Many sitcoms have featured coming-of-age themes through the years, but few are as influential as Leave it to Beaver. The popular CBS – and later ABC – show launched in 1957 and followed the inquisitive Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver and his family. And as one of the first shows filmed from a child’s point of view, we have it to thank for later classics like The Wonder Years and Malcolm in the Middle. Nearly 60 years after it first aired, then, Beaver remains as popular as ever, and these little-known facts will make you fall in love with it all over again.
40. The Cleavers could have looked like different people
We all know the Cleaver family was made up of Beaver, Wally, June and Ward. And while this unit remained untouched from the development stage, the actors playing them could have been entirely different. As Jerry Mathers relayed to MeTV in 2014, only he and Barbara Billingsley appeared in the pilot episode – Tony Dow and Hugh Beaumont’s characters were portrayed by other people.
39. Beaver and Wally didn’t become like brothers until later in life
Although cast as siblings, Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow didn’t exactly have a brotherly bond on the show’s run. But that’s not to say they didn’t get on – due to their age differences, they just didn’t have the opportunity to hang out off the set. In fact, the pair wouldn’t become firm friends until adulthood when they appeared in the same play together 30 years later.
38. Tony Dow got into acting unintentionally
Whereas his co-star Mathers had been acting since the age of two, Dow wouldn’t get into the business until much later. Even then, this was completely by accident. Aged 12, Dow accompanied a friend to an audition for a show named Johnny Wildlife and inadvertently bagged himself a supporting role.
37. Dow had Olympic ambitions before he joined the show
Some people are born knowing they’ll someday become actors. Tony Dow, on the other hand, fell into the business by chance. Before that, he actually had desires for a career in athletics. Prior to Leave it to Beaver, the sitcom star excelled at diving and even won a Junior Olympic title.
36. June’s heels compensated for some unwanted growth spurts
In recent times, June Cleaver’s tendency to wear heels while doing housework has been derided by fans. However, there were practical considerations behind the housewife’s impractical choice of footwear. Indeed, actress Barbara Billingsley began wearing heels in season two so that she would look taller in comparison to her rapidly growing pubescent co-stars.
35. The show has become college curriculum
While we can appreciate Leave it to Beaver for its humor, could a sitcom be classed as anything other than entertainment? Well, according to some scholars, the show can teach us a lot about social issues. In fact, some sociology academics even include the show in the syllabus where it is compared with current sitcoms like Modern Family.
34. Jerry Mathers chose his education over the show
For some young actors, it can be tempting to ride a profitable gig for as long as possible. And yet Mathers had other plans. When it came time for him to enter high school, the child star decided to quit the show to have more time for his studies. His decision ultimately led to the sitcom coming to an end in 1963.
33. Lumpy and Eddie joined the army in real life
Eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed some changes in Leave it to Beaver’s character roster in later seasons. More specifically, they may have observed that Lumpy and Eddie made fewer appearances than earlier episodes. This is because actors Frank Bank and Ken Osmond enlisted in the Armed Forces near the show’s end and thus had less time to commit to production.
32. Playing Wally cost Dow work
Some actors are so associated with a particular character that casting directors can’t see them playing other roles. For Tony Dow, playing Wally meant the actor lost out on the chance to expand his dramatic horizons. “I was trying to be a serious actor, and I was continually getting these apple-pie roles,” he complained to azcentral in 2019.
31. Dow lampooned Leave it to Beaver on the big screen
Owing to being typecast as Wally, Tony Dow would resent the character for negatively effecting his career. But the actor eventually got his revenge via a satirical segment in 1977’s Kentucky Fried Movie. For the film, Dow reprised Wally in a scene where he and Beaver bicker in a courthouse.
30. Hugh Beaumont was initially known for playing tough guys on-screen
Although Ward Cleaver was one of the gentlest characters on television, Beaumont got his big shot playing rougher roles. Prior to Leave it to Beaver, the actor was known as the tough-as-nails P.I. Michael Shayne – a character the kindly star was a little embarrassed by. “I’m not sure that that was anything a minister would want to be remembered for!” opined Mathers.
29. Mayfield’s location wasn’t such a secret after all
Throughout Leave it to Beaver’s run, it’s never explicitly stated where Mayfield lies in the States. And according to the show’s stars, this was so the town could stand-in for anywhere in America. However, the show’s 1997 film adaptation gave Mayfield’s location away to keen-eyed views. In one scene, a check shows that the town is located in Ohio.
28. Sponsors made Ward change his car
During its run, Leave it to Beaver was sponsored by the likes of General Electric and Purina. But another sponsor that came along in season three was Chrysler which offered its endorsement despite Ward Cleaver driving a Ford. So as not to advertise a rival, the show’s producers switched the character’s car of choice to a Plymouth Fury instead.
27. The show never had huge ratings
For modern audiences, Leave it to Beaver is the 1950s’ quintessential sitcom. Nonetheless, the series wasn’t as big during its original run. At the time, Westerns were the biggest draw on television and viewership figures for sitcoms paled in comparison. In fact, Leave it to Beaver couldn’t even break the Nielsen top-30.
26. Its budget was unusually high for its time
Considering the low-key nature of Leave it to Beaver, one would assume that its production costs were small. On the contrary, however, the series featured tricky outdoor-set scenes which made it one of the most expensive shows of its era. One episode – “In the Soup” – ate through a $50,000 budget owing to the inclusion of billboards as part of the set.
25. Its finale was a clip show
While it may have invented the finale as a staple of TV sitcoms, Leave it to Beaver didn’t exactly save the best for last. In fact, there wasn’t as much thought put into the episode as others in the series. Rather than featuring prominently new footage, the episode “Family Scrapbook” instead consisted mainly of clips from other occasions.
24. The Cleavers lived in another house before the show began
It’s true that 485 Madison Avenue and 211 Pine Street have become iconic houses in sitcom history. But these two aren’t the only places the Cleavers called home. In the episode “Beaver’s Old Friend,” Beaver revealed that the family lived in a third house prior to the show’s events taking place.
23. The pilot episode was thought to be lost for 30 years
On April 23, 1957, the world got its first taste of Leave it to Beaver through the pilot episode “It’s a Small World.” However, fans would have to wait three decades after its initial broadcast to see it again. Considered lost, a print of the episode was finally discovered in an Illinois storage in 1987.
22. Judy Hensler was taken out of the show due to puberty
One of the drawbacks of working with child actors is that they don’t stay children for long. And according to Jeri Weil – who played Judy Hensler – this led to her dismissal from the show. After the onset of puberty, the actress brushed-off producer’s requests to preserve her character’s youthful appearance by tying back her breasts. Consequently, she was made to say goodbye to Mayfield forever.
21. Mathers was on very good terms with cinema’s greatest auteur
Prior to Leave it to Beaver, Mathers had a role in 1955’s The Trouble with Harry – a film directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. By coincidence, Leave it to Beaver was filmed near the Alfred Hitchcock Presents studios and the two would often run into each other. On these occasions, the filmmaker would always refer to the young actor as “Mr. Mathers.”
20. Mathers didn’t even want to be on the show
While the character Beaver Cleaver made him a star, the young Jerry Mathers didn’t even want to be cast on the show. Ironically, the then nine-year-old actor only won the part because he revealed he would rather be at his Cub Scout meeting during his audition. Producers liked his honesty and he landed the now iconic role.
19. Mathers was too famous to join the Marines
As a result of Beaver’s success, Mathers would come to be considered a national icon. Indeed, his fame was so great that the U.S. Marines Corp declined his offer of service during the Vietnam War. They later reasoned that they could not afford to risk losing a famous actor in combat.
18. Mathers was mistakenly reported K.I.A.
Although the Marines didn’t want him, Mathers was eventually able to enlist in the Air Force National Guard in 1967. However, his safety was still a national concern and – following the death of a Private J. Mathers in Vietnam in 1968 – media mistakenly reported him as Killed in Action. Bizarrely, though, Mathers the actor didn’t even witness overseas combat.
17. No, Eddie Haskell didn’t grow up to be Alice Cooper
Speaking of rumors, have you heard the urban legend that actor Ken Osmond grew up to be Alice Cooper? The story circulated after an early 1970s interview with Cooper in which he compared his childhood self to that of Osmond’s Eddie Haskell. And as a result, fans mistakenly believed that he was the real face behind the character.
16. Nor was he porn star John Holmes
Besides the comparison to Cooper, thousands more fans are utterly convinced that Osmond went on to become adult film star John Holmes. In reality, Osmond quit acting in the late ’60s before joining the L.A.P.D. in 1970. In fact, during his service the former actor was shot three times and was later placed on disability.
15. June Cleaver’s pearls were a necessity to shooting
Throughout the show’s run, Beaver’s mother June became famous for the pearls she wore in almost every scene. But although undeniably classy, the pearls were actually worn by actress Barbara Billingsley to cover up a hollow in her neck. And aside from Billingsley’s self-consciousness, the jewelry also made the actress easier to light for the show’s black and white film stock.
14. Beaumont was a licensed minister
Almost all actors have worked interesting jobs before reaching stardom, but Hugh Beaumont’s pre-fame career is an oddity unto itself. Before he was cast as Beaver’s father Ward, Beaumont was an ordained minister with a Masters in theology. He only switched to acting because the church wasn’t paying enough.
13. Beaumont’s life was full of tragedy
And although Beaver granted Beaumont wealth and fame, it did so at a terrible cost. After the show began production, Beaumont and his family moved from his native Minnesota to Hollywood. However, his wife and son – who traveled apart from Beaumont via car – perished in a crash during the journey. And as a result, Beaumont resented the show throughout his life.
12. Lumpy Rutherford made good in real life
His character Lumpy Rutherford may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, but actor Frank Bank was incredibly successful in later life. Following the show’s end, Bank became a stockbroker and earned as much as $300,000 a year. Moreover, he even went on to represent co-stars Billingsley, Mathers and Tony Dow.
11. He was also reportedly successful with the ladies
And aside from his success in the stock market, Bank was also reportedly successful in bed. In his 1997 memoir Call Me Lumpy, the actor claimed to have bedded more than 1,000 women and elegantly referred to his life as a “perpetual sexfest.” We’ll never look at Lumpy the same way again.
10. Larry Mondello’s mother cost him the role
They say never work with children or animals, but sometimes a pushy parent can be infinitely worse than a bratty toddler. Indeed, Rusty Stevens – who played Beaver’s best friend Larry Mondello – was fired from the show because of his overly-attached mother. Yes, according to Billingsley, mother Mondello’s constant quarrelling with producers led to his character being axed from the show.
9. Creator Joe Connelly drew from his experience as a father
Leave it to Beaver was noted for its rich portrayal of childhood and co-creator Joe Connelly had a plentiful source from which to draw inspiration. To illustrate, Beaver and his brother Wally were based on his sons Ricky and Jay, and much of the series’ storylines were inspired by conversations that the pair had.
8. The show’s original title made it sound like a nature program
We can’t think of any title as catchy as Leave it to Beaver, yet this wasn’t actually the producer’s initial choice. Originally, Connelly wanted to call the series “Wally and the Beaver” after both the Cleaver boys. However, this title was rejected by the show’s sponsors who argued it sounded too much like a nature program.
7. The writers kept the show from being too funny
While the show always amused its audience, rarely did Beaver feature side-splitting laughs. This isn’t a dig at the series, though, as – according to Tony Dow – writers purposefully pursued a low-key comedy style. “If any line got too much of a laugh, they’d take it out,” Dow told AARP magazine. “They didn’t want a big laugh; they wanted chuckles.”
6. It featured an early appearance from everyone’s favorite neighbor
Though Leave it to Beaver had an outstanding main cast, many future stars played small roles throughout the show. Most notably, the series pilot featured an appearance from a then 14-year-old Harry Shearer as Frankie. Never heard of the name? Well, perhaps you’ve heard of Ned Flanders, C. Montgomery Burns and Seymour Skinner – three characters he would later voice on The Simpsons.
5. The Cleaver’s household would reappear in Wisteria Lane
After the show’s second season, Leave it to Beaver’s production moved to the Universal City backlot, with the Cleaver family settling into a house on Colonial Street. Built in 1955, the studio set reappeared in several high-profile shows – most notably as the Morrison home in Desperate Housewives. Undoubtedly, though, this is the only connection between Beaver and the racy ABC series.
4. Mathers tried to launch a singing career
Many actors harbor an urge to enter the music business and Jerry Mathers was no exception. And so prior to the series’ ending in 1963, Mathers released a single called “Don’tcha Cry” through Atlantic Records in 1962, although the song failed to chart. Later, he formed a band called Beaver and the Trappers which again found little success.
3. Stanley Fafara was so poor he couldn’t afford a gravestone
Child actors are known for falling on hard times post-fame, and Stanley Fafara sadly followed that trend. In the wake of Beaver’s 1963 end, Fafara – who played Whitey on the show – became addicted to drugs and died penniless in 2003. Indeed, the actor was so poor that he couldn’t afford a headstone, and his grave was left unmarked for 13 years.
2. The show was the first to have a TV finale
While finale episodes are now considered a staple of primetime programming, in the early ’60s the trope was almost unheard of. In fact, Leave it to Beaver was one of the first programs to devote a special episode to its ending, making 1963’s “Family Scrapbook” one of TV’s first ever series finales.
1. The show was the first to show a toilet tank on-screen
Besides pioneering the series finale, Leave it to Beaver can lay claim to accomplishing another TV milestone. Surprisingly, the season one episode “Captain Jack” was the first piece of television to show a toilet tank on-screen – an item considered taboo by network censors. In fact, the fixture was so offensive that its mere presence almost got the episode banned.