Tuesday, November 03, 2015
Forgotten TV LEAVE IT TO BEAVER
I shouldn't have loved Leave It to Beaver as much as I did because it was routinely pointed out to me by my grandmother that I didn't measure up to Wally and the Beaver. I didn't use Sir and M'am nearly enough. My table manners were not as good at theirs. I wasn't always washing my hands (they spent an inordinate amount of time in that bathroom off their bedroom). I wasn't nearly as tidy in my dress. (Having so many scenes in a bathroom seems unusual).
But her words didn't have much of an impact (gradmothers did a lot of scolding in those days). I liked the show then and still do now. Leave it to Beaver ran from 1957 to 1963 and was written by Bob Mosher and Joe Connelly, who'd earlier written the Amos and Andy radio show and would later write The Munsters. It starred Hugh Beaumont as Ward Cleaver, Barbara Billingsley as June, Tony Dow as Wally and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver. Why "the" in front of Beaver, I don't know, but it was used quite a lot.
Set in the town of Mayfield, Anywhere, the Cleavers were an upper middle class suburban family that probably mirrored very few of the lives of its viewers. Their life was a bit too easy financially, a bit too neat and tidy. The infamous pearls and dresses June wore were unfamiliar to most of us although I remember my mother getting dressed for dinner in the fifties.
What made it special was that so much of LITB was from the POV of the boys. The writers were on their side and seldom let them behave unrealistically, never let them flounder too much in their stunts. They assumed as we did that their motives were good and age-appropriate. It was easy to imagine myself in such a jam. (Although I would never climbed up into that cup on a billboard or let a homeless guy into the house).
The Cleaver parents were also subjected to the writers' microscope and made their share of parenting mistakes. They worried about such things routinely, re-thought poor decisions they had made, and corrected them. June always reminded Ward that boys today were different from those in his rural youth. Ward reminded June that boarding school was different from Mayfield Public High.
The show hummed due to its writing and it holds up very well today because it was never overly sanctimonious or too sure-footed in its view of the world. The writers were not afraid to make each Cleaver and his friends and neighbors look fairly ridiculous from time to time. If Eddie Haskell has endured as the case study of "bad influence" the Cleavers assumed they had raised a son smart enough to shake it off. How progressive was that!
I was exactly Beaver's age and had a mad crush on Wally, as did every girl I knew. An autographed picture of Wally hung on my wall. "Find a boy like Wally Cleever," must have been uttered more than once over those years and reportedly, he is as nice in person as on the show. No one offered the same advice about Beaver, who was much more like the rest of us.
I watched an early episode last week: Wally comes home from the barbershop with a ridiculous haircut, which all the boys have. June cannot let go of this and even sees the principal about it. (Something that would soon play out in many homes across the country). The show cleverly played a bit of rock music every time Wally or other boys with this haircut entered the room. In this show, June was allowed to be imperfect. How can you not like a show where everyone is allowed such a thing. It was the conforming fifties, but the Cleavers (or their writers) managed to sneak in a little bit more. Never sanctimonious, never out of touch, it plays well for me today.