It To Beaver, a series both praised for its family-bolstering
innocence and panned for its homogenized sappiness, served as a
bridge between the waning radio comedy and the blossoming of the
television "sitcom." The show was created by Joe Connelly and Bob
Mosher; two writers who first worked together at the J. Walter Thompson
advertising agency in New York. Leaving the agency in 1942 to devote
their talents to radio comedy writing, the duo worked on shows starring
Edgar Bergen, Frank Morgan, and Phil Harris before securing jobs
on the wildly popular Amos 'n' Andy program. Over a period
of twelve years, they earned writers' credits on over 1,500 radio
and television scripts for that series; continuing to create material
for the show's radio version right up to Beaver's third year.
Although Amos 'n' Andy now is viewed as a distorted repository
of racial stereotyping and segregated casting, Connelly's and Mosher's
experience on that program helped them refine a flair for extracting
humor from uncomplicated, yet likable characters immersed in unremarkable
situations with which the audience could easily identify.
and Mosher's first solo television effort was a short-lived anthology
series for actor Ray Milland. This uncharacteristic failure, they
revealed in a New York Times interview with Oscar Golbout,
taught them to restrict themselves to writing "things we know about."
They followed up on this resolution by taking a situation Connelly
had observed while driving his son to parochial school and crafting
it into The Private War of Major Benson, a theatrical feature
starring Charlton Heston that won the pair an Academy Award nomination
in 1956. It was from such real-life simplicity that Leave It
To Beaver was born. In 1957, Connelly and Mosher developed a
concept for an adult-appealing show about children. Unlike such
predecessors (and competitors) as The Life of Riley, The Adventures
of Ozzie & Harriet, and Father Knows Best, it would not
be the parents who served as Beaver's focal point but rather,
their offspring. The stories would be told from the kids' point-of-view
as Connelly and Mosher recalled it and observed it in their own
children. Mosher was the father of two children and Connelly the
parent of six. While all of these offspring served as sources for
the show's dialogue and plot lines, Connelly's eight-year-old son
Ricky was the inspiration for Beaver; his fourteen-year-old son
Jay the model for Beaver's older brother Wally.
Rand picked up the project that became a co-owned vehicle in which
Connelly and Mosher had 50 percent and comedian George Goebel's
Gomalco Production controlled the other half. The creative and casting
aspects of the show were put together by dominant talent agency
MCA (then known as the Music Corporation of America). From its inception,
Beaver was fashioned as a traditional family unit with two
sons. Beaver Cleaver was near eight when the show began and his
brother Wally was twelve. Although Beaver's real name was Theodore,
the nickname was emphasized to suggest a toothy, perky youngster
who was "all boy." Early in the series, Beaver explains that he
acquired the moniker as a baby when toddler Wally could only pronounce
Theodore as "Tweeter". Parents Ward and June modified the sound
to the slightly more dignified "Beaver" which would be the show's
namesake. The pilot script was, in fact, titled Wally and
Beaver to emphasize the project's child's-eye viewpoint. Sponsor
Remington Rand felt this might suggest a nature program, however,
so the series became Leave It To Beaver.
Beaver ran on network television from October 1957 to September
1963; the first season on CBS and the last five on ABC. Paralleling
the network shift, the show's production relocated from Republic
Studio to Universal Studios after the second year--and the on-screen
Cleavers moved from a modest, picket-fenced house at 485 Maple Drive
to a larger abode at 211 Pine Street--both in the small and vaguely
midwestern town of Mayfield. A library of 234 episodes was produced
in which the characters were allowed to naturally age with their
actors. Beaver went from a dirt-loving little boy to a gawky
teen about to enter high school. Wally matured from a pre-teen just
beginning to take an interest in girls to a poised young man ready
to leave for college. In the show's first seasons, when actor Jerry
Mathers was at his cutest, his Beaver character was the program's
centerpiece. As he became a more gangling preadolescent, more plot
attention was directed toward Wally, whose portrayer Tony Dow was
developing into a handsome teenager. Through it all, father Ward
(played by Hugh Beaumont, a Methodist lay preacher and religious
film actor) and mother June (grade-B film and TV drama veteran Barbara
Billingsley) observed and nurtured their children with quiet selflessness
and obvious love.
its six-year-run as a prime-time network offering, Beaver
never made the coveted top-twenty-five list. Nevertheless, its down-to-earth
writing, low-key acting and uncontrived storylines served as a memorable
and well-crafted icon for the positive if unremarkable joys of middle
class family life in general and suburban kid-dom in particular.
If Beaver's ignoring of significant social issues was a common
flaw of the programs of its time, its unpretentious advocacy of
personal responsibility and self-respect was an uncommon virtue.
Admittedly, as critic Robert Lewis Shayon observed, Ward and June
Cleaver were "Mr. and Mrs. Average-American living in their typical
Good Housekeeping home." But what happened in and around
that home was a consistent and continuous celebration of all those
minor but precious family victories that could be won even when
the children themselves were required to be the decision-makers.
than three months after Beaver left the air, the assassination of
President John F. Kennedy changed the nation's view of itself and
its times. Connelly and Mosher went off to write The Munsters
and a country preoccupied with civil rights strife, Vietnam, Woodstock
and Watergate would find little relevance in Beaver's radio-derived
simplicity. But by the late 1970s, the show's uncomplicated and
unabrasive observations reacquired appeal. On superstation WTBS
and scores of other outlets, Beaver reruns enjoyed significant
ratings success. Beaver and Wally appeared on packages of Kellogg's
Corn Flakes in 1983 and the show's cast members have since been
featured in a variety of retrospective projects. A striking example
of the wistful admiration for all the series still represents was
uncovered in a 1994 Parenting magazine poll. Predictably,
40% of respondents said the contemporary superhit Roseanne
reflected their family life--but a full 28% picked Beaver instead.
What Wally once observed about his brother may be true of the program
as a whole: "He's got that little kid expression on his face all
the time, but he's not really as goofy as he looks."
Leave It To Beaver
Cleaver .....................................Barbara Billingsley
Ward Cleaver........................................ Hugh
Beaumont Beaver (Theodore) Cleaver........................
Jerry Mathers Wally Cleaver................................................
Tony Dow Eddie Haskell ...........................................Ken
Osmond Miss Canfield (1957-1958)....................... Diane
Brewster Miss Landers (l958-l962)..............................
Sue Randall Larry Mondelo (l958-l960)..........................Rusty
Stevens Whitey Whitney .......................................Stanley
Fafara Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford (l958-1963)....... Frank
Bank Mr. Fred Rutherford............................... Richard
Deacon Gilbert Bates (1959-1963)....................... Stephen
Talbot Richard (1960-1963) ................................Richard
Harry Ackerman, Joe Connelly, Bob Mosher
HISTORY 234 Episodes
October 1957-March 1958
Friday 7:30-8:00 March 1958-September l958 Wednesday
8:00-8:30 ABC October 1958-June 1959 Thursday
7:30-8:00 July l959-September 1959 Thursday
9:00-9:30 October 1959-September 1962 Saturday
8:30-9:00 September 1962-September 1963 Thursday
Applebaum, Irwyn. The World According to Beaver. New York:
Oscar. "A Gift from the Children." New York Times, 8 December
Nina. Living Room Lectures: The Fifties Family in Film and Television.
Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1995.
Robert Lewis. "Beaver's Booboo." Saturday Review (New York),
1 February 1958.
Richard. "Busy 'Beaver' and His Brother." New York Times,
30 October 1960.
Lynn. Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal In Postwar
America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
"TV's Eager Beaver." Look (New York), 27 May 1958.
Domestic Settings; Family
on Television; Gender