The classic characters of 1950s television sitcoms endure in our hearts and memories – and thanks to syndication, on our TV sets as well. Sometimes it feels good to look back at those idyllic days of long ago, when every family was perfect … at least according to the television. Join us as we remember Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Donna Reed and more of our favorite 1950s sitcom stars.
Lucille Ball (1911 – 1989) and Desi Arnaz (1917 – 1986)
With “I LOVE LUCY,” Lucille Ball (1911 – 1989) and Desi Arnaz (1917 – 1986) wrote the book on television. As the married stars of their own TV sitcom, “I Love Lucy,” they broke taboos: they were one of television’s first bicultural couples and they openly acknowledged Ball’s pregnancy, even incorporating it into the show’s storyline. Together they pioneered a new paradigm for television production and distribution, and built an empire in the process.
LUCILLE BALL (1911 – 1989)
LUCILLE BALL starred as a ditzy housewife LUCY RICARDO who had dreams of stardom in the groundbreaking sitcom “I Love Lucy.” She was a queen of comedy, noted for her impeccable timing.
DESI ARNAZ (1917 – 1986)
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (Getty Images/CBS)
When DESI ARNAZ came to the U.S., a 16-year-old boy fleeing Cuba with his family, television was just a glimmer in the public’s eye. Fourteen years later, Arnaz would become one of TV’s top innovators, pushing its boundaries and helping define the still-new medium.
WILLIAM FRAWLEY (1887 – 1966)
WILLIAM FRAWLEY (1887 – 1966) played to perfection landlord and building supervisor FRED MERTZ in “I Love Lucy.” Frawley was nominated for an Emmy five times for the role.
VIVIAN VANCE (1909 – 1979)
Lucille Ball and VIVIAN VANCE (1909 – 1979) didn’t immediately click as friends. In fact, Ball was reluctant to cast Vance on “I Love Lucy” – she was looking for an older, frumpier woman to play her neighbor. But Desi Arnaz had seen Vance’s work onstage and was convinced he had found the right actress for the job. As it turned out, the chemistry between the two women was brilliant.
“LEAVE IT TO BEAVER”
“LEAVE IT TO BEAVER” introduced us to the Cleavers, the classic 1950s suburban family. Unlike other sitcoms of the era, “Leave it to Beaver” focused on the lives of the children, Wally and the Beaver.
BARBARA BILLINGSLEY (1915 – 2010)
HUGH BEAUMONT (1909 – 1982)
“THE HONEYMOONERS” was one of early television’s most enduring shows, still making us laugh more than half a century after it originally aired. Starring JACKIE GLEASON, ART CARNEY, AUDREY MEADOWS, and JOYCE RANDOLPH, the TV show set the standard for generations of sitcoms to come.
JACKIE GLEASON (1916 – 1987)
“The Honeymooners” is one of the best-remembered TV shows of the 1950s, even though it aired for just a single season. And RALPH KRAMDEN has become synonymous with the actor who played him. JACKIE GLEASON (1916 – 1987) developed the character on his variety show, “The Jackie Gleason Show,” where Kramden and his friend Norton evolved for a few years before breaking out on their own.
ART CARNEY (1918 – 2003)
Dressed in a ratty T-shirt, vest and beat-up fedora, ED NORTON as played by ART CARNEY (1918 – 2003) was socially awkward and always hungry. Friends said Carney and Norton shared some traits: He was known to eat several helpings of dinner and dessert and was extremely shy despite his exuberant trademark outburst – “Va va va voom!”
AUDREY MEADOWS (1922 – 1996)
AUDREY MEADOWS (1922 – 1996) was an Emmy Award-winning actress on the classic sitcom “The Honeymooners” as well as a keen businesswoman at a time when women were often barred from the boardroom. She was the first female director of the First National Bank of Denver, and was deeply involved in day-to-day operations of Continental Airlines as an advisory director.
ETHEL WATERS (1896 – 1977)
ETHEL WATERS (1896 – 1977) portrayed the title character in “BEULAH,” the first sitcom to star an African-American actress. Beulah served as a cook and housekeeper for the Henderson family. Waters reportedly left the series because she felt the scripts were degrading to African-Americans.
JEAN HAGEN (1923 – 1977), DANNY THOMAS (1912 – 1991), RUSTY HAMER (1947 – 1990), and SHERRY JACKSON
“MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY” starred JEAN HAGEN (1923 – 1977), DANNY THOMAS (1912 – 1991), RUSTY HAMER (1947 – 1990), and SHERRY JACKSON as the Williams family. Dad Danny was a comedian and nightclub entertainer who mostly left mom Margaret to deal with the children.
OZZIE NELSON (1906 – 1975), HARRIET NELSON (1909 – 1994), DAVID NELSON (1936 – 2011) and RICKY NELSON (1940 – 1985)
CARL BETZ (1921 – 1978) and DONNA REED (1921 – 1986)
CARL BETZ (1921 – 1978) and DONNA REED (1921 – 1986) starred as Dr. Alex Stone and Donna Stone on “The Donna Reed Show.” The Stones were one of the most perfect television families.
DONNA REED (1921 – 1986)
In “The Donna Reed Show,” DONNA REED starred as Donna Stone, an upper-middle-class housewife and the quintessential TV mom. As improbably perfect as Donna Reed’s character was, she was the mother that so many viewers dreamed of having or being.
EVE ARDEN (1908 – 1990)
Debuting as a radio program in 1948, “OUR MISS BROOKS” brought listeners into the world of a funny and well-loved high school teacher. Played by EVE ARDEN (1908 – 1990), Miss Brooks was sarcastic, confident, chronically underpaid but highly valued by students and friends
GALE STORM (1922 – 2009)
Singer and actress GALE STORM (1922 – 2009) made a splash acting on screens big and small, and had a successful recording career, too. She portrayed cruise director Susanna Pomeroy in “THE GALE STORM SHOW.”
ROBERT YOUNG (1907 – 1998) and JANE WYATT (1910 – 2006)
JOHN FORSYTHE (1918 – 2010)
SAMMEE TONG (1901 – 1964)
SAMMEE TONG (1901 – 1964) portrayed valet Peter Tong in “Bachelor Father,” a role he reportedly enjoyed. Tong died by suicide at age 63.