If there were one show that captured the idea of the typical suburban family of the mid 20th century the best, it was Leave it to Beaver. The father would be home before dinner every night and Mother June would clean up in a dress and pearls. By episode’s end, Wally and Beaver would always learn a lesson. That is wholesomeness at its peak. Read on for lots of interesting facts about the swell show.
An American Classic
The iconic TV series reached immortal status and was one of the most popular comedies of its time. It has been referenced in many modern movies and TV shows throughout recent years, today which shows how iconic it truly was.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at some interesting facts about the show, and also see what the cast has been up to since the final episode.
Beaver Was Every Middle-Class Boy in America
The main character and focal point of the show was Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver. If you picture what the life of a boy from the middle class back in the 1950s and ’60s was like, The Beaver is who you can imagine. He had a gripe with girls his age in the earlier seasons but came to terms with that as the show went on.
Although he disliked younger girls, The Beav sure did have some crushes on a few of the older women in the show. These women included the likes of Miss Canfield and Miss Landers who were both schoolteachers. He was a curious and sometimes naïve boy and the show examined his adventures at school, in his neighborhood, and at home. It had other stars, such as the rest of his family members, but there is no doubt that he was the focus of this wildly popular show.
Jerry Mathers Got The Role Of “The Beaver” In A Creative Way
Sometimes keeping it real does not always get you where you need to be, but it can be helpful in some scenarios. The way Mathers got the gig was honest, as expected for a young kid, but if someone older might have attempted to pull off what he did, we’re not sure what would have happened. Now while Mathers had extensive acting experience in commercials and movies before being cast as the Beaver, that’s not necessarily why he got the role.
Show developers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher cast Mathers for good enough reasons. In one of his auditions, Mathers showed up in his Cub Scout uniform (he had a meeting right after) and said he would much rather be there than auditioning for this gig. His candidness was exactly what they were looking for and he was hired.
The Mall That Began It All
Mathers was discovered at the ripe age of two. While shopping with his mother in the Los Angeles area, he was spotted by a photographer who wanted to use him in a children’s clothing catalog. It would seem that this fateful day was the catalyst for a childhood full of commercials, movies, and TV. By the time he was five and cast for the role of The Beav, his resume was primed.
It isn’t easy being a young boy and going shopping with your mom, but it looks like this trip paid off in the best way. Also, being able to raise your resume at such a young age is crucial for landing big-time acting roles. It looks like his mom took the right steps in preparing him for the big leagues.
Tony Dow Had No Acting Experience Prior To This Show
Playing the big brother to The Beaver, Tony Dow did a great job acting throughout this series. Would you have guessed that this was his first lick of acting experience? What makes his performance even more impressive is that this was his first major acting role and he was actually discovered while working as a lifeguard. How is that for luck?
Dow must have had on a lifeguard shirt that said, “I am a great actor.” Whatever the case may be, there are not many other accounts of actors getting huge roles as their first roles with no acting experience to their name. From saving lives to showtime, Dow must have been pretty happy he chose to be a lifeguard in the first place.
Tony Dow Was A Diving Champion
In addition to never acting before Leave it to Beaver, and working as a lifeguard, Tony Dow was also a talented diver. Not only was he talented, he was among the best in the world for his age. During his youth, he was a champion in the Junior Olympics. Talent comes in all forms — especially for Dow apparently.
How convenient would it be if a junior Olympic champion was there to save you if you were to ever get caught drowning in the pool? Swimmers definitely had a reason to feel safer. And it makes sense that he never acted before, he was most likely too busy training for the Olympics. Diving looks like a tough event that also involves tons of talent. He most likely transferred his work ethic over to acting so that he could do well in it.
The Crew Kept Their Egos In Check
The writers/producers of Leave it to Beaver asked Mathers and Dow not to watch the show, for fear that the two young actors would get too full of themselves. “The producers, who were the writers, asked us not to watch it. They didn’t want us to get a big head,” Dow said. And so they didn’t watch it! A fabulous idea at the core of things.
Keeping them level headed and humble proved to be a great way to keep them on track, as they were already performing well. Like the saying goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. At the other end of the spectrum, it eliminated the chance for them to critique themselves and figure how they could make their acting better. It is a well-known fact if you watch yourself on film, you can point out things that could have done better and fix them on your own.
Barbara Billingsley Was Understanding of Misbehavior
Actor Barbara Billingsley not only had TV sons, she also had two sons at home. As a result, she was quite familiar with real life mischievousness and frequently asked the writers to make Beaver and Wally’s misbehavior a bit more dramatic so that her character’s angry reactions would be warranted. This is similar to Beaumont being a minister and being familiar with giving life lessons. The added experience most likely added to her acting prowess in her role which made for a better on-screen performance.
The acting sons probably felt the realness in her angry reactions whenever she would unleash upon them. Which makes her asking the writers to make the sons more mischievous a good thing for the series because viewers would probably feel the intensity of her parenting through the role as well. The producer said, “In scenes where she’s mad at the boys, she’s always coming over to us with the script and objecting. ‘I don’t see why June is so mad over what Beaver’s done.'”
TV Dad, Ward, Was Used To Teaching Life Lessons
Before taking the role as Ward Cleaver, Hugh Beaumont was an ordained minister for the Methodist Church. In fact, one of the reasons he got into show business in the first place was because he was not making enough money as a minister. It’s the job of the minister to instruct churchgoers every Sunday about life lessons. For hours at a time, you will get an earful about what is wrong and what is right to do in this thing we call life.
Before he fully pursued being a minister, he started doing radio and stage work, taking many different paths while on the road to becoming an actor. Radio and stage work is fairly related to acting but not completely. Being the role of a father does seem to fit perfectly for a former minister. You could say that Beaumont played his cards he was dealt and came out in a winning position.
He Actually Sort Of Resented The Show
As fatherly and loving as he seemed on the show, Hugh Beaumont may have had his qualms about being the father on Leave It To Beaver. The only reason he took on the role in the first place was to supplement the income he made from being an ordained minister. He commuted all the way from Minnesota to film, but after becoming a permanent fixture on the show, his family had to drive out to Los Angeles. On the way, his family got into a car accident that took the life of his mother-in-law, which is part of why he deeply regrets doing the show.
In addition to that, reports say that like many other Leave It To Beaver actors, Beaumont was typecast as well. He was also not too happy about having to play second fiddle to a couple of kids – Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow. While he didn’t love acting on the show too much, we’re sure that he harbored no resentment towards his castmates. They were a family, after all.
Hugh Beaumont Also Wrote And Directed Many Episodes
In addition to playing the patriarch of the Cleaver family, Hugh Beaumont also had a considerable role on the show behind the camera. He wrote and even directed a number of the different episodes that he also acted in, making him an extremely busy man. This is common practice for a slew of actors in the industry. In fact, it might become the common practice for all actors to be able to write and direct.
A list of actors who also are triple threats includes Spike Lee, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, Ben Affleck, Clint Eastwood, and Johnny Depp. That is a pretty impressive list to be a part of! One of the episodes Beaumont wrote was the retrospective episode “Family Scrapbook.” In this episode, once the mother June finds a scrapbook of the family while she is cleaning, she gathers the family in the living room and clips of past episodes are shown while everyone reminisces.
The Rare Child’s Point Of View
The show proved that their innovative ideas were a success. Sure you can choose to follow what is already effective and in popular demand, but when you do something out of the norm, that is when the true magic can occur. That is what Leave it to Beaver did and which is another reason why it probably did not turn out so well at the start of its career. CBS was not ready to take the leap of faith and ride out the wave.
The likely reason the show did so well and ran for so long was because of how different it was than most of the sitcoms of the time. Most other shows of the era told the story from the parents’ point of view, while Leave it to Beaver was told from the point of view of the children. Maybe parents thought it was a good show to see what their kids were thinking.
Eddie Haskell Was Originally Included For Only One Episode
Playing the character of Eddie Haskell, who was Wally Cleaver’s best friend, Ken Osmond auditioned and was hired for one episode. The writers/producers, however, were impressed with his performance and chemistry with the cast and decided to keep him on for all six seasons. That is what you call turning a rock into a mountain. It took Osmond all of one episode to prove that he was worthy of staying on the show for the rest of the series.
The kids must have had the talent to be able to sway the producer’s initial idea of keeping him for only one episode. Because that cuts into the money by giving him a contract and with less money, it makes fewer things possible for the show. They figured to cut their losses by adding Osmond and that he would be a very beneficial key player to the cast if added.
The Great Cover-Up
Barbara Billingsley’s character didn’t just wear pearls to appear well-dressed and classy in each episode. In fact, wardrobe provided her with pearl necklaces to cover-up and divert attention away from the hollow spot on Billingsley’s neck. Even in her work outside of the famed television series, Billingsley wore pearls for this reason. And it was not always pearls that she wore, she would wear scarves or just shirts that would do a good job at covering. The hollow spot was the aftermath of a surgical scar.
Her wardrobe was highly criticized, but she had a good reason for everything about her wardrobe, as you’ll see in the next slide. If viewers would have known it all back then, possibly she would not have been under such heavy scrutiny. That is the business of Hollywood unfortunately, and you take the hits as they come or fall under the pressure. She took the hits like a champ.
The Lowdown On June’s High Heels
What the producers ask of you, you do. June Cleaver always looked impeccable. But housework in heels — was that necessary? It turns out this was not a symptom of a bygone era. Because her “sons” kept growing, the producers asked her to wear high-heeled shoes so that she could continue to tower over them, instead of vice versa. Is it not normal for sons be taller than their mothers, though?
At the start of the series she wore flats, but as the boys continued to grow over the filming of six seasons, she had to be taller because she was the matriarch. The producers just wanted her to always appear as the parent and nothing less. Well, appearance is one thing but actually knowing that she is the parent is another. We’re pretty sure that viewers got the idea.
Every Episode Was Based On A True Story
As told by Jerry Mathers, Writer/Producer Joe Connelly always wanted to be a writer and kept a descriptive account of stories from his youth, and stories relayed to him by his children in a notebook. These stories eventually manifested into Leave it to Beaver episodes, and this is also how the nickname Beaver came about.
If you were thinking each episode was complete fiction then think again because they each had a touch of non-fiction involved. This just adds to the tally marks of why this show was so relatable. Real life stories from real people were depicted in these episodes and if that situation did not happen to you personally, you may have known someone who had a similar experience. This is another great trait that makes the show the first of its kind and should not be overlooked.
Wally Came Up With The Nickname “Beaver”
In the last episode of the show, it’s finally revealed how The Beaver got his nickname. When he was a baby and Wally was very young, Wally had trouble pronouncing Theodore. When he tried, it sounded like, “Tweedor.” The parents felt that “Beaver” would be better so they stuck with that. If you think about it, that is an odd nickname.
Connelly also kept a list of names from the time he was young: acquaintances, friends, young men he met in the military and more in that notebook. When he set out to name the characters in the show, he flipped through the list and “Beaver” caught his eye. It was the nickname of fellow Marine he worked with while he was deployed on a military ship during World War II. You can guess why beaver stuck out to Connelly—beaver clearly rhymes with Cleaver. Rhyme schemes build for a better chance at remembering something and he probably was fully aware of that once he glossed over beaver in that book.
Dow Became An Artist Later In Life
Tony Dow is on the cusp of being a renaissance man. After doing a lot of different things as a youth and teen, he arrived at acting, Dow took another turn later in life.
After being done with show business, Dow became a talented artist and sculptor who made some truly amazing pieces of art that were well received in the artistic community. That means that you can add a talented artist to his prestigious list of occupations. From Olympics to TV actor, Dow’s achievements are impressive, to say the least.
Barbara Billingsley’s Life Was Far From Her Character’s
While Billingsley played a middle-class housewife on TV, her life behind the scenes wasn’t very similar. Obviously, Billingsley herself worked, as an actress, and her home life included raising two kids on her own, after her husband’s death. She was also raised by her single mom, much different from the family structure shown on the television series. She came from one real life to a totally different fantasy life. The only thing that remained the same was raising the two kids, but this time it was not on her own.
This is something tons of actors have to experience as they have to turn into a completely different person once the cameras start rolling. It can often time lead to people acting like their character in real life. That is also how the actors get typecast because they put too much of themselves into the role and play it like it is their real life and viewers can only see them as that character.
But Billingsley’s Character Influenced Her
Although Billingsley faced hardships and experienced a different lifestyle than her character as June Cleaver, the role influenced her and carried over into her personal life. “She was every bit as nurturing, classy, and lovely as ‘June Cleaver,'” said her son Glenn Billingsley, “and we were so proud to share her with the world.” Although she disagreed somewhat, she did explain, “I think what happens is that the writers start writing about you as well as the character they created. So you become sort of all mixed up, I think.”
For actors, you can see it has some effect on their perception of reality. In this case, it affected Billingsley in a positive manner.
Taking Time to Travel
After playing the loving character of June Cleaver on the show, Billingsley fell victim to a common problem actors usually run into when she was typecast as the “sweet” character and had a tough time finding work. Being typecast has limited numerous actors throughout acting history either because they played the role so well and now every viewer can’t erase that character he or she played and there is no role for them in a film or TV show.
After having that trouble, she decided to travel around the world until the late 1970s and then made a return to showbiz. She appeared in a comedy called Airplane! in 1980 in which she played a passenger. Not just any regular passenger, but one who could “speak jive.” She said that role got her back in the public eye and was able to revive her career, thankfully. If you know you still got it, don’t let them keep you away!
Mathers Took More Than A Decade Off After This Show
After brilliantly playing the role of the Beaver during the show, Mathers (who was still barely a teen) deciding to take some time off from show business. He finished high school and even went to college before returning to show business. His college alma mater is University of California, Berkeley. That is a tough school to get into, so The Beav must have had some smarts.
Mathers also had a band during high school called “Beaver and The Trappers.” He graduated college with a degree in philosophy and went on to be a commercial loan officer. He still would do acting gigs every now and then including the one part he did after a five-year hiatus from television, he returned for an episode of Batman as Pop, the Stage Doorman. It was not until 1978 when he came back to the entertainment industry. The Beav was doing his thing.
Eddie Haskell Was The Stuff Of (An Urban) Legend
This next bit of information may confuse you. In an interview, Alice Cooper once compared his childhood self to Eddie Haskell. Through some misreporting and rumor-mongering, word then got out that Ken Osmond (the actor who played Eddie Haskell) had gone on to become Alice Cooper. It was later proven, of course, to be an urban legend.
Next is more about Ken Osmond after Leave it to Beaver ended. He had quite an interesting life.
Osmond Wasn’t A Rock Star, But He Did Fight Crime
After Leave it to Beaver, Ken Osmond said goodbye to Eddie Haskell (maybe because he was typecast) and hello to peacekeeping. During his time as a police officer, he grew a mustache to help hide his true identity from people. He was one of those pesky motorcycle officers. He also worked in narcotics and vice. As an officer on the Los Angeles Police force, he was once shot in the line of duty three times during a foot chase going after a suspected car thief and survived because of his bulletproof vest. Now that’s putting your line of business before yourself.
The shooting was later turned into an episode of the CBS series Top Cops. He was placed on disability and then eventually retired. He later co-authored a book with Christoper J. Lynch in 2014. Osmond passed away in 2020 at the age of 76.
Beaver Started A Band
This was briefly mentioned earlier, but during his high school years, Jerry Mathers started a band called Beaver and the Trappers. They were your typical garage band, playing gigs around Southern California. He also recorded two songs on his own, “Don’t ‘Cha Cry” and “Wind-Up Toy” towards the end of taping the show. This was during the time when Mathers took a break from acting. He probably just had to be in a band on his bucket list and got to check it off at an early age.
The songs can be found if you search well enough on the internet. We have not heard them, but it would be a funny bet to make with a friend of whether or not the song will be good enough to listen to the whole thing all the way through or not. We are sure The Beav had some talent in music in him.
Mathers Definitely Wasn’t Killed In Vietnam
And the rumor mill keeps spinning. In high school, Jerry Mathers decided to join the US Air Force Reserve. In the late 1960s, a (completely untrue) rumor began to spread that he had been killed in the line of duty in Vietnam. This rumor is made even more ridiculous because Mathers was never stationed outside the US. The rumor mostly came about because someone with a similar name was killed and the major news outlets made a mistake and doled out that it was the child star that died and not the other person.
A quote from an article reads,”A roommate woke him up one morning with “Do you know you’re dead,” thrusting a newspaper in his face, carrying the Vietnam account of Private Mathers killed in action. At home, Mrs. Mathers received a tearful call from a fan offering condolences, her first awareness of the mistaken identity report.” Must of been hard for mom in that moment of confusion.
In Fact, He Was Turned Down By The Marines
Before joining the Air Force Reserve, Mathers tried to enlist as a US Marine. However, a famous football player had recently died in combat, and the Marines did want to risk any more publicity in the event that a similar fate befell the famous child actor. It sounds like the Marines were more concerned about their image rather than the fact that a citizen wanted to help the country.
This had happened after the rumor that he had died so it probably didn’t help his case of enlisting that much and further propelled their reasoning of why they did not want him to join. Isn’t the repercussions of war death? If Mathers is willing to put his life on the line for the country then he should not have to restrict him from wanting to do so. Politics was clearly involved here and it is not fair to all parties.
Jerry Mathers Became A Spokesperson For Jenny Craig
Later in life, Mathers gained a considerable amount of weight and also found out he was a diabetic. That is not a great combination for any person. In the late 1990s, under doctor’s recommendation, he joined the Jenny Craig program, which helped him lose upwards of 40 lbs. He also went on to be the first-ever male spokesperson for Jenny Craig. Great selection by Jenny Craig on their first choice for male spokesperson.
If Mathers has continued to be as honest as he was back when he had the audition for the show, you can see why Jenny Craig selected him. It is also a great story to be behind if you are Jenny Craig. “Childhood star works hard in face of diabetes to reach goals.” That is an inspiring story even before you find out who the childhood star is. Kudos to The Beav for working hard against the odds.
Frank Bank As Lumpy
The character Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford, a teenager who loved to pick on Beaver, was played by Frank Bank. The actor himself described Lumpy as “muddled, dumpy, [and] awkward.” He played in 50 episodes of the original series then came back for The New Leave it to Beaver for 101 episodes. He even came out with an autobiography titled “Call Me Lumpy: My Leave it to Beaver Days and Other Wild Hollywood Life” back in 1997.
A few of his television roles included Cimarron City, Ford Television Theatre, 87th Precinct and Bachelor Father. He even appeared in three movies total, one of them being the Leave it to Beaver movie, another one he was uncredited for and the last one was The Story of Will Rogers which came out in 1952. Bank quit acting after the show and became a stockbroker. He passed away the day after his 71st birthday, in 2013.
Life After Lumpy
Frank Bank was known to be the disgust of many girls in episodes of Leave It To Beaver. But when his autobiography, Call Me Lumpy: My Leave It To Beaver Days and Other Wild Hollywood Life, was released in 1997, he made sure to let everyone know that he didn’t strike out in real life like he did on the show. People who’ve actually read the book say that Banks claims to have slept with over 1,000 women in his life. That’s a little too much information.
Additionally, Banks was another unfortunate actor who fell victim to typecasting. Although he was offered a role in a pilot for a show based off of the Archie comics, the job offer didn’t end up working out. A representative for the show said of Banks, “I love the show, but I can’t get it out of my head that that’s Lumpy on screen, not Archie.”
The Show Also Influenced Frank Bank’s Idea Of Family
Actor Frank Bank, who played Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford on the show said that the notion of a wholesome American family like the Cleavers influenced his choices in marriage and children. “I wanted normalcy, I wanted that Cleaver existence,” he said. Bank married his high school sweetheart and had two daughters, Kelly and Julie. Another positive influence upon an actor from the show.
If two of the actors were positively influenced by this show, just imagine how many regular citizens also came under the influence. This is different from the modern era of TV with people wanting to be the “baddest” in the house or be the most popular. Those are all negative aspects of trying and modeling after and many shows should pop in a tape of The Beav so they can get some tips on how to make a good wholesome show that all of the family can enjoy.
The Beaver’s Buddy, Larry, Was Written Off The Show
Larry Mondello, played by Robert Stevens, appeared in nearly 70 episodes of the series. But when his family moved to the east coast due to his father taking a job in Philadelphia, his acting career came to an end. It’s rumored, though, that he was written off the show because his mother was an unbearable, overly ambitious stage mom.
In an interview, that happened in 2000, Barbara Billingsley said, “We all loved Rusty so much. He was so good in that role. And, unfortunately, they had to let him go… Because his mother was such a pain.” She continued on to elaborate that Rusty’s mother would go to the producer’s office and “make demands.” So, “Finally, they let him go.” This is a case of a mother who did the wrong thing for her child’s career. Sorry, it had to happen like that Stevens, but sometimes that is how the cookie crumbles.
Their Real-Life Moms Were On The Set Daily
A mother knows what is best for her kids. In order to avoid problems that occurred on the set of other television shows working with child actors, Mathers’ and Dow’s mothers came to the studio every day to make sure their boys were taken care of, and to separate the worlds of fantasy and reality. They melded well with the cast and crew, and having parents on the set proved to be beneficial for both young actors.
Having a corner to go to of family there at all times would for sure be a benefit. If something is not going your way that day or you are not getting your lines down, just going over to your mom for a small boost of morale could mean a lot of actors this young. Smart move by the moms to do this and not turning it into an issue in any way.
Tony Dow’s Mother Was A Stunt Woman
It seems like being awesome ran in the family. Tony Dow, who played Wally’s character, was born and raised in Hollywood, and although he hadn’t had any previous acting experience before Leave it to Beaver, his mother was a stunt woman. Muriel Virginia Dow performed in early Western films and played as Clara Bow’s double. Being a stunt double is not easy work if it were then the real actors would do it!
Performing risky stunts is not good for your career unless you are Jackie Chan and wish to do your own stunts because something can go wrong where you end up getting injured and miss out on filming for that role you were in or make the whole movie push back shooting until you get better. This is why it is a great idea to have a stunt double if you are required to perform stunts for your role.
It Was The First Show To Display A Toilet Tank
Well, this next fact is awkward. Nowadays, seeing a toilet on TV is nothing out of the ordinary. But back when this show debuted, it created a HUGE fuss. Why fuss over a toilet in a show when you might possibly see one every day? In fact, the censors at the time almost didn’t allow the show to air because of the fact they had scenes in the bathroom, and that type of film-making was viewed as obscene.
Thank goodness shows like Bad Girls Club did not exist back then because a fuss would have been made at unprecedented levels. How did the dialogue between families play out when they saw a toilet? “Oh my goodness, cover your eyes, Sam, there is a toilet right there. We absolutely do not want you to see that!” Maybe a bit less serious but you get the point.
The Location Of The Cleavers’ Hometown Was Never Revealed
Throughout the entire six seasons, the creators of Leave it to Beaver never let on where the Cleavers lived. Most likely an effort to make the show relatable to the largest audience possible, their town of Mayfield exemplified the quintessential “every town USA” vibe that show seemed to be after. The fictitious community it was based on was called Mayfield and was filmed on the backlot of Universal.
In other words, you will not be able to find where they lived in real life, but if you take a trip to Hollywood and go to Universal Studios you can take a tour and possibly be able to get a peek of the iconic home. The two-story home was very nice and had a den where many of the scenes took place right when you walked in. This house has been around the block for it was used for several shows since the Beaver.
The Show Did Use Real Footage Of Various US Towns
Although Leave it to Beaver creators never revealed the location of the Cleavers’ hometown, Mayfield, they did use real-life photos from towns in the US to create a realistic setting for the viewers, including one shot of Skokie, Illinois. This is a good marketing strategy as it gets the people one more subtle thing that they could relate to. If they see a building that looks familiar to the one that is in their city they might feel closer to the TV show.
For example, “hey, there goes that building that looks like the one downtown. The Beavers must live somewhere near here, no wonder they have some similar qualities to us.” A few other examples could fit too, but that is more or less an idea of the monolog that could go on with viewers when they see familiar buildings to their own environment. Any strategy can help.
The Ward Before Hugh
As hard as it is to fathom, Hugh Beaumont was not the original Ward Cleaver. Before the show premiered, a different actor was chosen for the role and he acted in the first pilot. However, this version never aired, and Beaumont was chosen to replace the first Ward forever. That other actor must be a bit bitter about that situation after seeing how popular the show had become.
Thankfully, Max Showalter had a high list of other movies and shows he appeared in so he couldn’t have been that upset about the situation. There are no solid details that outline why the pilot never aired or they went with Beaumont in the first place, but it can be agreed that the right choice was made. It is left up to your imagination to figure out how much different the show would have been with a different matriarch at the head of the house.
And The Title Before Leave it to Beaver
Nope, Leave it to Beaver was not the original title. Before landing on the name we’re all familiar with, the creators toyed with the idea of calling the show, “Wally and the Beaver.” Some say that they changed their minds because it sounded too much like a show about animals. This is partially true, but it was the sponsors who changed it because they thought it sounded like a nature show. Which it easily could have been mistaken for that so it’s understandable.
If this were modern times and you were flipping through the guide list on the screen and you see Wally and The Beaver about to come on next on ABC, you may stop and say, “when did they start making a show about beavers on ABC?” The sponsors were thinking about more their era of course so just imagine flipping through the TV guide book instead.
The Episode With The Highest Production Cost
In season 4, episode 32 titled “The Soup” the crew needed to erect a billboard and use more than the typical space on the Universal Studios set, which quickly amounted to become the episode with the highest production cost, of the entire six seasons the TV show ran.
In the episode, The Beav is urged to go climb the billboard and go look how the steam is coming out of the cup. The billboard is of a woman holding a steaming cup. Once Beaver gets to the top he falls into the cup Whitey quickly runs home. Wally and noisy bystanders stand around looking at Beaver as he just stuck in the cup. Soon after, the fire department comes and rescues Beaver from his unfortunate fall. This episode has been spoofed by shows like Family Guy. In the Family Guy spoof, Peter Griffin falls into a cup and finds a kid in there.
Using Characters as Extras
Without more actors on hand, Beaver’s school teacher was used as an extra in season 4, episode 1 titled “Beaver Won’t Eat”. She is filmed sitting at a nearby table to the Cleavers in a restaurant scene, while the family eats and doesn’t acknowledge her as the school teacher. That is one way to manage the budget. Getting people the actors know to appear on the show for less than it would cost to pay an actual actor.
The teacher probably was thrilled to appear on TV even though she had not one line. It is something she can tell her friends or kids about. These days, extras are a norm in TV shows and movies. Social media is utilized to get extras to come out and be a part of a scene where they need more people and these people show up there in a jiffy in hopes that they get the chance to meet the stars.
Popularity Of The Show Led To Massive Merchandise Sales
While the show never appeared in the top 30 in the Nielsen ratings, it was still very popular and a lot of people and families could relate to it. This led to the show to be able to sell some pretty popular merchandise such as toys, board games, and much more. The show had the formula to be very liked. Just based off of being relatable alone could gather a bunch of fans. Clearly once you have the fanbase, merchandise becomes something you have to capitalize on.
Toys are always a good ploy for the children and everyone knows children who, a majority of the time, get what they want. And board games can be used as a family prop whenever you have everybody around. Merchandise is probably one of the greatest inventions for an entity to make more money for themselves. If you have a brand and have some sort of popularity, it would be great to start to merchandise!
Mathers Was The First Child Actor To Make Deal For Merchandising
Jerry Mathers fell into a career as a child actor (he told the show’s producers that he would rather be at his Cub Scout meeting then audition for the role) but once he was in the TV realm he shone. Appearing in all 234 episodes during the six years that the show ran, Mathers was hard working. He and his family also saw the opportunity to benefit from the show’s merchandise and became the first child actor to include a percentage of the merchandising in their contract. (The show still gets revenue from merchandise today!)
Smart move by the young Mathers. With a transcendent show like this, that merchandising revenue should be continuing to come in for a mighty long time just so long as people do not lose the appreciation for this trailblazing sitcom. Not many actors are that smart to re-work their contracts like that, but Mathers made it happen.
Beaver Was Ranked As A Top 100 TV Character By Bravo
Throughout the history of TV, there have been some amazingly memorable, popular, and famous characters. Will Smith, Frankie Muniz, Lucy Ricardo, Fonzie and Mary Richards are a few to name. And for Beaver to be named at number 74 on the list was a huge accomplishment. He beat out some other legendary characters, which was a testament to his cultural importance at the time.
Even though he is before this new generation’s time, many still know about The Beav and that says a lot about how he was able to transcend generations. 74 may not seem that high and is indeed almost not making the list at all, it still is a great statistic to add to your acting resume. A true test of this cultural importance is if he is able to remain on the list decades later after a bevy of new shows is released. Only time will tell now.
The Show’s Third Season Was Sponsored by Chrysler
Of course, Ward Cleaver drove an American-made car. Why not try and squeeze out as much patriotism as you can from this American sitcom many were able to relate to. And at the time, American cars were the vast majority of cars in the nation. When the show first aired, the father drove a 1957 Ford. Not a bad car at all. But in its third season running, Leave it to Beaver was sponsored by Chrysler Corporation. Part of the agreement included Ward Cleaver driving a Plymouth Fury, which he can be seen driving coming home from work.
Yeah, you can bet there are agreements that take place when you are sponsored. That is why whenever you see a commercial of someone promoting something, chances are they probably use the product in real life. For example, if an NBA player is sponsored by Nike and they go into a game wearing Puma, they will get fined by Nike.
Sponsors Fought Over The Privilege Of Representing the Show
Leave it to Beaver was so popular during its time that companies fought over who would get to sponsor the show. Companies like Purina Dog Chow and General Electric, to name a few, were some of the lucky ones who got the chance to associate their brand with this beloved TV series. Once again this fact oddly enough does not add up with the premise that the show had low ratings.
The show had all of this success outside of ratings, but it is still hard to get here if you do not have the ratings to back you up. That is like releasing an album and expecting your label to promote you even though you did not do that well on the radio and have no proof to show that you actually have fans. Maybe the network got word of mouth that those who did watch the show loved it that much.
It Had Good, But Not Great, Ratings
The fact that despite the show’s popular merchandise, relatable nature, and great characters, for some reason, Leave it to Beaver was never able to really knock it out of the park with their ratings is an anomaly because usually all of those attributes don’t come unless there were high ratings. But this didn’t matter all that much, as the show continued to get picked up season after season.
This makes one wonder if ratings are important as we think they are. They could only hold value to the television network. Because if you put in perspective, there are factors that could skew the rating system. For instance, if someone did not have a TV, but a friend did then that could affect ratings. That friend’s house could be where the person without a TV goes to watch the show. Also, in a big family of let’s say six, you would be missing out on a few viewers if they all watch together as a family.
Puberty Became A Problem
The first two seasons of Leave it to Beaver were the most successful for viewership and ratings. Once the season reached its third year, ratings dropped off a bit. Part of the blame has been put on actor Tony Dow’s voice lowering as he went through puberty, followed by the younger Jerry Mathers’ voice changing, which the producers thought took away part of his boyish charm and innocence. These factors are totally out of the control of the producers so there was nothing they could do about it.
Although, blaming the show plummeting on the voices of the boys could just a be a ploy to hide behind because they couldn’t accept that their show as dropping due to a lack of interest from viewers. You knew they had to grow when they were chosen, that has to be accounted in for the process of making the show, does it not?
The Four Cleavers Appear In Every Episode
Although there are quite a few characters who show up regularly throughout the six seasons of Leave it to Beaver (Eddie Haskell, Larry Mondello, and Lumpy Rutherford, to name a few) the Beaver, Wally, and their parents are the only four characters to appear in every episode of the series. If you pay attention to other shows, the main characters do not appear in every episode.
Sometimes it can be a solo episode just solely built for the narrative of a certain character. Other times it could be a duo episode and it doesn’t stop there. It isn’t rare that the main characters appear in every episode but it is uncommon. You would think shows would always feature the main stars in every episode, but sometimes contracts get in the way and other times the writer doesn’t make room for a character to appear in the way the episode was structured.
The Finale: A Trend-Setting Sendoff
Leave it to Beaver was one of the first TV shows to have a series finale during the very last episode. In fact, it was the very first sitcom to do so. The only TV show that had done a similar, flashback-based episode to end a series was Howdy Doody, a sketch-based puppet show, in 1960. Many other series just ended with a regular plot and acted like it was no different than any other episode.
Fans of the show probably had their tissue ready as they watched that final episode as they did a flashback of what scenes were the best throughout the series. Seeing the character progression is a nostalgic moment because you begin to think of the times where you were in life during that point of the series if it was a year or two in the past. Many series after followed suit and began to write a series finale like it was the last.
The Writers Didn’t Want To Make Us Laugh (Too Much)
Although the show included some comedic scenarios with Beaver’s boyhood antics, it was never the goal of the writers of the show to make its audience laugh. In fact, if a scene caused too much laughing, they’d delete it from the episode. “If any line got too much of a laugh, they’d take it out. They didn’t want a big laugh; they wanted chuckles” said Tony Dow, who played Wally.
Is too much of a laugh really that bad? Getting the show confused for a comedic sitcom can be something that may draw fear, but being afraid of a big laugh seems a bit advanced. It could just all be a part of a bigger marketing scheme, too. Once again, the show broke barriers so if they chose to take this route it was probably for the better, but on the other hand, it could have been the reason they did not get higher ratings.
Stanley Fafara’s (Whitey) Grave Was Left Unmarked For 13 Years
When Fafara passed away in Portland, Oregon in 2003 at age 53 he had no money to his name, which left no funds for a proper funeral or burial. Parishioners at St. Elizabeth of Hungary elected to cover the cost of his burial, but there was no money left for a headstone. For the following 13 years, his grave was left unmarked. Eventually, a gravestone was designed and placed, funded by anonymous donors and parishioners at St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
It was nice of the donors to do something about that unmarked grave, but for the 13 years before something had been done, it was probably quite difficult to locate where the grave was for the first time if you were trying to find it. Once again, the anonymous donors did a great thing by helping, but it is sad to hear that he had no money to be able to pay for his own burial.
The Cleavers’ House Later Became “Wisteria Lane”
Briefly mentioned earlier, long after the show’s conclusion, the Cleavers’ home on Leave it to Beaver was shown in Desperate Housewives as one of the houses on Wisteria Lane. The original house sat on the Universal Studios Hollywood lot for several decades and was only retouched for the next show. Universal Studios is known for a hand me down system with their props and setups. The majority of houses on their lot have been used by more than one show or movie and changed in little ways so that you cannot really recognize them.
Desperate Housewives was not the only other show to use the house as there are a few others who benefited from the Cleaver residence. It is a nice house after all and just looking at the outside makes you fantasize for just a brief moment about the possibility of you maybe living in a house like it one day.
Leave It To Beverly
After the show began to gain traction, of course, producers wanted to capitalize on its newfound popularity. Wanting to turn the show into a book series, executives approached author Beverly Clearly for the job. She had already gained phenomenal success with over 30 young adult fiction books across her Beezus, Ramona, and Henry Huggins series. Considering the type of work she wrote, she seemed like the perfect person to write stories about the Beav!
In an interview with the LA Times, Clearly recounted what writing the three Leave It To Beaver books was like: “So I wrote the Beaver books — it was boring work. They wanted a certain number of words and I’m not used to writing prose by the yard and I received several letters saying the books were better than the movie. I cut out dear old Dad’s philosophizing.”
The Show Ran For Six Seasons
This is another qualifier of success. How many seasons did a show get? A sitcom getting picked up for a second season is usually considered a win, as most fizzle out during their first. However, this show lasted a full six seasons and aired more than 200 episodes. To put that in perspective, Seinfeld was 180 episodes but with nine seasons. Seinfeld was a huge hit and because Leave it to Beaver had more episodes, it is safe to say that their fun was a valiant one.
Despite never appearing at or near the top of Nielsen ratings, the show has to be considered a huge success. And who says being at the top of some ratings mean you are important? The longevity of this show is what proves it was a great show, so those rating could be labeled as obsolete for the most part. True fans knew this show was great.
The Show Moved Major Networks After One Season
Leave it to Beaver added a lot of stress to both CBS and ABC during its first few years. The show originally debuted on CBS, but after a “meh” first season, it was moved over to ABC for the remaining five. How’s that for not believing in something out the gate? As mentioned earlier, due to the show not getting high enough ratings, that is what forced CBS to make the cut. However, the ratings were well enough to give them a five-year run on TV.
The show’s sponsor, Ralston Purina, is also who to thank for this move happening. He was able to bust out a better deal with ABC than with CBS so that helped out hugely. Nothing says dropping the ball more than what CBS did. CBS is probably kicking themselves for not riding it out and waiting to see if the show would find success.
The Show Was A Scheduling Nightmare
In addition to the troubles of moving the show from one major network to another, Leave it to Beaver had a number of scheduling problems. During the multi-year run of the series, it was actually shown on four different evenings (Wednesday through Saturday). As you could imagine, this was incredibly confusing for fans when the day their favorite viewing day changed. This could be another reason why the show’s ratings were not that good.
Having to wonder, all the time, for years what day you think one of your favorite shows comes on could cause you miss a few episodes. In this regard, the network dropped the ball here by not stabilizing a steady air date. That is especially crucial for younger views more so than those who are older, because the younger ones may have a harder time navigating the semantics of how television works and resulting in them potentially thinking the show no longer comes on.
It Was Voted One of TIME’s 100 Best Shows Ever
While it never did too amazing in the Nielsen ratings as mentioned, the show still has retained iconic status over the years. In fact, it was voted as one of TIME magazine’s 100 best shows ever, among some other legendary series. It really captured what life was like in the mid-20th century. The accumulation of being very relatable for a lot of families and also being one of the first shows to be viewed from the perspective of a child could very well be the reason that this happened.
As much as it was an accomplishment for Mathers to be featured on the top 100 TV characters, this is just as much of an accomplishment for all the actors, directors, writers and producers of this show. Anything that can be related to can last the test of time and also bring you into a nostalgic state of mind is worthy of top 100 shows.
It Was Shown In 80 Countries And Over 40 Languages
Success has many determinants. In sports, it could be how many championships you have under your name. In acting, it could be how many awards you have won. With film, if you did well at the box office that means many wanted to see your movie. Back in the times when this show was being aired, if you were to measure the success of Leave it to Beaver then there is one way to measure.
If the legacy of Leave it to Beaver wasn’t enough to show you that it was popular, the wide reach of the show should be. In addition to being shown all across the United States of America, it was broadcasted in around 40 languages in around 80 different countries. That is big deal because most shows today that you think are popular don’t even get broadcasted in different languages! It was a huge hit in many of the regions where it aired.