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.

12 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Certainly this was one of those iconic American TV shows.

George said...

My favorite character was that phony, Eddie Haskell. "You look lovely, Mrs. Cleever," he'd say in his smarmy manner. Classic.

Bill Crider said...

I loved this show, and so did my parents. My mother told me almost weekly that the Beaver reminded her of me. I never could figure out the connection, myself.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And I bet the Eddie Haskell part kept the actor from going on to anything else. Too bad to be typecast as a kid.
The brilliant thing was that the kids managed to be both nice and normal kids at the same time. Peerless writing especially given it was the early days of TV.

Deb said...

I grew up in England, so never saw the show until reruns in the 1970s, but I do share a connection with it: I was born on the day LITB premiered--October 4, 1957. Incidentally, this was also the date Sputnik was launched.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Patti, he did have trouble being typecast and ended up as an L.A. cop, of all things.

I did watch it sometimes but it was never a favorite show of mine. I can't say why, unless it was on opposite something I preferred.

Jeff M.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Don't know about the earlier years, but in the last two seasons it was opposite first THE DEFENDERS and then PERRY MASON and DR. KILDARE, according to Wikipedia.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think probably by the last years I no longer watched it. I remember him as a ten year old.
Deb-now that song will be in my head all day-TELESTAR that is.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't think I've seen but one or two episodes of that show. I used to watch My Three Sons, though

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved MY THREE SONS. Found it funny that Fred McMurray used to come to the set and film all of his scenes for a season in a few days. Could that possibly be true?

James Reasoner said...

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER is one of the first TV shows I remember watching. I really liked it. And it does indeed hold up pretty well. The writing is usually the key to that.

Cap'n Bob said...

I was and still am a huge fan of the show. Eddie Haskell was my role model, Mary Ellen Rogers was my teen queen, and the Cleavers were my ideal family.