(from the archives)
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.
her words didn't have much of an impact (grandmothers 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
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).
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.
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 w