Leave It to Beaver
|Leave It to Beaver|
|Genre||Sitcom, children's television series|
|Created by||Joe Connelly|
|Theme music composer||David Kahn|
|Opening theme||"The Toy Parade"|
|Composers||Pete Rugolo (1957–62)|
Paul Smith (1962–63)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||6|
|No. of episodes||234 (list of episodes)|
|Production locations||Republic Studios|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Production companies||Revue Studios|
|Original network||CBS (1957–58)|
|Original release||October 4, 1957 –|
June 20, 1963
|Followed by||Still the Beaver|
The New Leave It to Beaver
Leave It to Beaver (1997 film)
Leave It to Beaver is an American television sitcom broadcast between 1957 and 1963 about an inquisitive and often naïve boy, Theodore "The Beaver" Cleaver (Jerry Mathers), and his adventures at home, 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.
The show was created by the writers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher. These veterans of radio and early television found inspiration for the show's characters, plots, and dialogue in the lives, experiences, and conversations of their own children. Leave It to Beaver is one of the first primetime sitcom series written from a child's point of view. Like several television dramas and sitcoms of the late 1950s and early 1960s (Lassie and My Three Sons), Leave It to Beaver is a glimpse of middle-class American boyhood. In a typical episode, Beaver gets into some sort of boyish scrape, then faces his parents for reprimand and correction. Neither parent was omniscient or infallible; the series often showed the parents debating their approach to child rearing, and some episodes were built around parental gaffes.
Leave It to Beaver ran for six full 39-week seasons (234 episodes). 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. Throughout the show's run, it was shot with a single camera on black-and-white 35 mm film. The show's production companies included the comedian George Gobel's Gomalco Productions (1957–61) and Connelly and Mosher's own Kayro Productions (1961–63) with filming at Revue Studios/Republic Studios and Universal Studios in Los Angeles. The show was distributed by MCA TV.
The still-popular show ended its run in 1963 primarily because it had reached its natural conclusion: In the final show, Beaver is about to graduate from grade school into high school, but Wally was about to enter college and the fraternal dynamic at the heart of the show's premise would be broken with their separation.
Contemporary commentators praised Leave It to Beaver, with Variety comparing Beaver to Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer. Much juvenile merchandise was released during the show's first run, including board games, novels, and comic books. The show has enjoyed a renaissance in popularity since the 1970s through off-network syndication, a reunion telemovie (Still the Beaver, 1983) and a sequel series, The New Leave It to Beaver (1985–89). In 1997, a movie version based on the original series was released to negative reviews. In October 2007, TV Land celebrated the show's 50th anniversary with a marathon. Although the show never broke into the Nielsen ratings top 30 or won any awards, it placed on Time magazine's unranked 2007 list of "All-TIME 100 TV Shows".
Concept, pilot, and premiere
In 1957, the radio, film and television writers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher developed a concept for a TV show about childhood and family life featuring a fictional suburban couple and their children. Unlike The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, Father Knows Best and other sitcoms and domestic comedies of the era, the show would not focus on the parents, but rather on their children, with the series being told from the kids' point of view. Working titles during the show's gestation period included It's a Small World and Wally and the Beaver. The pilot aired April 23, 1957, as "It's a Small World" on the anthology series Heinz Studio 57.
The stars of the pilot were Casey Adams and Paul Sullivan (as father and son Ward and Wally Cleaver). They were replaced as production of the series neared. Six months after the broadcast of the pilot, the series debuted on CBS on Friday October 4, 1957, as Leave It to Beaver, with the episode third in production order, "Beaver Gets 'Spelled". The intended premiere, "Captain Jack", displayed a toilet tank (which didn't pass the censor's office in time for the show's scheduled debut) and aired the week following the premiere. "Captain Jack" has claimed its place in television history as the first American TV show to display a toilet tank. In 1997, it was ranked number 42 in TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.
Sponsors and budget
Remington Rand was a potential sponsor during the show's conception and counseled against the show's suggested title, Wally and the Beaver, believing viewers would think the show was a nature program. The show was ultimately sponsored by Ralston Purina, with General Electric (the GE logo was clearly visible on all kitchen appliances) and Chrysler Corporation sponsoring the later seasons (Ward Cleaver was often seen driving the newest Plymouth Fury during the opening credits or coming home from work, starting in Season 3. In the first two seasons, he drove a 1957 Ford).
Episodes were budgeted at $30,000 to $40,000 each ($280,000 to $370,000 in 2020 dollars), making the show one of the most costly to produce at the time. High production costs were in part due to many outdoor scenes. The most expensive single episode, "In the Soup" (in which Beaver gets stuck in an advertising billboard with a gigantic make-believe cup of soup, curious as to how "steam" came out of the cup), was budgeted at $50,000. Two billboards were built for the episode: one outside on the back lot, and the other inside the studio.
Characters and casting
Casting directors interviewed hundreds of child actors for the role of Beaver, but kept calling back Jerry Mathers, an eight-year-old with substantial acting experience. At one of many auditions, Mathers wore his Cub Scout uniform and told casting personnel he was eager to leave for his den meeting. Connelly and Mosher were charmed with Mathers' innocent candor and cast him in the title role. Barbara Billingsley, an actress with experience in several B movies and one failed television series (Professional Father), was then hired to play Beaver's mother, June. Preteen Tony Dow accompanied a friend auditioning for Johnny Wildlife to the studio, and, although Dow had no aspirations to an acting career, tried out for the role of Beaver's brother, Wally, and was hired. Several adult candidates then auditioned for the role of Beaver's father, Ward, but Connelly and Mosher finally signed Hugh Beaumont, an actor and Methodist lay minister who had worked with Mathers in a religious film.
- Hugh Beaumont as Ward Cleaver
- Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver
- Tony Dow as Wallace "Wally" Cleaver
- Jerry Mathers as Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver
- Ken Osmond as Eddie Haskell, Wally's mischievous best friend
- Rusty Stevens as Larry Mondello, Beaver's apple-eating best friend
- Stanley Fafara as Hubert "Whitey" Whitney, Beaver's classmate and friend
- Rich Correll as Richard Rickover, Beaver's classmate and friend
- Stephen Talbot as Gilbert Bates, Beaver's classmate and friend
- Jeri Weil as Judy Hensler, Beaver's classmate and nemesis
- Patty Turner as Linda Dennison, Beaver's classmate and first love interest
- Karen Sue Trent as Penny Woods, Beaver's classmate and second love interest
- Bobby Mittelstaedt as Charlie Fredericks, a high-achieving classmate of Beaver's
- Richard Deacon as Fred Rutherford, Ward's overbearing co-worker
- Frank Bank as Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford, Fred's bully of a son and Wally's friend
- Wendy Winkelman and Veronica Cartwright as Violet Rutherford, Fred's daughter
- Buddy Joe Hooker as Chester Anderson, Wally's friend and classmate
- Tiger Fafara as Tooey Brown, Wally's friend and classmate
- Cheryl Holdridge as Julie Foster, Wally's first love interest
- Pamela Baird as Mary Ellen Rogers, Wally's second love interest and eventual wife
- Edgar Buchanan as Uncle Billy Cleaver, Ward's globetrotting and whimsical uncle
- Madge Kennedy as Aunt Martha Bronson, June's eccentric spinster aunt
- Diane Brewster as Miss Canfield, Beaver's second-grade teacher
- Sue Randall as Miss Alice Landers, Beaver's third-grade teacher
- Burt Mustin as Gus, an elderly fireman who acts as a role model for Beaver
- Doris Packer as Mrs Cornelia Rayburn, the principal of Grant Avenue Grammar School
- Madge Blake as Mrs Margaret Mondello, Larry's short-tempered and much put-upon mother
- Karl Swenson and George O. Petrie as George Haskell, Eddie's father
- Ann Doran and Anne Barton as Agnes Haskell, Eddie's mother
Writers and directors
The show's chief writers, Bob Mosher and Joe Connelly, met while working in New York City for the J. Walter Thompson Agency. Once in Hollywood, the men became head writers for the radio show Amos 'n' Andy and continued to write the well-received show when it moved to CBS television in 1950. Although both men initially wrote all the scripts for earlier episodes of Leave It to Beaver, after becoming executive producers they began accepting scripts from other writers, refining them, if necessary.
With Mosher the father of two children and Connelly six, the two had enough source material and inspiration for the show's dialogue and plot lines. Connelly's eight-year-old son, Ricky, served as the model for Beaver and his fourteen-year-old son, Jay, for Wally, while Eddie Haskell and Larry Mondello were based on friends of the Connelly boys. Connelly often took the boys on outings while carrying a notebook to record their conversations and activities.
Other writers who contributed to the show were Bill Manhoff, Mel Diamond, Dale and Katherine Eunson, Ben Gershman, George Tibbles (who later became the head writer on My Three Sons), Fran van Hartesvelt, Bob Ross, Alan Manings, Mathilde and Theodore Ferro, John Whedon and the team of Dick Conway and Roland MacLane, who wrote many of the shows for the last two seasons. Connelly told an interviewer, "If we hire a writer we tell him not to make up situations, but to look into his own background. It's not a 'situation' comedy where you have to create a situation for a particular effect. Our emphasis is on a natural story line."
Connelly and Mosher worked to create humorous characters in simple situations, rather than relying on contrived jokes. The two often adapted real-life situations in the lives of their children. "The Haircut", for example, was directly based on an incident involving Bobby Mosher, who was compelled to wear a stocking cap in a school play after giving himself a ragged haircut. Fourteen-year-old Jay Connelly's preening habits became Wally's frequent hair combing. Seven-year-old Ricky Connelly's habit of dropping the initial syllables of words was incorporated into Beaver's character.
According to Tony Dow, "If any line got too much of a laugh, they'd take it out. They didn't want a big laugh; they wanted chuckles."
Norman Tokar, a director with a talent for working with children, was hired to direct most of the episodes for the first three years and developed the characters of Eddie Haskell and Larry Mondello. Other directors included Earl Bellamy, David Butler (who had directed child actress Shirley Temple), Bretaigne Windust, Gene Reynolds and Hugh Beaumont. Norman Abbott directed most of the episodes through the last three years.
For the first two seasons, Leave It to Beaver was filmed at Republic Studios in Studio City, Los Angeles. For its final four seasons, production moved to Universal Studios. Exteriors, including the façades of the two Cleaver houses, were filmed on the respective studio back lots. Stock footage was often used for establishing shots.
The script for an upcoming episode would be delivered to the cast late in the week, with a read-through the following Monday, awkward lines or other problems being noted for rewrites. On Tuesday afternoon, the script was rehearsed in its entirety for the camera and lighting crew. Over the following three days, individual scenes would be filmed with a single camera.
Filming was limited to one episode per week (rather than the two typical of television production of the period) to accommodate the large number of child actors, who were allowed to work only four hours a day. Scenes with children were usually filmed first, with adult actors having to wait until after 5:00 pm for filming.
Series cinematographers included Mack Stengler with 122 episodes between 1958 and 1962, Jack MacKenzie with 40 episodes between 1962 and 1963, and William A. Sickner with 37 episodes between 1957 and 1959. Fred Mandl (1962), Ray Rennahan (1958), and Ray Flin (1960) served as cinematographers on less than five episodes each.
Opening and closing sequences
In the first season, each episode opens with a teaser, either featuring clips from the episode, or using generic footage from multiple episodes and a voice-over introduction by Beaumont briefly stating the episode's theme. The teaser is followed by the main title and credits in which the show's four main stars are introduced. Midway through the first season, the Beaumont voice-over introduction was discarded in favor of a brief scene extracted from the episode at hand, and, at the end of the first season, the teaser was entirely discarded, moving immediately to the title and credits. In seasons five and six, significant crew are listed in an extension of the opening credits after a commercial break.
Each season had an individually filmed sequence for the opening credits. In season one, for example, a cartoon-like drawing of a freshly laid concrete sidewalk was displayed with the show title and stars' names scratched into its surface, while in the final season, the Cleavers left the house through the front door carrying picnic items (see List of Leave It to Beaver episodes for specific season opening sequences). Billingsley was the first to be introduced in all opening sequences, followed by Beaumont and Dow. Mathers was introduced last, with the voice-over line, "...and Jerry Mathers as The Beaver".
The closing sequence for the first season featured a simple, dark background as the credits rolled. In the second season, Wally and Beaver are seen walking home from school with their schoolbooks and entering the house through the front door. In the third through fifth seasons, Wally and Beaver are seen walking towards the Pine Street house. Beaver carries a baseball glove and limps along the curbstone. In the last season, Beaver, arguing with Wally as the two are walking home, pushes Wally into the street and they start chasing each other around a tree and into the house.
The show's opening and closing sequences are 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 tender 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 quoted.
This CBS show required "wall-to-wall" music, a term for productions that utilize musical "tag" pieces between scenes as needed. While "The Toy Parade" theme was written for the show, incidental music was not. This is evident through the progression of the series, as the theme matured, the usual background music did not. This is the equivalent of the "needle-drop" library of prerecorded music that is still prevalent today. This incidental music was likely a product of the CBS Television Orchestra and clearly sounds reminiscent of the early 1950s, especially by 1963. Many of the musical cues were utilized in multiple series, including such varying shows as Lassie, The Munsters, Wagon Train, and The Virginian.
The time setting of Leave It to Beaver is contemporary with its production—the late 1950s and the early 1960s. References to contemporary news issues or topics are infrequent. Communism is mentioned in the episode "Water, Anyone?" The launching of the Russian satellite Sputnik, which coincided with the debut of the series, is mentioned in several episodes, as is the rapidly expanding missile defense sector in the 1962 episode "Stocks and Bonds". In Gilbert's first appearance, he tells Beaver he is in training for the 1968 Olympics.
Contemporary cultural references are more frequent but not overwhelming. The show acknowledges the greaser subculture and, in the last season, "The Twist", a popular song and dance craze of the early 1960s. The dance's promoter, Chubby Checker, is hinted at in the episode's fictional "Chubby Chadwick" and his fictional hit tune, "Surf Board Twist". Wally and his friends perform a tepid version of The Twist at Wally's party in "The Party Spoiler". The 1960 Kirk Douglas vehicle Spartacus is brought up in "Teacher's Daughter", Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev and Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. are mentioned and, in one episode, Beaver's best friend Gilbert says Angela Valentine wore a "Jackie Kennedy wig" to class. Contemporary celebrities mentioned on the show include Rock Hudson, Tuesday Weld, Cary Grant, Sal Mineo, Frank Sinatra, Edd Byrnes, Tony Curtis, Sonny Liston, Cassius Clay, Bob Cousy, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Jack Paar, John Glenn, Bennett Cerf, Warren Spahn, Fabian Forte, Bobby Vinton, Frankie Avalon and others. Then current Los Angeles Dodgers celebrity star Don Drysdale appears as himself in the 1962 episode titled "Long Distance Call". When Beaver appears on a TV show, not knowing it is being recorded to air another day, Gilbert compares the misunderstanding with "a Rod Serling Twilight Zone". The 1963 episode "The Poor Loser" opens with a shot of June marking a 1961 wall calendar and in the 1963 episode "Beaver's Graduation," June and Ward inspect the gift they have for Beaver's graduation and read the inscription, "...Class of '63".
Leave It to Beaver is set in the fictitious community of Mayfield and its environs. The principal setting is the Cleaver home. The Cleavers live in two houses over the series' run. However, they lived in another house prior to the start of the series. The move during the series was necessary when the façade of the original house, located at Republic Studios, became unavailable for filming following the production's move to Universal. The new house stood on the Universal backlot. The address of the first house is 485 Mapleton (sometimes Maple) Drive, and the second at 211 Pine Street.
Mapleton Drive house
Surrounded by a picket fence, the Mapleton Drive house is two stories with a first floor kitchen, dining room, living room and adjoining patio, and at least three bedrooms on the second floor—one for the boys, one for the parents, and a guest room into which Beaver moves for a night. The cellar is accessible through a diagonal door in the kitchen. A kitchen door opens onto a small side yard, the driveway, and a single-car garage—a frequent setting for get-togethers between the boys, their father, and the boys' friends.
Toward the close of season two, the Cleavers discuss moving. In the season's closer, Ward tells the boys the Mapleton Drive house has been sold. In the season three opener, the Cleavers are comfortably settled in their new home. No episode features the actual move.
Pine Street house
The Pine Street house consists of several rooms (kitchen and laundry room, dining room, living room, den) on the ground floor and at least three bedrooms on the second floor. None of the furnishings from the Mapleton Drive house appear in the new house. Reproductions of Gainsborough's The Blue Boy and Lawrence's Pinkie hang in the front entry above graceful bergères. An upholstered wing chair at the edge of the hearth in the living room is covered in a chinoiserie print.
During the final episode at the Mapleton Drive house, the boys announce they are excited for the move as the new house will afford them their own separate bedrooms. Yet in subsequent episodes taking place at the Pine Street residence, the brothers apparently still share the same bedroom. Even the arrangement of the furniture is nearly identical, though a portable TV is present by late 1962.
After the move to Pine Street, the boys continue to attend the same schools, frequent the same hang-outs, and visit the same friends. The Pine Street house is in the vicinity of the Mapleton Drive house; in one episode, Beaver and Larry walk to the Mapleton Drive house, uproot a small tree, and transport it to the Pine Street house in a wagon.
In the Pine Street house, Ward has a den near the main entry, which serves as a setting for many scenes. The garage at the Pine Street house is used less often as a setting for masculine get-togethers than the Mapleton Drive garage had been. June and Ward's bedroom is seen for the first time in the Pine Street house. They have their own bath, sleep in twin beds and have a portable TV in the room. The Cleavers' phone number is KL5-4763.
In 1969, the Pine Street house was reused for another Universal-produced television hit, Marcus Welby, M.D. This house can still be seen at Universal Studios, though the original façade was replaced in 1988 for the following year's The 'Burbs and sat in storage elsewhere on the Universal lot. The façade was replaced again for the 1997 Leave It to Beaver movie. The house and the street it sits on were used as the main exterior set for Wisteria Lane of Desperate Housewives, was also previously used as the Pearson family house on The Bill Engvall Show and also for a time shown on CBS daytime's The Young and the Restless as Victoria Newman Abbott and Billy Abbott's home.
Themes and recurring elements
Format and content
Leave It to Beaver is light comedy drama with the underlying theme that proper behavior brings rewards while improper behavior results in 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 "loot" from parents and schoolmates) are wrong and invite discussion and lessons-learned. 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. The writers urged parents to serve as moral role models.
A typical episode generally follows 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 and June 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 miscreants. The parenting is quite egalitarian for the time period, with Ward and June together debating the best approach to the situation. Other episodes (especially in earlier seasons) even reverse the formula, with Ward or June 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 greater scope 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.
Beaver and Wally both attend public schools and are encouraged to pursue college educations as a means to prepare for their futures. Ward and June attended prep school and boarding school, respectively, and both attended college; their sons are expected to do the same. While both boys consider prep-school educations—Wally at the Bellport Military Academy and Beaver at an eastern school called Fallbrook—both remain at home and attend Mayfield High with their friends. School and homework are often a challenge for Beaver. In "Beaver's Secret Life", the boy decides to become a writer in adulthood because "you don't have to go to school or know nothing ... You only have to make up adventures and get paid for it." Beaver's teachers and parents encourage him to value education and the school experience, while helping him to navigate missteps (such as skipping school with Larry Mondello) along the way.
The importance of attending college and having a future is presented as important to the happy life. Ward represents the successful, college-educated, middle-class professional with a steady but obscure office job. Even June, the competent and happy homemaker, had a college degree and came from an upper-class background (her maiden name of "Bronson" is often associated with class in her family). While June and Ward come from middle-class backgrounds and value economic mobility, they encourage Beaver and Wally to value all people. When Beaver befriends the garbage collector's children his parents, especially June, initially express discomfort, but then come to see the importance of such friendships.
According to the social mores represented in the show, a happy marriage is the cornerstone of successful middle-class family life, and June and Ward represent the warm, happily married, co-parenting successful middle class couple. In contrast, Beaver's friend Larry Mondello's father is frequently out of town on business, and Larry's mother struggles single-handedly to raise her children, sometimes depending on (usually reluctant) Ward to help discipline Larry. The one episode dealing with divorce shows it as having negative effects on children and family life.
Religion is lightly touched upon in the series, if only as one of the pillars of traditional Americana. In a sprinkling of episodes, Beaver refers to having attended church earlier on a Sunday or referring to a lesson learned in Sunday School. Ward uses parables—some from the Bible—to impart wisdom to the boys after they've experienced a difficult situation. He also often paraphrased from Greek fables to educate Wally and The Beaver about morality issues.
June and Ward are keenly aware of their duty to impart traditional, but proven, middle-class family values to their boys. They do so by serving as examples in word and deed, rather than using punitive means. Ward and June are models of late-1950s, conscientious parenting, but practice more egalitarian parenting than other shows of the time (such as "Father Knows Best"). Stay-at-home June maintains a loving, nurturing home, while Ward supervises the behavior and moral education of his sons, usually with June's input. While the series portrays the world through the eyes of a young boy, it sometimes dealt with controversial and adult subjects such as alcoholism and divorce.
June remains calm amid household tumult, providing crucial guidance to her sons while shielding them from nefarious outside influences with a matronly force of will. Her protection is frequently needed against the pernicious intrigues of Eddie Haskell, who engages in impulsive, selfish, disruptive, and malevolent schemes. For crafty Eddie, each day is one more step toward the twilight of the adults, which will herald his ascension to neighborhood ruler.
Ward is a Solomon-like figure of quiet dignity who dispenses parental justice tempered with understanding. He sometimes finds himself punishing his sons for deeds he admits he committed as a child. Ward relates to the peer-pressure the boys sometimes face as when he defends them for wanting to view a horror movie with Eddie Haskell. June objects, but Ward responds by telling her he saw hundreds of horror films as a boy and even had a subscription to Weird Tales. Ward often finds himself learning the most in the episode from something his sons, or sometimes his wife, do.
Signature show elements
The show employs contemporary kid-slang 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", "dry up", "grubby", "clobber", "chicken", "rat", and "creep" are frequently heard. 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. "No foolin'?" was frequently used as a euphemism for "really?"
Physical punishment looms large in the boys' imaginations, but such punishment is never seen. Though Ward tells Wally and Beaver he has never physically punished them, both boys remind their father of past incidents when he did. In one episode, Beaver mentioned a time when he spilled ink on a rug and his father spanked him. Ward himself mentions that his father used a belt on him, and Larry's homelife is described as one of being hollered at and hit. In one episode, Larry begs, "Don't hit me! Don't hit me!" when his mother discovers him reading his sister's diary. Punishment in the show is restricted to being grounded, spending time in one's bedroom, losing movie-going or television privileges, or pulling weeds in the yard.
Recurrent humor is generated on the show by contrasting the 'squeaky-clean' habits of June and Ward with the 'grubby' ones of Wally and Beaver. While Ward and June stress cleanliness, bathing, and good grooming (ordering both boys to wash their faces, hands, and fingernails before dinner), both boys generally prefer being unwashed and dressed in dirty clothes. In the premiere episode, Wally and Beaver fake bathing by rumpling towels and tossing "turtle dirt" in the bathtub. This scene is masterfully played and is a study in irony. The boys run through their fake bathing routine in a way that suggests they have done it hundreds of times before. All the while they are talking about Beaver's school problems (related to a letter that his teacher sent home). Beaver asks Wally to write a fake response to the teacher, but Wally says heck no, he couldn't do that because it would be dishonest. He then asks Beaver for some of his “turtle dirt” (dirt from Beaver's pocket, where he was keeping a turtle). Wally tosses the dirt into the bathtub water and says, sort of as an afterthought “It’ll leave a ring”. In "Cleaning Up Beaver", June and Ward commend Wally on his neat appearance and chide Beaver for his untidiness. When Wally calls Beaver a "pig", Beaver moves into the guest room where he can be his own dirty, messy self without comment or criticism from others. Frightening shadows in the room force him back to his old bedroom and the safety of being with his brother. The two boys strike a middle ground: Beaver will be a bit tidier than he usually is and Wally will be a bit sloppier. By the final season, even Beaver shows signs to being neater, a sign of growing up.
Leave It to Beaver is unique in 1950s television sitcom history for its extraordinary number of bathroom scenes. Beaver and Wally have an en-suite bathroom, and many scenes are set in it. One early episode, "Child Care", is set almost entirely in their bathroom. Other episodes include major scenes set in the boys' bathroom. Additionally, in almost every scene set in the boys' bedroom, the bathtub, shower curtain, or vanity can be seen through the open bathroom door. Beaver uses the bathroom several times to escape his brother when angry, slamming the door to express his emotions. At such times, June and Ward are called upon to order Beaver to vacate his refuge. In "Beaver's Good Deed", a scene is set in Ward and June's bathroom. A tramp takes a bath in their tub and slips away wearing one of Ward's suits and a pair of his shoes. In the "Captain Jack" episode, Wally and Beaver try to hide a baby alligator they bought by keeping it in their bathroom's toilet tank.
Beaver and girls
Beaver's attitude toward girls is a thread that runs throughout the series, providing comic contrast to his brother's successful dating life and his parents' happy marriage. Beaver tells off his female classmates, telling Violet Rutherford she drinks gutter water, calling Linda Dennison a "smelly old ape" and threatening to punch Judy Hensler if she "gets mushy" on him. Though loathing girls his own age, Beaver develops crushes on schoolteachers Miss Canfield and Miss Landers, and in one episode says he's going to marry a "mother" when the time comes. Beaver disparages marriage saying, "just because you're married doesn't mean you have to like girls." In the later seasons, Beaver has matured into a teen-ager, adjusted his outlook, and dates a few girls, though his dates are rarely as successful as Wally's.
Cancellation and subsequent developments
In its first season on CBS (1957–58), Leave It To Beaver received disappointing Nielsen ratings and CBS canceled it. ABC then picked up the program, and although the series never entered the list of the top 30 television shows, its ratings were nonetheless solid enough to warrant a five-year run. By the start of the 1962–63 season, the show was reaching an impasse. The series was still popular with audiences, but Jerry Mathers wanted to retire from acting at the end of the sixth year to attend regular high school. As a result, Leave It To Beaver ended its network run on June 20, 1963. The series finale, "Family Scrapbook", was directed by Hugh Beaumont, written by Connelly and Mosher, and is regarded as being one of the first sitcom episodes written expressly as a series finale.
Cast appearances on Lassie
Several Leave It to Beaver performers appeared on the CBS television series Lassie. Hugh Beaumont had yet to snag his role as Ward Cleaver when he appeared in "The Well", one of the two pilots filmed for the series. The episode was filmed in color and aired monochromatically in the series' first season (1954). In 1968, Jerry Mathers appeared in "Lassie and the 4-H Boys", an episode about two teen brothers quarreling over the disposition of a prize-winning bull, while, the same year, Tony Dow appeared with Jan-Michael Vincent as a hippie-type character in a three-part story called "Hanford's Point". Stephen Talbot (Gilbert) was featured in two episodes of "Lassie" in 1959, "The Flying Machine" and "Growing Pains," and a third in 1960, "The Big Race". Before their commitments to Leave It to Beaver, "Tiger" Fafara appeared in one Lassie episode while Madge Blake made appearances in two episodes. In the 1960–61 season, Richard Correll played Steve Johnson, one of Timmy Martin's Calverton friends in two episodes. Ken Osmond played a delivery boy in a season two episode and a smart-aleck kid whose carelessness causes a forest fire in the season four episode "The Cub Scout".
Reunion telemovie (1983)
Except for Beaumont, who had died in 1982, and Stanley Fafara, who was replaced as Whitey by Ed Begley, Jr., the main cast appeared in the reunion telemovie Still the Beaver (1983). The film followed adult Beaver's struggle to reconcile his recent divorce and single parenthood, while facing the possibility of his widowed mother selling their childhood home. June Cleaver is later elected to the Mayfield City Council.
Sequel series (1984–1989)
The enthusiastic reception to Still the Beaver led to a new first-run, made-for-cable TV series, The New Leave It to Beaver (1984–1989), with Beaver and Lumpy Rutherford now running Ward's old firm (where Lumpy's pompous, demanding father – played by Richard Deacon in the original series and reunion movie before his death in 1984 – had been the senior partner), Wally, who married his high school girlfriend Mary Ellen Rogers, as a practicing attorney and expectant father, and June having sold the old house to Beaver himself but living with him as a doting grandmother to Beaver's two young sons. Eddie Haskell runs his own contracting business and has two sons; eldest son Freddie (played by Ken Osmond's real-life son, Eric Osmond), who was every inch his father's son – right down to the two-faced personality, and a younger son, Eddie, Jr., aka "Bomber" (played by Osmond's younger real-life son, Christian Osmond), who was often away at military school, but would periodically return home to visit.
The show proved to be a scheduling headache for CBS and ABC, airing on four different evenings (Wednesday through Saturday) during the series' run.
CBS first broadcast the show on Friday, October 4, 1957, at 7:30 pm (EST) opposite Saber of London on NBC and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin on ABC. In March 1958, Beaver was moved to Wednesdays at 8:00 pm opposite Wagon Train, then on NBC.
CBS dropped the show after one season. ABC picked it up and ran it for another five seasons, from October 2, 1958, to June 20, 1963. In his memoirs, Jerry Mathers states the move was the decision of the sponsor, Ralston Purina, who arranged a better deal with ABC than with CBS.
On ABC, the show saw several time slots over its run. From October 1958 to June 1959 it aired on Thursdays at 7:30 pm (EST), with summer 1959 reruns airing at 9:00 pm. From October 1959 to September 1962 the show was televised Saturdays at 8:30 pm, and during its last season (1962–63) the show aired Thursdays at 8:30 pm.
The series entered syndication in many cities four days following completion of the ABC summer repeats. By the mid-1970s, the show was only on in a few markets, one of which was Atlanta, Georgia on Ted Turner's Channel 17, WTCG. In 1976, when WTCG went on satellite and became a Superstation available nationwide, Leave It To Beaver was exposed nationwide. From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, the series gained new popularity. In Chicago, reruns originally aired on second-tier independent station WSNS. But when WSNS began to phase in subscription TV in 1980, they did not renew and WGN-TV, which also became a Superstation, picked it up. So in the early 1980s the show was airing in most large, major, and medium TV markets. It also aired on CBN from 1981 until 1984. Still, TBS and WGN showed it for many years in the late 1980s and into the 90s (TBS sometimes running it back-to-back with the New Leave It to Beaver on occasion), and briefly on Nick at Nite from July 12, 2002, to August 10, 2002, as part of TV Land Sampler. It aired on TV Land from July 1998 to November 2012. Today, NBC Universal Television owns the syndication rights and all properties related to the series.
The show also aired on the digital TV network Retro TV from 2006 to July 2011, when Retro's rights to MCA/Universal product expired. Digital TV network Antenna TV picked the series up and ran it from October 3, 2011, to April 27, 2013, when it moved over to MeTV On January 5, 2015, the series moved back to Antenna TV, airing on weekday afternoons. It returned to MeTV on January 2, 2017.
In early 2014, Netflix video streaming service acquired rights for all six seasons. The broadcast rights were for one year. The seasons were remastered for digital TV. All of 6 seasons are available for purchase through the Amazon Prime video on demand service. In 2020 NBCUniversal launched their own streaming service Peacock which carries all six seasons.
Marketing and merchandise
During the show's first run, merchandise including novels, records, and board games was generated for the juvenile market. With the show's renaissance in popularity decades later, merchandise produced was aimed toward the adult babyboomer/nostalgia collectors market and included pinback buttons, clocks, greeting cards, calendars, non-fiction books about the show's production, memoirs, and miscellaneous items. In 1983, Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow appeared on boxes of Kellogg's Corn Flakes. In 2007, one of the cereal boxes fetched $300 at auction. Promotional photographs from the studio, autographs, original scripts, copies of TV Guide and other magazines from the period featuring articles about the show are all collectibles. Props and costumes from the show with documentation establishing provenance are highly prized.
During the series' run, Little Golden Books published Leave It to Beaver (1959), an inexpensive storybook for young children. Distinguished children's author Beverly Cleary published three softcover novels based on the series, Leave It to Beaver (1960), Here's Beaver! (1961), and Beaver and Wally (1961). Whitman Publishing printed Leave It to Beaver: Fire! (1962), a hardcover novel by Cole Fanin. In 1983, The Beaver Papers (ISBN 0-517-54991-3) by Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones was published. The book is a parody of a lost season comprising twenty-five episodes written in the style of various authors such as Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner – a 30th Anniversary Edition was published in 2013 by Atomic Drop Press.
Dell comic books
Dell Comics published six Leave It to Beaver comic books with photo covers of Beaver, Beaver and Wally, or Beaver and Ward. The first comic book (Four Color No. 912) is dated June 1958 and the last (Four Color No. 01-428-207) May–July 1962. In 2004, all six Dell Leave It to Beaver comic books in 'Near Mint' condition were valued in excess of two hundred dollars each.
Hasbro board games
Three Leave It to Beaver juvenile board games were released in 1959 by toymaker Hasbro. The games were typical roll-and-move track games for two to four players. All three game box covers feature photographic portraits of Jerry Mathers as Beaver.
"Leave It to Beaver Money Maker Game" suggests one of the show's recurrent themes – Beaver's attempts to make money. Equipment includes a center-seamed board with illustrations of Beaver and Ward. One player distributes and collects money as "Father".
"Leave It to Beaver Rocket to the Moon Space Game", rather than using dice or a spinner to advance players along the track, employs a rocket-shaped cone that is flipped onto a board to determine the number of spaces to be moved. "Leave It to Beaver Ambush Game" is a track game with an Old West theme.
Feature film adaptation
1997's movie adaptation of the series starred Christopher McDonald as Ward, Janine Turner as June, Erik von Detten as Wally, and Cameron Finley as the Beaver. It was panned by many critics, with the notable exception of Roger Ebert, who gave it a three-star rating. It performed poorly at the box office, earning only $11,713,605. Barbara Billingsley, Ken Osmond, and Frank Bank made cameo appearances in the film.
Universal Studios released the first two seasons of Leave It to Beaver on DVD in Region 1 in 2005/2006. Season one was released in two versions: an inexpensive cardboard slip-cased collection and a costlier version in which the DVDs were contained in a retro-styled, plastic photo album tucked inside a plaid metal lunch box displaying portraits of the cast on its exterior. Both of these seasons were released in the troublesome DVD-18 format which plagued many of Universal Studios' boxed set releases.
On January 26, 2010, it was announced that Shout! Factory had acquired the rights to the series (under license from Universal). They subsequently released the remaining seasons on DVD as well as a complete series box set.
On January 31, 2012, Shout! Factory released a 20 episode best-of set titled Leave It to Beaver: 20 Timeless Episodes.
|DVD name||Ep #||Release date||Ref(s)|
|The Complete First Season||39||November 22, 2005|||
|The Complete Second Season||39||May 2, 2006|||
|Season Three||39||June 15, 2010|||
|Season Four||39||September 14, 2010|||
|Season Five||39||December 14, 2010|||
|Season Six||39||March 1, 2011|||
|The Complete Series||234||June 29, 2010|||
In spite of solid and consistent ratings, Leave It to Beaver never climbed into the Nielsen's top-30 though similar sitcoms of the period such as Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, The Real McCoys, and Dennis the Menace managed to do so.
Leave It to Beaver faced stiff competition in its time slots. During its next to last season, for example, the show ran against The Defenders, a program examining highly charged courtroom cases about abortion and the death penalty. In its final season, the show was up against Perry Mason and Dr. Kildare but was in the ABC line-up with television greats The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show, and My Three Sons.
Critical reception of the series was generally favorable. In the New York Herald Tribune, John Crosby stated the show was "charming and sincere" and featured "the wonderful candor and directness with which children disconcert and enchant you". Variety favorably compared the premiere episode with the classic Tom Sawyer and noted at the fourth season's opening that the show had "never been a yock show in the sense of generating big and sustained laughs, but it has consistently poured forth warmth, wit and wisdom without condescension or pretense." TV Guide dubbed the show "the sleeper of the 1957–58 season" and later noted that the show was "one of the most honest, most human and most satisfying situation comedies on TV". The New York Times, however, found the show was "too broad and artificial to be persuasive".
A comparison of how children interact with their brothers and sisters on such 1950s situation comedy television programs as Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best with those on such 1980s programs as The Cosby Show and Family Ties found that children interacted more positively in the 1950s but were more central to the main story action in the 1980s.
Awards and nominations
The show received two Emmy nominations in 1958 for Best New Program Series of the Year and Best Teleplay Writing—Half Hour or Less (Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher) for the premiere episode, "Beaver Gets 'Spelled". In 1984, Jerry Mathers was awarded the Young Artist's Former Child Star Special Award, and in 1987, Ken Osmond and Tony Dow were both honored with the Young Artist's Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2003, Diane Brewster was nominated for TV Land's Classic TV Teacher of the Year Award while, in 2005, Ken Osmond was nominated for TV Land's Character Most Desperately in Need of a Timeout Award. Leave It to Beaver placed on Time's "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-Time" list. Bravo ranked Beaver 74th on their list of the 100 greatest TV characters. In 1999, TV Guide ranked Eddie Haskell number 20 on its "50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time" list.
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- Lassie, episode 89: "The Artist".
- Lassie, episode 250: "The Greyhound".
- Lassie, episode 253: "Timmy and the Martians".
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