Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Forgotten TV

(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.

But 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 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 w


Steve Oerkfitz said...

Like many of the family sitcoms of that time there was a lesson to be learned by the end of the show but I always felt that the Beaver never quite got it. A couple years back I caught the pilot episode in which the Beaver's best friend was played by a very young Harry Shearer.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Very good review of what the show was. I'm not sure why - it isn't that I didn't like it - but for whatever reason, I just didn't watch this very often. I can tell you what shows I watched back then, but BEAVER wasn't on my list. The odds are that it was on opposite something else that I watched.

Hmm, just checked THE COMPLETE DIRECTORY TO PRIME TIME NETWORK AND CABLE TV SHOWS. In 1957, it was on FRiday night at 7:30, opposite ADVENTURES OF RIN TIN TIN and something called SABER OF LONDON, so nothing there. In 1958 it moved to Thursday, opposite the aging I LOVE LUCY and (?) JEFFERSON DRUM. I don't think I watched Lucy in its original run.

Now 1959 makes sense. It was on Saturdays at 8:30 opposite a favorite of mine, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE. 1960 (same time slot) it was up against another show I really liked, CHECKMATE. In 1961 (still on Saturday), it was against THE DEFENDERS, a show I always watched. (As an aside, the CBS lineup then was PERRY MASON, THE DEFENDERS, HAVE GUN-WILL TRAVEL, and GUNSMOKE.) THe last season (1963) it ran opposite the second half hour of PERRY MASON and first half hour of DOCTOR KILDARE, Thursdays at 8:30.

In summation, then, the first two seasons I don't know why I wasn't watching regularly. The other four seasons, I do.

George said...

My brother, my sisters, my parents, and I watched LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. But like Jeff, I was lukewarm to the program. Maybe the fact that my favorite character was the phony Eddie Haskell tells you something.

I loved PERRY MASON. I loved MAVERICK. And I loved it when my uncle would babysit us because he'd let us stay up to watch HAVE GUN--WILL TRAVEL!

Jeff Meyerson said...

Luckily me for, my mother loved HAVE GUN-WILL TRAVEL and she let me watch it.

Rick Robinson said...

Jeff makes it sons like he ruled the TV. My parents had that role, so we watched whatever they decided. I do remember this program, and for some reason tie it to Ozzie and Harriet (same channel, one following the other, maybe?). We watched both, and I often felt sorry for Beaver. I never thought about the Cleavers being rich, as you suggest, Patti. Just looked like a normal suburban family to me. I don't remember that she wore pearls at all. But then I don't remember a lot of stuff these days.

Gerard Saylor said...

Was the haircut episode the one where the older boys go to the barber and when he asks what kind of cut they wants each one just says something like, "No cut, just style it." and the barber proceeds to comb their hair?

Jeff Meyerson said...

Rick, we got to choose what we wanted to watch early in the evening. My father worked late a lot and sometimes made phone calls at home, looking to hire salesmen. He rarely watched television except for Sunday sports. With my mother it was more a question of when we had to go to bed rather than a disagreement over shows, as she didn't watch nearly as much then as she did twenty or thirty years later.

Jeff Meyerson said...

Jackie said, forget Wally. Her crush was on Ricky Nelson, though she also liked Paul Peterson on The Donna Reed Show.

Unknown said...

It was said that Barbara Billingsley, being model thin (and very pretty) wore pearls to cover her clavicle which sunk in too much...this from Jerry Mathers who commented on episodes when we were treated to a LITB marathon here in the Twin Cities back in the 80s? 90s?

Unknown said...

It was said that Barbara Billingsley, being model thin (and very pretty) wore pearls to cover her clavicle which sunk in too much...this from Jerry Mathers who commented on episodes when we were treated to a LITB marathon here in the Twin Cities back in the 80s? 90s?