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Leave It To Beaver

April 28, 2022

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!

Ken_Osmond_1962

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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23 Comments
  1. I remember it fondly!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Celia Miles permalink

    I enjoyed the “reliving” of Beaver’s time–when TV was a treat and not a nuisance (to be kind).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I sure remember that show. We’ve come a long way as a society. Not. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  4. June Cleaver always wore a dress, and Ward came home in a suit and tie!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Carolyn permalink

    Yep, I remember that show. I fear it has given many young people a false impression of what family life should look like. We should have been educating children about domestic violence, alcoholism and drug addiction, and basic life skills. Or at least showing what a healthy relationship should look like, warts and all. But instead we gave children a picture that no family I have ever known (I am 73 years old) looks like. Our societies insistence on make believe still exists to some extent today. So while the reruns continue to obscure reality, I will continue to work with victims of domestic violence, alcoholics and drug addicts who have given their children a life of heartache, and pray that the reality of the violence and hatred in our current world stops and that we will find a way to care and love one another before it is too late.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You never comment on my posts?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When and to what?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What did you say?

    Like

  9. marv montgomery permalink

    In real life I heard that Eddie Became a LAPD officer!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Tom Facer permalink

    We watch two episodes of Leave It To Beaver every weekday on METv.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. In case it didn’t, I am sorry Allen I did not see it. I also commented on Eddie. I too worked for LAPD, once in 1970 and again in 1984. I was drinking and drugging the first time, dating my fair share of police officers, the second time I was cleaning up my past and making amends and grateful that I could!. It has been an amazing ride. I am now 39 years clean and sober and have a life I never dreamed of. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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