiplash voice.” Hans Conreid replied, “DO a voice? I don’t DO a Snidely Whiplash voice – I’ve always thought they knew my true nature and wrote the part around me!”


Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1959-73

DAD: Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) / Widower x 3

DAD’S JOB: Rancher

KIDS: Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocher), Little Joe (Michael Landon)(all in their 20’s and

WHERE’S MOM?: Each of the three Moms died in childbirth – really! (or NOT — read the

Viewer Responses, below)…

STAND-IN “MOM”: Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung)

As Danny DeVito said in the movie Tin Men, this show is about “a 50-year-old man with three 49-year-old sons.” Domestic conflict was solved the same way each week – the boys would go into town and get into a big fight at the saloon.

Strangely enough, Lorne Greene would play another TV Single Dad on television more than 17 years after the start of Bonanza, in the TV show BattlestaR Galactica.

Here’s a reminiscence of the show by”I seem to recall an episode in which time flashes back to the wagon trail days, with Lorne capped in a dark toupee, and his wife (who was played by Inga Swenson of “Benson” fame, I believe) had just given birth to Hoss.

She said she wanted to name him Hoss because it meant “big friendly man” or something in her native tongue (I suppose she was Swedish – the typecast seems to have stuck). Which is strange, considering it seemed more likely to be a nickname for “horse” since he was big.

Here’s some more details provided by alert viewer David K. Anderson:

Adam’s mother was the daughter of a New England whaling captain. Ben was a mate on his father-in-law’s ship until his wife died giving birth to Adam. Ben decided to leave whaling and head West with his infant son. He made it to New Orleans where he met and married Little Joe’s mother. She was a French beauty who also died in childbirth. Ben decided to head farther west taking his two sons with him. Hoss’s mother was an Indian maiden (possibly played by Inga Swenson; I don’t remember). Once again, she died in childbirth and Ben headed farther west to Nevada territory to found the Ponderosa and raise his motherless boys.

That should settle the controversy, right? Wrong. Libby Moore ( in
her version of the Cartwright Wives deaths…

“[Ben’s] first wife, Adam’s mother, did die this way [in childbirth], but Hoss’ mother died in an Indian attack when Hoss was a baby and Joe’s mother died when he was a small child, from a fall from her horse.”

Had enough? here’s some more thoughts on the Cartwright birth history from Alert Viewer Shirley Thompson….

Regarding your “alert viewer” David K. Anderson… He lists the order of the sons birth as Adam, Little Joe and then Hoss. Sorry, but anyone who is “alert” knws that it was Adam, Hoss, THEN Little Joe. Libby Moore is correct from what I can gather.

But wait! There’s MORE from Valerie Ellis, yet another Alert Bonanza Viewer:

Libby is right about the various ways the ill-fated Cartwright mothers met their end: Adam’s mom, childbirth; Hoss’ mom, Indian arrow; Little Joe’s mom, fall from horse. And all kidding aside about the age of Pa vs. the boys, Lorne Greene really was only about a dozen years older than Pernell Roberts (No. 1 son Adam), who’s 9 years older than Michael Landon (baby brother Little Joe). Trust us. We know this stuff. You probably got other emails from Bonanza Internet folks because someone passed on your URL. And I know way too much about ’60s television and need to get a life.

(There’s no such THING as knowing WAY too much about ’60s television, Valerie.)

And then Whitney Miller wrote in to say the following:

I really like Bonanza, and the 3 people that sent in their little say so are all wrong. I’m sending one that you may want to put on your site and you may not want to:

Ben Cartwright first met and married Adam’s mother, Elizabeth. She died right after Adam was born and Ben went westward with Adam where he met and married Inger Stevenson (a Swedish lady) when Adam was 6. Inger did not die while giving birth to her son, Eric, she died in an Indian attack a little while later. Eric Haus Cartwright was called Hoss because it meant “big friendly man” (which he did grow up to be) and because when Ben took Inger west from away from her brother, it was his one wish that they would call their first (and only!) son Hoss. Ben then took his 2 sons and went on where he met Marie, whom he fell in love with and married (I don’t know how old Adam and Hoss were, but I think they were about 12 and 6). She had Joseph Francis Cartwright (whom they called Little Joe, or Joe later on in the series), but she did not die until he was 6 years old (does 6 seem to be a lucky number with the Cartwrights or what!?). Ben then took his 3 motherless sons away.

Now, I’m prepared to argue this point. I watch Bonanza about every day, and I know for a fact that Hoss is older than Joe (1 person says differently), etc…..

Want some more? Alert Viewer Jeff James writes in:

just seen the episode where Ben met Inga somewhere in Illinois…..Inga’s Brother Günter…got called ‘Hoss’ by someone in a saloon. The old wino who called Gunter this said it was an Old Appalachian Term meaning ‘Big Friendly Man’. Gunter told Ben he was a Hoss and what it meant after he had Married Inga just before they left to GO WEST.

In the ‘Wagon Trail’ episode he said that if it was a boy would then it would be named after Inga’s Father ‘Eric’ and that the Third boy after his father ‘Joseph’. At Hoss birth they gave the Child both names and Ben said to Adam “Let’s see which one sticks” Inga was killed by an arrow soon after in an Indian attack at Ash Hollow.

Jefferson Drum

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1958-1959

DAD: Jefferson Drum (Jeff Richards) / Widower

DAD’S JOB: Newspaper Editor

KIDS: Joey Drum (Eugene Martin)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead – unknown how

STAND-IN “MOM”: Unknown

Is it me, or don’t you think this western format was done to death in the late fifties? Jefferson Drum (how’s THAT for a name?) edited the town of Jubilee’s paper, and fought bad guys in print and with pistols. Of course, there’s always a bunch of episodes where somebody kidnapped Joey, and Dad had to yadda yadda yadda… Yawn. I think the writers for Jefferson Drum watched The Rifleman and just changed the character names.

The Ed Wynn Show

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1958-1959

DAD: John Beamer (Ed Wynn ) / Widower-Grandfather

DAD’S JOB: Retired?

KIDS: Laurie (Jacklyn O’Donnell) (18), Midge (Sherry Alberoni) (9)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead – so is Dad.

STAND-IN “MOM”: John Beamer — the grandfather.

Here’s a great twist on the “Not the Dad-Single Dad Show” motif (like Bachelor Father) — in this case, the “Dad” is the grandfather — Ed Wynn’s character, John Beamer. John’s children died, leaving him with the duty of raising teenaged Laurie and elementary-school-aged Midge.

The Rifleman

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1958-63

DAD: Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) / Widower

DAD’S JOB: Rifleman / Homesteader

KIDS: Mark (Johnny Crawford)(12)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead for quite some time – unknown.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Miss Milly Scott (Joan Taylor)

If you’re over 60, this is probably going to be one of the first five TV shows you will name if someone asks you about TV Single Dads.

Take The Andy Griffith Show, remove the comedic parts, roll it back about 100 years, and you’ve pretty much got the environment of The Rifleman. This show develops another standard motif of the TV Single Dad shows: the “mom” character who can’t really quite marry the TV Dad. This character-love interest-tension device pops up even in shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation (think about Lt. Worf and Troi!)

Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1955-57

DAD: Captain Michael Gallant (Buster Crabbe) / Single Guy

DAD’S JOB: Legionnaire

KIDS: Cuffy Sanders (Cullen Crabbe)(11)

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead – – so’s Dad – he’s an orphan.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Sergeant Du Val (Gilles Queant)

Somewhat like Rin-Tin-Tin, only subtract the dog and add the desert.

I’m pretty sure this is a first: Buster Crabbe’s foster child was played by his real-life son Cullen.

This show was shot in North Africa, but owing to the fall of the French colonies during the same time period, the series moved to Italy in the final season.

A tip of the Lorne Greene Memorial 10-Gallon Hat to Ted Dec, who pointed out this little-reviewed series. Thanks, Ted!

Bachelor Father

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1957-62

DAD: Bentley Gregg (John Forsythe) / Single (!)

DAD’S JOB: Lawyer

KIDS: Kelly (Noreen Corcoran)(14)

WHERE’S MOM?: Mom and Dad both dead. Bentley was Kelly’s parents’ attorney and executor – wound up with wardship!

STAND-IN “MOM”: Peter Tong (Sammee Tong)

Should have been called “Suddenly Dad;” this show was a retake on the My Little Margie scenario, except Uncle Bentley was a less competent father than Margie’s dad. Sammee Tong entered into legend the character of the wisecracking, foreign-born housekeeper, an icon that would recur in shows such as Bonanza, Family Affair, et al.

Update: Alert Viewer Karen Collins chimes in with notes on a nexus-point for John Forsythe – “Interesting to note: Linda Evans, in her first role (I believe), played Kelly’s best friend on Bachelor Father, and later played John Forsythe’s wife on Dynasty.” Fascinating, as Linda Evans also co-starred on a famous TV Single Mom show, too – The Big Valley. Thanks for the info, Karen!

Circus Boy

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1956(NBC)-57(ABC)

DAD: Big Tim Champion (Robert Lowery) / Single (!)
DAD’S JOB: Circus Owner

KIDS: Corky (Mickey Braddock {Mickey Dolenz})(10)

WHERE’S MOM?: Mom and Dad both dead – killed in a high-wire act.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Unknown

Consider the role of disastrous high-wire acts in the history of TV Single Dads. In this show, Corky the Circus Boy loses his acrobatic parents in a trapeze mishap, and winds up sharing adventures with Big Tim Champion.  A decade after this show premiered, Youthful Ward Dick Grayson would lose his acrobatic parents in a similar manner, and wind up with millionaire Bruce Wayne as a guardian on Batman.

A mandatory “Did You Know” for this show is that young Corky was played by the young Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees fame.

The Great Gildersleeve

Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1955


DAD: Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve (Willard Waterman) / Single

DAD’S JOB: Water Commissioner of Summerfield

KID: Marjorie Forrester(Stephanie Griffith), Leroy Forrester(Ronald Keith) / Niece & Nephew

WHERE’S MOM?: Dead. So’s Dad.

STAND-IN “MOM”: Birdie Lee Coggins (Lillian Randolph) / Housekeeper

Technically, this show started before WWII — but it was a *radio* show when it began in 1941. Gildersleeve was a spin-off character of the Fibber McGee & Molly radio show, and was originally portrayed by Harold Peary. The premise of the spin-off was that Gildersleeve’s niece and nephew were orphaned, and needed their Uncle Throckmorton to move to Summerfield.

In the early 50’s, Peary was replaced by Waterman in the title role. The series moved to television mid-decade, but suffered from being mostly radio scripts with insufficient on-screen action. Waterman later re-created the role for solo appearances on The Lucy Show.

Big tip of the Porter Ricks Memorial Scuba Mask to Alert Viewer Gwnachman for the heads-up on this series. Thanks!