You may not have heard that Jane Wyatt died last month at age 96. You may not even know who Jane Wyatt was. But her passing, especially coupled with a startling new statistic from the U.S. Census Bureau, is noteworthy.
Jane Wyatt was an actress -- not a big star, never an ingénue, certainly not controversial. Like many American actors, she toiled in obscurity until a talent scout saw her perform in summer-stock theatre in Massachusetts. Before long she was an accomplished, admired actress on Broadway. And over time, she would act in several outstanding movies and television shows, including the "Star Trek" series, in which she played the mother of the pointy-eared Vulcan crew member Mr. Spock.
But Jane Wyatt is lastingly remembered for her role as Margaret Anderson, suburban mother of three and, as one obituary put it, "the good wife of a good man" in the TV program "Father Knows Best." This show, and especially Margaret, the supportive housewife, epitomized the so-called "perfect family" of the 1950s that contrasted so starkly to the hippie counterculture "do your own thing" era that would follow.
Jane Wyatt's death ironically coincided with the announcement from the Census Bureau that for the first time in the nation's recorded history, fewer than half of American households -- 49.7 percent to be exact -- include a married couple. A majority are now made up of single individuals, including widows and widowers, as well as same-sex couples.
Such households would have been quite a curiosity in the make-believe little Midwest town of Springfield, where television's "perfect family" lived half a century ago on "Father Knows Best."