Chicago-born Robert Young carried his inbred "never give up" work ethic into his training at the Pasadena Playhouse. After a few movie-extra roles, he was signed by MGM to play a bit part as Helen Hayes' son in 1931's Sin of Madelon Claudet. At the request of MGM head Irving Thalberg, Young's role was expanded during shooting, thus the young actor was launched on the road to stardom (his first-released film was the Charlie Chan epic Black Camel , which he made while on loan to Fox Studios). Young appeared in as many as nine films per year in the 1930s, usually showing up in bon vivant roles. Alfred Hitchcock sensed a darker side to Young's ebullient nature, and accordingly cast the actor as a likeable American who turns out to be a cold-blooded spy in 1936's The Secret Agent. Some of Young's best film work was in the 1940s, with such roles as the facially disfigured war veteran in The Enchanted Cottage (1945) and the no-good philanderer in They Won't Believe Me (1947). In 1949, Young launched the radio sitcom Father Knows Best, starring as insurance salesman/paterfamilias Jim Anderson (it was his third weekly radio series). The series' title was originally ironic in that Anderson was perhaps one of the most stupidly stubborn of radio dads. By the time Father Knows Best became a TV series in 1954, Young had refined his Jim Anderson characterization into the soul of sagacity. Young became a millionaire thanks to his part-ownership of Father Knows Best, which, despite a shaky beginning, ran successfully until 1960 (less popular was his 1961 TV dramedy Window on Main Street, which barely lasted a full season). His second successful series was Marcus Welby, M.D. (1968-1973). Young's later TV work has included one-shot revivals of Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, and the well-received 1986 TV-movie Mercy or Murder, in which Young essayed the role of a real-life pensioner who killed his wife rather than allow her to endure a painful, lingering illness. Young passed away from respiratory failure at his Westlake Village, CA, home at the age of 91.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Took up acting to overcome his shyness.
- Married to his high-school sweetheart for 61 years.
- Film debut was the 1931 Charlie Chan mystery The Black Camel.
- Was the only performer on the "Father Knows Best" radio show to later star in the television series.
- First actor to win Emmys for a leading role in both comedy (Father Knows Best) and drama (Marcus Welby, M.D.).
- Appeared in more than 100 movies.
- Named his Westlake Village, CA, home after his 1945 movie The Enchanted Cottage.