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Leave It To Beaver

May 22, 2020

The other day, I wound up watching some old Leave It To Beaver reruns on TV as I had my coffee and readied myself for the gym. Then came the news that Ken Osmond, who played Eddie Hskell on the series, had died. It brought back a flood of memories from my childhood.

Leave It to Beaver is a late 1950s black-and-white American television sitcom about an inquisitive and often naive boy, Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver (portrayed by Jerry Mathers), and his adventures at home, in school, and around his suburban neighborhood. The show also starred Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont as Beaver’s parents, June and Ward Cleaver, and Tony Dow as Beaver’s brother Wally. The show has attained an iconic status in the United States, with the Cleavers exemplifying the idealized suburban family of the mid-20th century.

Even in its day, some of the episodes seemed corny at best. However, when compared to today’s violence packed TV line-up, it may well have been just what America needed at the time. Read on!

The series had its debut on CBS on October 4, 1957. The following season, it moved to ABC, where it stayed until completing its run on June 20, 1963. Recurring characters included Eddie Haskell (played by Ken Osmond), Larry Mondello (Rusty Stevens), Hubert “Whitey” Whitney (Stanley Fafara), Tooey Brown (Tiger Fafara), Gilbert Bates (Stephen Talbot), Judy Hensler (Jeri Weil), Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford (Frank Bank), his younger sister Violet (Veronica Cartwright), Richard Rickover (Richard Correll), Julie Foster (Cheryl Holdridge) and Mary Ellen Rogers (Pamela Beaird). Burt Mustin played elderly fireman Gus, Richard Deacon played Ward’s co-worker and Lumpy’s father Fred Rutherford. Doris Packer played school principal Mrs. Rayburn and Sue Randall played schoolteacher Miss Landers.

The show’s opening and closing sequences were accompanied by an orchestral rendition of the show’s bouncy theme music, “The Toy Parade”, by David Kahn, Melvyn Leonard, and Mort Greene. For the third season, the tempo was quickened and the tune whistled by a male chorus over an orchestral accompaniment for the closing credits and for the production credits following the opening sequence. For the final season, the song was given a jazz-like arrangement by the veteran composer and arranger Pete Rugolo. Though lyrics exist for the theme tune, an instrumental arrangement was used for the show’s entire run. Elements of the theme tune were given a subdued musical arrangement, which was then used as background music for reflective and sentimental scenes. Occasionally, a few phrases from well-known musical compositions, such as Chopin’s “Funeral March” and “La Marseillaise”, the French national anthem, were used as well.

Leave It to Beaver is classified as light comedy drama with the underlying theme that proper behavior brings rewards while improper behavior brings undesirable consequences. The juvenile viewer finds amusement in Beaver’s adventures while learning that certain behaviors and choices (such as skipping school or faking an illness in order to be the recipient of pity and gifts from parents and schoolmates) are wrong and ultimately end in reprimand. The adult viewer enjoys Beaver’s adventures while discovering tips for teaching children correct behavior and methods for successfully handling common childhood problems. Parents are reminded that children view the world from a different perspective and should not be expected to act like miniature adults. In every episode, the writers urged parents to serve as moral role models for their children.

A typical episode generally followed a simple formula: Beaver or Wally (or both) get into a predicament they then try to get out of, and then face their parents for a lecture regarding the event. Lectures sometimes take the form of fables, with Ward allowing the boys to discover their moral meanings and applying those meanings to their lives. Occasionally, when offenses are serious, punishments such as being grounded are dealt the miscreant duo. The parents are sometimes shown debating the best approach to the situation. Other episodes (especially in earlier seasons) even reverse the formula, with Ward making a parenting mistake and having to figure out how to make up for it.

While the earlier seasons focus on Beaver’s boyhood adventures, the later seasons give a greater attention to Wally’s high school life, dating, and part-time work. Several episodes follow Wally’s acquisition of a driver’s license and a car. The show’s focus is consistently upon the children; June and Ward are depicted from one episode to the next as an untroubled, happily married couple. Hence, we today sometimes refer to a blissful marriage as a “Leave it to Beaver” relationship.

The show employed contemporary kid-slang of the day extensively. Wally and Beaver both use “gyp” (to swindle), “mess around” (to play), and “hunka” (meaning “hunk of” in relation to food portions such as “hunka cake” or “hunka milk”). “Junk”, “crummy”, “gee whiz”, “gosh”, “wiseguy”, “grubby”, “rat”, and “creep” are frequently heard as well. The word “beef” was also used at times (mostly by Wally) over the course of the show’s run, meaning “disagreement” (as in contemporary hip-hop). Ward and June disapprove. Wally uses “sweat” to his mother’s annoyance; she prefers “perspiration” and asks him not to use the slang words “flip” or “ape”. “Goofy” is one of Beaver’s favorite adjectives, and it is applied to anything that lies outside the bounds of 1950s conformism. “Giving me/you/him/her the business” was a phrase used to describe a character being sarcastic with or otherwise teasing another character. “Flake off” or “Pipe Down” was often used by Wally’s friends to tell the Beaver to leave them alone.

Leave It to Beaver, for all of its morality and decades old corniness, is still in syndication and for good reason: The icon of the perfect American family unit is still slightly stuck in the post-war 1950s brains of many of us. It serves as a blueprint even today. Catch a rerun and you’ll see what I mean!


A little post script is due here. Ken Osmond’s character Eddie Haskell was a carbon copy of a friend of mine. He would come to my house and guzzle a half gallon of milk when my mother wasn’t watching. When she came into the kitchen, he would launch into, “Good afternoon Mrs. Rizzi. Gee, you sure look nice today.” Osmond’s portrayal of Eddie Haskell became a cultural reference for the “behind-your-back” rebel. Eddie Haskell was polite and obsequious to grownups, but derided adults’ social conventions behind their backs. He was constantly trying to involve his friends in things that would get them into trouble. Parents like Ward and June Cleaver hoped Eddie wouldn’t be a model to their children but someone to point out as an example of what not to do. Even today, the term “Eddie Haskell” is known to refer to an insincere flatterer or a sycophant. My childhood friend must have been his understudy.

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  1. Do you know what one of the most risque things said on 50s televison? “Ward, you were a little hard on the beaver last night.” This is according to my husband. A good summary of that television show.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As the father of a teenager I can assure you there are still plenty of ‘Eddie Haskells” about.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. olive blankenship permalink

    Thank you Allen. I loved watching Leave it to Beaver. Of course I thought Wally was so cute!

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 2 people

  4. True story: I’ve never seen “Leave It to Beaver.” Too young to have seen it the first time; didn’t have cable TV until about 2005 (briefly). A lot of the slang, though, was still around when I was a kid; e.g. “You gotta beef with me?”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. hanspostcard permalink

    I liked the show as a kid -watching re-runs in the late 60’s- early 70’s- and it holds up well still today.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post, Allen. I enjoyed the show as a kid, and this brought back many pleasant memories. I’ve tried watching some episodes in the last few years, but don’t have much patience with it, anymore. That’s how I find many old shows to be, though…better off left as a memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The Beaver and I are the identical age, so watching this show was like watching an idealized version of my own life. I even had a brother approximately the same difference in age as my older brother. Of course, while my early life was pleasant, I never was as naive as the Beaver nor was my brother as “gee whiz” sweet as Wally. Of course, I suppose I did do stupid enough things but just didn’t/don’t recognize them as such. I have to admit I thought Eddie was the best and most realistic of the characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fun post, Allen. Brings back a lot of good memories. I was, indeed, raised in a “Leave it to Beaver” home . . . and glad of it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ernest - W4EG permalink

    Re; Leave it to Beaver.
    I remember when I was young trying to view the program but, I could not get their jokes or subjects matter. I must say that I try but, I never like it.
    Barbara, my wife ask me to remind you; that if you ever come down south to please pay us a visit. Our doors are always open.
    Take care and like always, thank you for the help finding Sandi. Ernest


    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love the collection of slang words and phrases! Not a show I ever watched.

    Liked by 1 person

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