Cult TV - A Viewer Guide to the Shows American can't Live Without
Article by John Javna, published in 1985
The "golly-gee" world of Leave It to Beaver is vintage white-bread America: our ‘50s fantasies were preserved forever in this series. Ward, June, Wally, and Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver lived in suburban Utopia, in a perfectly arranged household where Dad worked, Mom cooked, and the kids were as wholesome as Wheaties. It seemed similar to other 50 sitcoms, but Beaver had an important difference. In this show, TV looked at children as complete human beings, with their own needs, and personalities, independent of their parent’. What’s more, those parents were imperfect, just like in the real world. Father didn’t always know best on Beaver; though Ward’s advice to this boys sounded wise, it often went awry. But the boys took this in stride, and he remained their number one adviser. June wasn’t big in the wisdom department; she was too busy in the kitchen, fixing cookies and milk. Beaver’s life was centered on his family. But it also encompassed the world outside. He and Wally hung out with Larry, Whitey, Gilbert, and Lumpy. And Eddie, the two-faced jerk who kept this show from turning into pure molasses. Viewers got to know Beaver’s teachers at Grant Avenue Elementary and local characters like Gus, the old coot at the fire station. Mayfield was neat, self enclosed society where people where naturally nice (not counting Eddie) and problems were never too painful - the kind of America we believed in at Beaver’s age and still dream about.
Half-hour sitcom. CBS/ABC. First aired Oct 4th, 1957. Last show: Sept 12, 1963. Never ranked in the Top 25 shows of a year.
Milestones: The first family sitcom that deal with life from a kid’s point of view. To many fans, it’s the ultimate portrayal of life in white, suburban America in the 50’s. Background: As more American families joined the baby boom, sitcoms featuring young nuclear families came into their own. In 1957, Danny Thomas and Father Knows Best cracked the top 25 for the first time. In 1958, The Donna Reed Show debuted, and the Real McCoys was in the Top 10. In 1959, Dennis the Menace was #16. Beaver, though not as successful in the ratings, was part of the family trend. First: The first sitcom named after a baby boomer; the first toilet ever shown on TV
Jerry Mathers as Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver, the typically all-American kid of the ‘50s. Mathers began his career as a "pin-up" boy - he was "discovered" at age 2 by a department store manager, who used his photo on the store’s Xmas calendar. At age 2½ (1954), he mad his TV Debut on the Ed Wynn Show, and in 1955, he acted in his first move - Alfred Hitchcock’s the Trouble with Harry. He appeared in 2 more films before Beaver premiered in 1957.
Auditioning for Beaver (age 8), he was so fidgety that the producers asked him what was the trouble. He answered: "I gotta go to my scout meeting." And that won him the job - they liked his honesty and "little boy" qualities! Today he lives in Southern California with his 2cd wife and three kids.
Tony Dow, as Wally Cleaver, Beaver’s older brother and pal. Despite growing up in Hollywood, Dow had no acting aspirations - he became an actor by a classic fluke: a friend was auditioning for a role in a now-forgotten pilot called Johnny Wildlife, and Tony went along to provide moral support. Instead of his friend getting the part, Tony did - which led directly to the role of Wally!
Right after Beaver, Dow (then 18) became a regular in the daytime soap opera, Never Too Young.
He left acting temporarily while he tried other careers, but returned to it in the 70’s doing TV guest sports…and an important McDonald’s commercial (he married the woman who cast him in it). But no matter what part he ad (even killers), people said he was "just like Wally" - so he went back to Mayfield in Still the Beaver.
Hugh Beaumont as Ward Cleaver, the boys’ Dad, an accountant, The pious routine was no act - he was a Methodist lay minister throughout his long acting career; he most notable pre-Beaver role was as film detective Shane. He directed 25 episodes of Beaver. In 1982, at 72, he died of a heart attack.
Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver, the Perfect Mom, whose cure for most boyhood ills was found in a cookie jar. Pre-Beaver, she appeared in "more B-picture detective stories than I care to count," over 100 TV dramas, and a TV series. But she still felt she’d been picked as June because the producers felt sorry for her (her husband had just died.)
Ken Osmond as Eddie Haskell, Wally’s best friend and TV’s favorite two-faced wise-guy. In 1970, he joined the L.A.P.D., and was decorated for valor when he was shot (saved by a bullet-proof vest). He acted only occasionally after Beaver, but he wasn’t forgotten - he was widely rumored to be both porn star Johnny "Wad" Holmes and rock star Alice Cooper.
Frank Bank as Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford, the rotund buffoon of Wally’s gang. He became a successful stockbroker in Palm Springs.
Robert "Rusty" Stevens as Larry Mondello, the Beave’s best friend. He was later an insurance salesman.
Richard Beacon as Fred Rutherford, Ward’s office crony and friend. Play Mel Cooley on Dick Van Dyke; died in 1985.
Steven Talbot as Gilbert Bates, Beaver’s Eddie Haskell-like friend. The son of actor Lyle Talbot, he’s an award-winning film-maker.
Jeri Vale as Judy Hessler, Beaver’s female nemesis. She became a hair-dresser.
Richard Correll as Richard Rickover, another of Beaver’s creepy friends.
Stanley Fafara as Whitey Whitney
Sue Randall as Miss Landers.
Diane Brewster as Miss Canfield, Beaver’s first teacher.
Burt Mustin as Gus, the Fireman.
Madge Kennedy as Aunt Martha.
Edgar Buchanan as Uncle Billy.
Lines to Listen For:
Beaver at the Movies:
Four films to watch for in Mayfield:
Facts for Fanatics: Every true fan should know:
Ward: "Say, Wally…uh…about this trip tomorrow. Now, you mother’s not very sold on it to being with, so…uh…no horsing around…and take especially good care of the Beaver, huh?"
Wally: "Well sure, Dad. I’ll take good care of the Beaver. He’s not just my brother, he’s a pretty good kid, too."
Beaver: "Wally, are there any Indians in Mayfield?"
Wally: "Why? Do you want one of them to scalp you before Dad gets home?"
Beaver: "Y’know, Dad, reading’s not so bad when you get used to it."
Ward: "That’s right, Beaver, and as you go through life, you’ll find you can learn just about everything from reading: history, science, all the great thoughts anyone ever had."
Beaver: "yea, that’s right, Dad. And y’know something? If you couldn’t’ read, you couldn’t look up what was on television, either."
Big Boys Don’t Cry
After the pilot, Beaver’s producers began searching for a new Ward. One say, Jerry Mathers was called in to read with Hugh Beaumont, an actor who’d befriended him when they co-starred in a religious film. In one scene, tears had been required, but Jerry just couldn’t do it. Beaumont gave the boy some invaluable advice: "Cover your face with your hands and laugh - it’ll sound the same." It worked. So now, here was the man who’d been so kind to him, reading for the part of his father. When Jerry got home that night, he prayed that Beaumont would be given the part of Ward. And…you know what happened next.
June Cleaver caused a nation of TV-viewing kids to wonder why their moms didn’t wear pearls while doing the laundry, too. The secret: Barbara Billingsley wore them in each episode not for aesthetics or even character development, but because the ex-model had a very skinny neck.
After Beaver, Mosher and Connelly moved on to another family sitcom - The Munsters! Oddly enough, several Munster episodes re-worked Beaver plots, with child werewolf Eddie Munster filling in for the Beaver.
Don’t Look Back
Although Beaver is one of the most successful returns, syndicated in over 190 markets since its cancellation, Barbara Billingsley only saw the show about 6 times in the 20 years between the time it went off the air and the filming of Still the Beaver. One of the shows she caught in Singapore…dubbed in Chinese!
Two important events make Oct 4, 1957 an historic data to remember: on that day, both Leave It To Beaver and Russia’s first satellite, called Sputnik I, were launched.
But Don’t Flush It!
The first Beaver episode ever filmed, "Captain Jack," wasn’t the first one aired, because it was censored! It included scenes of Wally and Beaver keeping a pet alligator in their toilet tank, and showing a toilet on camera was against network policy. It was finally shown as the 4th episode.
20 years after America bade farewell to Mayfield, the front door of the Cleaver home opened again, with Still the Beaver, and updated special featuring much of the original case (Hugh Beaumont had died). Though it received the highest ratings in its slot, it was roundly panned by critics. America just wasn’t ready to deal with Wally’s impotence or Beaver’s two fresh kids and impending divorce. June’s fresh-backed cookies had given way to take-out Chinese dinners, and Eddie was being hounded by the IRS. Nonetheless, the Disney Cable Channel picked it up and made a series out of it - for a year. It was canceled in April, 1985.
The Origin of Leave It To Beaver
In 1957, The Danny Thomas show and Father Knows Best had become hits with stories about suburban families, told from an adult point of view. But Bob Mosher and Joe Connelly, who’d written together since 1942 (major credit: over 1500 Amos ‘n Andy TV and radio scripts) came up with a new concept for a TV show - a sitcom that centered on the kids, not the parents. They called the program Wally and Beaver and modeled the characters in it after their own children. The stories were based on real-life occurrences in their won households.
The pilot was filmed in 1957, with a slightly different family than the Cleavers we eventually came to know. Barbara Billingsley and Jerry Mathers were in it, but other actors played Wally and Ward. Even so, Mosher and Connelly got serious network interest in their proposed series and went ahead with it.
There were three major changes before it aired: they found a new Ward, a new Wally, and a new title. "They changed it," said Tony Dow, "because someone felt it sounded like a boy and his pet."
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