“Gee Wally….” A staple phrase from Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, who had a smile like apple pie and a knack for biting into sour apples. Like Dennis the Menace, Beaver always tried to do the right thing; he just had an unfortunate way of going about it.
In sweet situation comedy Leave It To Beaver, the world was seen through the eyes of a young, rambunctious boy who had an immense talent for trouble. The Beaver’s champion was his all-American jock brother Wally, who despite his well intentioned rescue attempts, often found himself in the thick of it.
No matter how deep the boys got themselves into trouble, Ward Cleaver would without fail deliver the boys from their guilt with his patriarchal parables. A sample Wardism: “As you go through life, try to improve yourself, not prove yourself,” delivered after the Beaver fell into a giant soup bowl billboard on a dare, resulting in a humiliating rescue by firemen.
The mother of the year award would go to June Cleaver, the ideal wife and mother, who not only kept her family thoroughly happy, but consistently looked like a million bucks. Every day was an adventure in parenting in the mythical town of Mayfield, USA, a pleasant middle-class suburb.
Of course every paradise has its snake, and Wally’s pal Eddie Haskell was as slimy as they got. Flashing his pearly whites as he feigned flattery on Mrs. Cleaver, one could rest assured his devilish escapades were not far behind. Lumpy Rutherford was Wally’s chubby, less dubious sidekick.
The Beaver had his own personal Eddie Haskell as well, Gilbert Bates, who in some ways was even more of a weasel then Eddie. Whitey Whitney, another Beav chum, was a bit on the goosey side, but good-natured nonetheless. And who could forget Larry Mondello, who was constantly eating or complaining while getting the Beaver into some kind of quandary. In a very memorable episode, Larry took money from his mother’s sewing basket and pitched it out his window, then convinced Beaver it fell from a pilot’s pockets while flying upside down.
These were the sorts of troubles the Beaver got himself into, but it was never anything serious. Leave It To Beaver was about as innocent as it gets, and that kind of good-natured charm made it an audience favorite through the end of the 1950’s and into the 60’s.
The show came to an end in 1963 as Beaver entered his teen years and Wally departed for college, but this was just the beginning of Leave It To Beaver’s legendary status. In syndication, the show would be enjoyed for years to come, becoming the very definition of that make-believe 50’s era when nothing really bad ever happened, mom and dad knew everything, and kids were just plain adorable.
In March of 1983, CBS televised a TV movie sequel, Still the Beaver, which reunited nearly all of the original cast. The show was now more popular than ever, and in 1985, more than twenty years after Leave It To Beaver ended its original run, The New Leave It To Beaver was created for cable, delivering 105 episodes.
And still The Beaver lives on, even making a little-seen trip to the silver screen with the 1997 feature film release of Leave It To Beaver. June may have had her doubts about the boy’s decision-making skills (“Ward, I’m a little worried about the Beaver…”), but if the past is any indication, the Beaver will be just fine.
USA / CBS – ABC – Universal / 234×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 4 October 1957 – 17 September 1958 (CBS) and 2 October 1958 – 12 September 1963
Creators: Bob Mosher, Joe Connelly / Theme Music: Dave Kahn Gomalco
Hugh Beaumont as Ward Cleaver
Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver
Tony Dow as Wally Cleaver
Jerry Mathers as Beaver Cleaver
Ken Osmond as Eddie Haskell
Frank Bank as Lumpy Rutherford
Richard Deacon as Fred Rutherford
Rusty Stevens as Larry Mondello
Stanley Fafara as Whitey
Jeri Weil as Judy Hessler
Karen Sue Trent as Penny Woods
Helen Parrish as Gwen Rutherford
Majel Barrett as Gwen Rutherford as 2)
Margaret Stewart as Gwen Rutherford as 3)
Wendy Winkelman as Violet Rutherford
Veronica Cartwright as Violet Rutherford as 2)
Stephen Talbot as Gilbert Bates
Cheryl Holdridge as Julie Foster
Sue Randall as Alice Landers
Doris Packer as Cornelia Rayburn
Burt Mustin as Gus
Madge Blake as Larry’s mother
Stanley Fafara as Harrison “Tuey” Brown; Beaver’s friend
Katherine Warren as Tuey’s mother