If there is ever a Super bowl competition for television fathers, Ward Cleaver should be the coach.
He wasn't the smartest father, nor the best-looking, nor the wisest - certainly not the funniest - but he was the most understanding man who ever accepted the daunting mantle of video fatherhood. Ozzie Nelson, Jim Anderson of "Father Knows Best", Steve Douglas of "My Three Sons", Danny Thomas, or Dr. Alex Stone of the "Donna Reed Show" were all good family captains, but Ward Cleaver was better able to steer this sons through the rocky shoals of growing up because he remembered so precisely how easily the rowboat of boyhood could turn into the Titanic.
Ward was many peopleís ideal pater familias. He always had time for his kids. He cared about their problems and always had a ready solution. He taught them how to do things. He never lost his temper. He meted out punishment fairly. He was a good bread winner, a loving husband and still gave the kids some slack to grow on - and he did it all without having to loosen his tie.
One of the reasons that Ward is such a dedicated father is that he had such a "real boy" childhood. Although there are a few references to growing up in Mayfield and Shaker Heights, Ward most frequently refers to his happy childhood on this familyís farm. According to Ward, his father was a very solid, sober citizen, with both feet on the ground." Ward was named after his father, but the only reference to this is his library card, which read "Ward Cleaver, Jr." Wardís grandfather was a Civil Ware hero. He also had an older brother and sister and several uncles on his fatherís side.
When he wasn'tít doing his farm chores or walking to and from school, Ward lead a Tom Sawyer-like outdoors existence. He rode horses bareback, ice skated, played ball and made kites. He also went to horror movies and "Our Gang" comedies, and had his own subscription to Weird Tales. He got into fights with his siblings and even hinted at getting into more than his fair share of scrapes as a playful youth. His father would listen to excuses but believed firmly in the old-fashioned tool shed psychology for training his children. Sparing the rod on his boys, Ward did not quite follow in hiís fatherís footsteps.
Ward worked his way through State University where he played on the basketball team and was elected president of his fraternity. In World War II he served as an engineer in the Seabees.
What does Ward Cleaver do at work? Consider these clues:
It would come as no surprise if there were men walking around today with "June" tattooed on their arms instead of "Mom." For millions of viewers June Evelyn Broson Cleaver has grown to become the quintessential American mother. If the Garden of Eden was starting anew as a suburb, June would be the ideal Ever - pretty, tireless wife, mother and homemaker.
To be sure, June considers herself a fulfilled woman according to the most traditionally conservative American view of womanhood: a girl goes to school to find a good provider, gets married, sets up his home, bears his children and his problems at the sacrifice of any greater ambition of her own. She is the homebody extraordinaire, allowed to fly from the next only long enough to do the family shopping, attend school and church meetings and visit relatives and friends. Even her hobbies are home oriented - like crocheting and making curtains.
Like her husband, Juneís childhood days are only sketchily filled in by the scripts. She grew up in East S. Louis, attended boarding school and spent summers with her maiden Aunt Martha. Thus she comes by her very eastern finishing school view of life honestly, striving to carry out proud - though undefined - Broson family traditions. Her greatest honor came at summer camp where she won a blue bathing cap in a swimming meet. Her reading tended toward Little Women and Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall. By her teen years June had arrived in the Mayfield area where she met Ward Cleaver when he was sixteen. They both attended State. He was definitely the best student of the two. She had little work experience, although she types competently and she did volunteer at the USO during World Ware II.
The kitchen is the central core of June Cleaverís life. Although a spotless range and oven have replaced the hearth, June still prepares two elaborate hot meals each day, three on weekends with tender loving care. Her coffeepot is ever ready for her husband and thereís milk, cookies, fruit and often cake for her boys when they come home from school.
A cheery, toothy grin bursting forth from a dimpled, freckled, bright-eyed face beneath a green baseball cap - thatís Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver. Look up "All-American Little Boy" in the dictionary and they should have Beaverís picture, or maybe just his dirty finger prints.
The youngest Cleaver boy makes himself as busy as his animal namesake, but instead of building dams this Beaver spends his time messing things up. Beaver is fresh, naughty, bright, and cute as a button. Itís probably the latter trait which is his most outstanding. With this squeaky voice, dirty hands and wide-eyed, friendly curiosity Beaver is the kind of kid people like just for doing nothing.
Of course, to his family heís a bit of a handful. There are always scrapes his parents have to get him out of and trouble that he drags his brother into. He can be a crybaby or an irritating pest but heís always cute.
Beaverís actually a very ordinary boy. Heís a fair student, with above average intelligence but only average drive and ambition. Heíd much rather be liked by his peers that be considered a big-shot. Like the other Cleaver men heís too decent and trusting for his rotten friends who usually take advantage of him or goad him into trouble. He tries hard to absorb the protective moral jelly his parents keep dispensing but he usually applies it either too late or too weakly to protect himself from the fires of temptation. His greatest pleasures in life are getting dirty, collecting junk and, as he gets older, baseball. His greatest dislikes are school and girls.
As he slouches toward his teen years Beaver becomes even more awkward and perhaps more cowering than cute, but he never gives up for too long his capacity to wish things better and muddle through. Naive, apprehensive, sometimes downright stupid - Beaver can be all of these and more. Heís a lightning rod for trouble since heís a little more unlucky and a lot more trusting than the rest of us.
Without question, Edward Clark Haskell is one of televisionís best-loved, most often quoted wise guys. He probably ranks right beside Phil Silverís Sgt. Bilko for blue ribbon obnoxiousness.
Eddie and Wally have been best friends since the second grade, which should qualify Wally for a purple heart, and definitely proves that even a rat can have a best friend. For, as they said about Errol Flynn, you could always count on Eddie - to let you down.
Eddieís two trademarks are his unctuous politeness to adults and his weasly, sharp-tongued meanness to everybody else. He is a model white-collar delinquent, a creep who goads people into trouble rather than perpetrating the crime himself. He was a born shirker, not worker, and a strain on any parent, especially his own long-suffering mother and father, Agnes and George. Mary Ellen Rogerís father refers to him as an "over-stimulated adolescent"; but really, when it comes to Eddie, when youíve said "creep," youíve said it all.
"All your life youíve been kind of a pleasant slob," Eddie says to Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford. He is both bigger and dumber than his friends, older and less mature. Beaver refers to Eddie and Lumpy (a mind-boggling combo by anyoneís estimation) as "Creeps Incorporated." In his own words, Lumpy admits, "Iím a mess."
He is older than Wally, and in the early episodes, he is the first bully that the Cleaver boys must deal with. Pretty soon his true cowardly, lumbering self shows through, and they see him for a kind of harmless buffoon. As he continues to "swell up," everybody gets a good laugh at Lumpyís expense, but as long as heís getting his three squares and a few snacks in-between and his father is not yelling at him to much, heís a happy enough boob, sporting a silly sort of dodoís grin. When things are going poorly, which is most of the time, he still whines for his "Daddy."
Lumpyís two prized possessions are his comic-book collection and his jalopy. His favorite preoccupation is getting fed, and he can more through eats like a thresher through wheat. His schoolwork is so poor that he is left back in high school, prompting Mr. Hyatt, his homeroom teacher, to remark that Lumpy is "making sophomore class his permanent home." Fred handicaps his college chances by trying to determine which instrument the state band is in short supply of, which is how Lumpy switches from clarinet to tuba, but what saves his enormous hide is his football guard-playing ability, which earns him a scholarship (which he almost loses because of his flunking grades).
Larry Modello, red-haired, freckle-faced, whiny-voiced, potbellied perpetual loser, is also Beaverís best friend. Called "Frankie" early on, Larry never, ever looks really happy, but he comes closest when heís got something working in his jaws. Heís most often remembered as the kid who is always digging something out of his pocket to eat, usually an apple. In fact, he probably eats more apples than Mr. Ed.
Larryís father is always "away on business," often in Cincinnati, for some unexplained reason, and it is left to Mrs. Modello to raise Larry and his older sister. This task proves far too great a strain on his mother, and as a result, she is a very nervous, worried woman who canít wait for her husband to get home to "get to the bottom of things." To hear Larry tell it, his fatherís way of getting to the bottom of things is via direct pressure to Larryís bottom.
The sheer brazen obnoxiousness of Eddie Haskell is burned into most of our memories, but as a junior wise guy, Gilbert Grover Bates has never quite gotten his due. Gilbert is Beaverís "Eddie," which is really too bad for Beaver, because Gilbert is generally a quieter, sneakier, and meaner kind of rat than the cockier Eddie, so that Beaver is usually less prepared for the trouble that inevitably comes when he follows Gilbertís goading.
Gilbert truly comes into his full fresh-mouthed glory during the fourth season when Larry Modnello leaves Mayfield. Even Wally has some trouble betting back Gilbertís snappy answers for everything. Of course, Eddie Haskell, who is not about to cede any of his territory to a mere upstart, capitalizes on Gilbertís distinguishing physical characteristic, his big ears, and put him in his place by calling him "hydrant head."
Whitey can be very Hubertlike; Ward describes him as "always talking like heís been frightened by something." Heís a diminutive slip of a boy with a high nasal voice and hair that just might have turned blond-white from nervousness.
Sometimes, particularly in the first years, Whitey is almost as cute and as niave as Beaver. Quietly and without any fuss being made by the guys, Whitey gets the best grades of any boy in his class. This doesnít stop him from breaking out in hives for the whole month of August. In his own subtle way, Whitey can be a pretty crafty conniver, and he will always be remembered as the wise guy who got Beaver to climb up onto the soup billboard.
When Gilbert isnít around, it is up to Richard to get Beaver into trouble, although sometimes the two terrors team up for a double whammy. Richard is the youngest sibling in his family, and so, like Gilbert, he has become "wised up" out of necessity, always trying to get some advantage by figuring out an "angle."
A favorite Richardism is to remind Beaver that heís Beaverís best friend when he canít think of a better way to get his good buddy to do what he wants. Ward observes that Richard is "the only friend of Beaverís who doesnít sound afraid of adults," and Richard is also a boy who got a "D" in citizenship for hitting a girl on school property.
Tooey Brown is most noticeable because of his Coke-bottle-think eyeglasses. Heís been playing the clarinet since the fifth grade and look it, but heís managed to find a broken down motor scooter that he and Wally putter over.
Chester Anderson is another grammar school pal of Wallyís a good-looking, levelheaded boy who is very similar to Wally in appearance and demeanor and is one of the few boys who will stand up to Lumpy. Like Wally, a natural captain of any sandlot baseball team.
Harry Henderson - filled Larryís enormous role as a fat foil for Beaver in a few episodes. A whiny, bespectacled boy who is probably best recalled for posing as the poster boy for Beaverís painting of Paul Revere.
As one of the most popular young men in Mayfield High, Wally hung around with a lot of guys, some of whom happened to be girls. There were many girls that he dated, but the young lady who stood out above the crowd of high school cuties was pert Mary Ellen Rogers. Her family lives around the corner from the Cleavers and since the eighth grade she was one of the first girls to come stalking Wally, using Beaver, ginger ale and donuts to get he man to take her to a school dance. Although she never seemed to make it out to the big dates like the prom, Wally gives her his lettermanís sweater - at leave for a while - and if heís going out on a Friday or Saturday night there was a good chance Mary Ellen was the lucky girl.
Judy Hensler is the Grant Avenue Grammar School Goody Two Shoes, the know-it-all squealer who always has one squinty eye peeled for offenders to report to the teacher. If Miss Landers forgets about the spelling test, you can count on Judy to raise her hand to remind her; if Beaver forgets to do his assignment, Judy will make sure the whole class knows about his lapse.
Fortified by hair braids so stiff they look like theyíre tied with iron and a perpetually sour expression, Judy is fond of throwing her good grades back in the face of her classmates and of warning them with self-appointed authority that they are going to get in trouble "fore sure." Even the normally unflappably sweet Miss Landers occasionally snaps at Judy when she goes overboard. No one would argue with Larryís assessment that "Judyís the meanest girl in the whole school."
As Beaver worked his way through Grant Avenue School, blond Penny Woods entered the classroom scene to more-or-less take over Judyís role as the girl most likely to make life miserable. With her blond hair and stuck-up face, Penny could be even more of a little female terror than Miss Hensler. But she could also be a little nicer, and as Beaver matured, the two natural adversaries actually lowered their verbal sparring gloves once in a while and become friendly - but just for a while.
Benjie Bellamy - the neighborhood kid who talks to ants. While he frequently seems lost in his own little world, he touches down once or twice o get Beaver into trouble, as when he pours a paint bucket over himself and gets locked in the Cleaver bathroom.
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