If you’re over-50 – maybe closer to 60 – you likely spent some time every afternoon with one of America’s favorite kids, Theodore Cleaver, affectionately known as The Beaver, or just Beave. You only needed to see little Theodore smile his wide buck-tooth grin to know how he got his nickname.
If you were a Leave It To Beaver fan back in the late 50’s-early 60’s, you also got to know Beaver’s family: first there was June Cleaver, Beaver’s stay-at-home, always impeccably coiffed and dressed in her shirtwaist dresses, heels and single strand of pearls Mom. Then there was Beaver’s Dad, Ward Cleaver, whom you never quite knew what his occupation was but something in the architecture/construction field.
And, of course, Beaver’s older brother Wally Cleaver, the easy-going “straight man” to Beaver’s goofy antics. You may have even turned on Leave It to Beaver to escape to the seemingly idyllic life at 485 Grove Avenue in the fictitious suburb of Mayfield, Anywhere USA. It was a place where “real-life” problems didn’t seem to exist or at least they could be solved in 30 minutes.
You also got to know The Beaver’s, and his brother Wally’s, assorted friends who frequently made an appearance and were often accomplices, or provocateurs, of Beaver’s shenanigans. Who could forget the rather two-faced, smart aleck Eddie Haskell (who grew up to be a cop in Los Angeles), the troublemaking Whitey Whitney, the dolty Lumpy Rutherford and his father (Richard Deacon went on to the Dick Van Dyke show), the somewhat hapless Gilbert Gates, Larry Mondello and Richard Rickover. Of course, we can’t leave out dear, cute Miss Landers, Beaver’s ever-understanding and forgiving teacher who Beaver was just a tad secretly sweet on.
On the surface, Leave it to Beaver may have looked like just another family sitcom – there were several other popular ones on the air in the same years (The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, The Andy Griffith Show) but it was really the only family show that viewed the world – and its complicated issues like lying, stealing, alcoholism, divorce, loyalty to friends and family, etc – through the eyes of a little kid – The Beaver. We watched him learn his life lessons through some ridiculous, yet amusing, scheme to cover up what he didn’t want his parents, older brother, or teacher, to know he had experienced.
By himself, or sometimes going along with his friends in “seemed-like-a-good-thing-at-the-time” schemes, the Beaver managed to get himself locked in the principals office, get his head stuck in a fence, lose important things like the cat or money for some school event. He also had a particular knack for overflowing things – like the family washing machine and bathtub. Beaver’s non-stop predicaments always landed him a stern talking to first by Mom June who always deferred him for later father-heat by Ward – “wait till your father comes home, young man”.
Like the other family sitcoms of its day, Leave it To Beaver exemplified late 50’s-early 60’s family values where the mother never directly dealt with punishment of the child but always deferred it later to Dad. “Dad” – whether it was Ward Cleaver, Ozzie Nelson, Dr. Stone or Andy Griffith – was always the ultimate authority figure who held a kid’s fate in his hands. Except, what Beaver, the Stone kids, the Nelson boys, or Opie, didn’t see of Dad was that he really didn’t like getting hit with all the kid-crap du jour as soon as he walked through the door at the end of the day. At least once, all of the family sitcom fathers, even Ward Cleaver came home at the end of the day with a smiling, “Hi, I’m home” that quickly turned into an eye-rolling, under-the breath, “I should have stayed at work”.
But, as authority figure fathers go, Ward Cleaver was pretty even and fair in meting out punishment to The Beaver’s off-the wall, yet amusing, behavior. Perhaps softened by mom June’s kiss and request to “go easy on the Beaver, Ward”, Ward Cleaver more often got a secret chuckle out of The Beaver’s ingenuity in his antics than he was outraged by them. But it always seemed that The Beaver’s lesson wasn’t really driven home until older brother Wally, in their shared room, talking in their beds before they turned out the light on Beaver’s bad day, added his simple 2 cents assessment: “Gee, ya dopey kid, why did you do such a stupid thing?”
You might not know this, but Leave it to Beaver was the first American television show seen behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain, as it was called in those days. Perhaps, it was an attempt to understand American culture better, or build better relations with America, but even Russian kids – those with a television – grew up watching The Beaver and his loving family too.
The Beaver and his crazy, yet endearing antics, officially went off the air 50 years ago in 1963, yet Leave it To Beaver remains one of the most popular re-runs on television even today. You can usually find it on cable’s TV Land. Kids today, but more often adults who were kids back then, still love its relaxing and heartwarming close-knit family themes, Ward and June Cleaver’s parenting skills, and seemingly always easy-appearing solutions to life’s problems raising kids. Ah, if things were that simple today.