Hand color tinted photo of Robert Young
Robert George Young (February 22, 1907 – July 21, 1998) was an American actor, best known for his leading roles of Jim Anderson, the father of Father Knows Best (NBC and then CBS) and physician Marcus Welby in Marcus Welby, M.D. (ABC).
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Young was the son of an Irish immigrant father (Thomas E. Young) and an American mother (Margaret Fife). When Young was a child, the family moved to Seattle and then to Los Angeles where he attended Abraham Lincoln High School. After graduation, he studied and performed at the Pasadena Playhouse while working odd jobs and appearing in bit parts in silent films. While touring with a stock company production of The Ship, Young was discovered by an MGM talent scout and signed to a contract. He made his sound film debut for MGM in the 1931 Charlie Chan film Black Camel.
In spite of having a “tier B” status, he co-starred with some of the studio’s most illustrious actresses such as Margaret Sullavan, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Helen Hayes, Luise Rainer, and Helen Twelvetrees, among many others. Yet most of his assignments comprised B-movies, also known as programmers, which required a mere two to three weeks of shooting. Actors who were relegated to such a hectic schedule appeared, as Young did, in some six to eight movies per year.
As an MGM contract player, Young was resigned to the fate of most of his colleagues—to accept any film assigned to him or risk being placed on suspension—and many actors on suspension were prohibited from earning a salary from any endeavor at all (even those unrelated to the film industry). In 1936, MGM summarily loaned Young to Gaumont-British for two films; the first was directed by Alfred Hitchcock with the other co-starring Jessie Matthews, and while there he surmised that his employers intended to terminate his contract. But he was mistaken.
He unexpectedly received one of his most rewarding roles late in his MGM career, in H.M. Pulham, Esq., featuring one of Hedy Lamarr’s rarely lauded performances, and once remarked that he was assigned only those roles which Robert Montgomery and other A-list actors had rejected.
After his contract at MGM ended, Young starred in light comedies as well as in trenchant dramas for studios such as 20th Century Fox, United Artists, and RKO. From 1943, Young assayed more challenging roles in the films, Claudia, The Enchanted Cottage, They Won’t Believe Me, The Second Woman, and Crossfire, among many others. His portrayal of unsympathetic characters in several of these latter films — which seldom occurred in his MGM pictures — was applauded by numerous reviewers.
In spite of a propitious beginning as a freelance actor without the nurturing of a major studio, Young’s career began an incremental and imperceptible decline. Still starring as a leading man in the late 1940s and early 1950s but in mediocre films, he subsequently disappeared from the silver screen, only to reappear several years later on a much smaller one. Young appeared in 100 movies in a film career that spanned from 1931 to 1952.
Young is best known for his role in Father Knows Best (1949-1954 on radio, 1954-1960 on television), for which he and his co-star, Jane Wyatt, won several Emmy Awards. Young then created, produced, and starred with Ford Rainey and Constance Moore in the nostalgia CBS comedy series Window on Main Street (1961–1962) which only lasted six months.
Young later became famous for Marcus Welby, M.D. (1969–1976), which co-starred a young James Brolin, for which he won an Emmy for best leading actor in a drama series. Young became so well identified with his wise doctor persona that he became famous as the commercial spokesman for an aspirin product, saying, “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV”, while wearing a lab coat. He continued making television commercials until the late 1980s.
Young was married to Betty Henderson from 1933 until her death in 1994. They had four daughters.
Despite the fact that he portrayed happy, well-adjusted characters, Young suffered from depression and alcoholism, which contributed to his suicide attempt in 1991. Afterwards he spoke candidly about his problems in an effort to encourage people to seek help with their own. The Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health, an affiliate of Trinity Regional Health System, located in Rock Island, Illinois, is a comprehensive community mental health center. It is named after Young for his work with passage of the 708 Illinois Tax Referendum.
Young died at his home in Westlake Village, California at 91 from respiratory failure. He was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, in Glendale, California. Young has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for film at 6933 Hollywood Blvd and one for television at 6358.