When TV’s Leave It To Beaver debuted in the fall of 1957, America met the Cleavers. Ward, the dad, wore a suit and tie, and the around-the-house wardrobe for mom June usually was a dress, high heels and pearls.
But the heartwarming misadventures of the littlest Cleaver, son Theodore (nicknamed Beaver), and his older brother, Wally, turned the show into one of America’s most beloved sitcoms of all time.
Leave It To Beaver, which ran through 1963, was different from other family comedies of the era. Its creators, Bob Mosher and Joe Connelly, told the stories from a child’s viewpoint, basing many of them from observations of their own kids.
Beaver and Wally were always finding themselves in humorous entanglements at home, at school, and in the Cleavers’ neighborhood of their fictional, Anywhere USA hometown of Mayfield. In every episode, the brothers would “learn a lesson,” like why it’s generally not a good idea to give yourself a haircut, how “making a face” in a school group photo can cause some major embarrassment later, or what can happen when your book report on The Three Musketeers is researched by watching the movie instead of reading the book.
Today, Jerry Mathers, who starred as Beaver, and Tony Dow, who was Wally, look back at the iconic television series with great affection.
“I think the main thing that made the show a classic is that the episodes were all from real life,” says Mathers, 62, now a national spokesperson for Partnership for Prescription Assistance and living in Valencia, Calif. “With Beaver, there were no ‘jokes,’ It was situation comedy with the situation coming from what happens to the characters. It was real.”
“I think it’s one of the few really truthful, honest shows that represents the late ’50s and early ’60s, and it also represents everything that’s good about the American family,” says Dow, 65, who lives in the Topanga Canyon area of Los Angeles County. “It’s so honest and so well written. It’s a family show that represents children. It’s a different way of looking at the world.”
Mark Dawidziak, TV critic for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, agrees. “One of the great messages of Leave It to Beaver is ‘Listen to your kids.’ Why were June and Ward such great parents? Because they listened to their kids.”
Mathers worked in banking, real estate and theater until the show was revived from 1985 to 1989 as Still the Beaver on the Disney Channel and The New Leave It To Beaver on TBS. Dow directed other TV shows for about 20 years before becoming a sculptor. Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver), 94, is retired. Hugh Beaumont (Ward Cleaver) died of a heart attack at 73 in 1982. Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell), 67, retired after a career with the Los Angeles Police Department and manages rental properties.
Frank Bank (Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford), 68, is a stockbroker. Rusty Stevens (Larry Mondello), 61, became an insurance salesman. Stephen Talbot (Gilbert Bates), 61, produced documentaries for PBS’s Frontline. Stanley Fafara (Whitey Whitney), a graphic designer, died in 2003 at 54 of complications from surgery.
All 234 episodes of the show are collected in a new 37-DVD box set, Leave It To Beaver: The Complete Series.
“What Leave It To Beaver did was craft a family you wanted to visit every week, and be a part of that ongoing experience of watching Wally and Beaver grow up and grapple with life’s little challenges,” Dawidziak says. “And how these two loving, caring parents would help them do that.”