Mr. TV: In Mom’s Honor

With Mother’s Day this Sunday, I thought I would dedicate this week’s column to the grand matriarchs of the small screen who are the real brains behind any classic TV family.

So, let’s begin with those perfect TV moms who wore pearls and high heels to sweep the floor and fix a meal in the 1950s and ’60s: June Cleaver of Leave It to Beaver, Margaret Anderson of Father Knows Best, Kathy Williams of The Danny Thomas Show and, of course, Donna Stone of The Donna Reed Show.

They were calm, cool and collected–the warm and loving companions to their sometimes befuddled TV hubbys (even if they never shared the same bed on TV) and the understanding moms to a breed of TV kids who always seemed to be in trouble. Would your mother have been as understanding if you were ‘Beaver’ Cleaver’

Lucille Ball’s Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy would do anything for her Little Ricky. She threw a birthday party in his honor while they toured Europe without him. She snuck into his hospital room when he had his tonsils taken out. And she didn’t even bat an eye when the mischievous little dickens hid all the chickens in their Connecticut home after bug-eyed daddy Ricky threatened to send them packing.

The 1960s also gave us a pair of TV mothers unlike anyone we had ever seen before: Morticia Addams on The Addams Family and Lily Munster on The Munsters. They were creepy and they were kooky…but they were just like the more traditional TV moms, too. They dedicated themselves to small-screen tots Pugsley and Wednesday and little Eddie. (Lily even put up with Spot, Eddie’s fire-breathing dragon of a pet at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.)

Another TV mom we all came to know and love in that era of TV innocence was nose-twitching Samantha Stephens of Bewitched, who gave up her witchcraft to raise children Tabitha and Adam in a ‘normal’ environment. And Carol Brady of The Brady Bunch proved that not all stepmothers were evil. Lazy, yes; Carol couldn’t even handle her perfect brood alone for one episode while wisecracking maid Alice took a vacation.

But she was always there, cup of coffee in hand, for all six Brady kids, troubled Jan included. Ditto for musical Mama Shirley of The Partridge Family who never seemed to worry that her kids were missing school while on tour (no wonder Danny Bonaduce has, um, problems), foxy Julia Baker of Julia, Mrs. ‘C’ on Happy Days and those animated favorites, Wilma and Betty of The Flintstones and Jane Jetson of The Jetsons. Yabba-dabba-doo!

Some ’70s TV mothers like Olivia Walton of The Waltons, Caroline Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie and Florida Evans of Good Times had to scrimp and save to make ends meet. Times were tough, but love was all around in these happy homes. And there was a ‘new girl in town with a brand new style’ named Alice Hyatt who was one of many single mothers on television. (Others included Ann Romano on One Day at a Time, Angela Bower of Who’s the Boss’ and abrasive Cheers barmaid Carla Tortelli LeBec, who proved that not every TV mom need be sweet as sugar.)

That said, petite Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls still treated sixtysomething daughter Dorothy like a kid. And cantankerous Thelma Harper, the mother from hell first on an ongoing series of sketches on The Carol Burnett Show and then on spinoff Mama’s Family, had the strongest pair on lungs on TV. But like Roseanne Conner and Malcolm’s mom Lois, even the gruffest of exteriors couldn’t hide the love these women felt for their kids. Did you hear that, Eunice’

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