When you’re talking about Classic TV, you can’t get much more classic than Leave It to Beaver, the beloved 1957-63 sitcom focused on the Cleaver family that made us a part of the group along with Hugh Beaumont as Ward, Barbara Billingsley as June, Tony Dow as Wally, and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver (actually Theodore).
When you think about a lot of young people who became stars back then, their personal history is oftentimes filled with unpleasantness, whether it’s their inability to cope with the fact that the spotlight is no longer on them, or that they were ripped off by anyone who was supposed to be helping them. Jerry Mathers, though, doesn’t fall into either category.
In sitting down for a conversation with Closerweekly.com’s Classic TV and Film Podcast, Jerry points out that he had a great childhood, whether in front of the camera or off. “I worked as much before Leave It to Beaver as I did during it,” he explains. “Plus, people don’t pay a lot of attention to kids. Some people would recognize me on the street, but not that many. It was just a really good life. I had a great education, and I got to do some fabulous things, like getting a private tour of the Smithsonian. Any place we went, we were singled out pretty much and got great treatment. Just a fantastic life for a kid.”
In this podcast, one of the things Jerry talks about is the show’s longevity in terms of the audience’s love for it: “The episodes work, I think, because all of the stories are from real life. If you watch sitcoms today, it’s a lot of what I call ‘joke shows’ where people have setup, setup, joke. And a lot of them really don’t have a lot of substance. The writers were more interested in getting a chuckle rather than a laugh because they didn’t want people to miss other parts of it. There aren’t really those big laughs in real life, so they wanted it to be more like life. And if there was something that was funny, it was humorous, but it wasn’t fall-on-the-floor and start laughing funny.”
He also notes that that formula is what played into the success of the 1983-89 sequel series, The New Leave It to Beaver. “All of us were determined to do the show the exact same way,” Jerry notes, “which meant all of the episodes are, again, from real life and not a situation comedy. The show was very easy for me to do, because I knew everybody. These are people that I grew up with and liked. There wasn’t anybody where we said, ‘Oh, we don’t want that person back.’ You know, we’d see each other every once in a while over the years, but it wasn’t like a day to day thing. So it was a wonderful reunion.”
And that’s exactly what this chat with Jerry felt like as well. We hope you enjoy it.