Few coming-of-age sitcoms were as influential and controversial as Leave it to Beaver. Judy Hensler was fired because of puberty: she did not pay attention to the producer's request to tie back her chest, so she was fired. Launched in 1957, the show followed Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver and his family. Beaver's inquisitive behavior and perspective became the first show ever to air something from a child’s point of view, which would later go on to impact famous series such as The Wonder Years and Malcolm in the Middle. Leave it to Beaver still remains popular, even after over 60 years. Here are 33 facts you probably don't know about the iconic show that’ll make you fall in love with it all over again.
Gee, Wally! 33 Little-Known Facts About Everyone's Favorite Family Show, 'Leave It to Beaver'Published 11 months ago
In one scene for one episode ("Ricky’s Old Girlfriend") of I Love Lucy, Jerry Mathers made an appearance. He sat on Lucy’s lap while she dreamt that her husband left her for Carlota Romero, an old squeeze of his.
Ricky and Carlota drop coins in their cups as the two beg for money outside a movie theater. Mathers appeared in the scene but was uncredited, which may be why this fact has flown under the radar. Airing in 1953, the episode debuted just four years prior to Leave it to Beaver came on.
Jerry Mathers actually auditioned many times for the role of Beaver, but it was during one sit-down with casting that the eight-year-old secured his role. Mathers showed up wearing his blue Cub Scout uniform.
When he announced to everyone that he was very anxious about being late to his den meeting, the sweet sincerity and innocence of the young boy won over the hearts of the casting crew and he landed the role.
Even though it was just the tank of the toilet that was shown onscreen, Leave it to Beaver made history as one of the first television programs to show a toilet.
Due to the boys being in the bathroom, which was attached to their bedroom, the episode “Captain Jack” featured Wally putting an alligator into its “aquarium” or in this case, the toilet tank. Although the episode was slated to be the premiere, it instead aired during the second week.
As an addition to Heinz Studio 57, the pilot was titled “It’s a Small World.” In the episode, “Bicycle Punk” This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons star Harry Shearer appeared in the show (shown on the right).
'Wally and the Beaver' was another title being considered for the show, but due to the fact that the corporate sponsor felt that it sounded like a nature program, the name was scratched from the list.
Wally was originally portrayed by Paul Sullivan in the show’s pilot. But, after filming the first episode, the kid had a huge growth spurt and was reportedly replaced. Tony Dow would go on to replace Paul Sullivan.
The reason Tony landed the role was that he decided to show up to the studio with another friend who was auditioning. Tony didn’t actually intend to be in the show and was only there for support, but he ended up with the gig anyways and landed the role of Wally.
Although the show is held in high regard and has a legendary status, Leave it to Beaver wasn’t exactly a smash hit at the time. Many people weren’t tuning in and the ratings for season one weren’t that great.
So in 1958, the first season ended, and immediately after, CBS gave the axe to the series. Competitor network ABC came to the rescue and luckily kept the show on the air for another five seasons.
There wasn’t any skimping on the budget at ABC and the season four episode “In the Soup” cost a pretty penny. The episode featured Beaver getting stuck in a huge bowl of soup displayed on a billboard.
Beaver was curious (only naturally) and wanted to discover if the billboard actually had real soup in there. He clamored up and ended up getting stuck. At a smooth $50,000 the episode was filmed at today's equivalent of $400K.
Leave it to Beaver never cracked Nielsen’s Top 30 rated shows list through its run. The show was left in the dust behind even lesser-known series these days, such as The Ford Show, The Ann Sothern Show, and The Gary Moore Show.
Although, it’s not that big of a deal and nothing to hold against the ratings list. Beaver may have been too ahead of its time and just like a lot of classic shows on at the time, the shows would eventually get their time to shine.
Even though Leave it to Beaver wasn’t topping the charts at the time, it still managed to produce merchandise from comic books to board games. And to make matters even better, Jerry Mathers got a percentage of it all.
This was momentous given the fact that for the first time ever, a pre-teen received royalties. Congrats go out to both Mather’s parents and agent for securing that deal!
While we’re on the topic of merchandise, Beverly Cleary, the creator of the famous Ramona character, wrote three tie-in novels that went on to win a National Book Award and Newbery Medal. Although, she admitted that the work was “boring” to the LA Times.
She also claimed that she was used to writing prose by the yard. She would also receive letters saying the books were better than the movie - possibly, she posited, due to the fact that she cut out the philosophizing of dear old Dad.
The Cleavers ended up moving from 485 Mapleton Drive to 211 Pine Street right in the middle of filming the series. The reason for the relocation was due to production.
The original home had a façade that was relocated from the Republic Studios lot over to the Pine Street home when production was switched over to Universal. The Pine Street home was also used in both Desperate Housewives and Marcus Welby, MD.
There was an even level and balance of amusement the show aimed to hit. So, phrases like “Gee, Wally!” were used and the show purposely avoided outbursts of laughter such as the ones on the I Love Lucy show.
According to AARP Magazine, Tony Dow mentioned that if any line got too much of a laugh, it was taken out. The showrunners were aiming for chuckles, not big laughs or any hilarity.
It wasn’t always about style and formal attire for June. There was a practical reason why she wore pearls in the show, and it was to cover a “big hollow” in her neck.
She confessed in an interview that she would wear the necklace to hid this and go on to mention that she’d need to wear high heels due to the boy’s growth spurts. The boys would grow taller and she also needed to appear taller. She also joked that she was lucky they didn’t put her on an apple box!
It was uncommon back then for TV series to unceremoniously get cut from the TV schedule. But Wally was about to enter college and Mathers was yearning to go to high school in real life, so the show naturally ended.
Leave it to Beaver said farewell in a nostalgic manner by airing the finale episode, “Family Scrapbook.” In it, audiences also learned why he was called “Beaver”. Not many series (besides The Fugitive and Howdy Doody) planned their exit in the 1960s.
Hugh Beaumont was preaching to a congregation and was too poor to receive a living wage before he stepped into the shoes of Ward Cleaver. He was an ordained minister in real life.
To pay the bills and make ends meet, Beaumont took up modeling gigs which would eventually lead him into film. Beaumont would go on to be in the pilot and become the iconic father figure on the show Leave it to Beaver.
Rumors spread that the rock and roll performer Alice Cooper was actually Ken Osmond in real life. The rumor took hold when Cooper was asked in an interview about where his bad boy streak came from and how he got into mischief.
Cooper said he was like Eddie Haskell from Leave it to Beaver, and many people took this to be that Alice Cooper was literally Eddie Haskell and portrayed him on the show. Not so, people!
There weren’t many hints on the show about where the Cleavers were actually located in the US. There were two clues though, that confirmed they were based in Wisconsin, the cheese capital of the US.
The two clues given were first, when Wally says that the high school band was heading to Madison for a competition. The other clue was when the Cleavers decided to watch the Green Bay Packers and took a trip to see the game.
While we all know that the Cleaver family consisted of Beaver, June, Ward, and Wally, and the cast wasn’t touched from the show’s development stage. But the actors could have turned out to be completely different according to Jerry Mathers.
In 2014, Mathers mentioned to MeTV that it was only him and Barbara Billingsley who appeared in the pilot. Hugh Beaumont and Tony Dow’s characters were actually played by other actors and weren’t a part of the cast that would later come to be.
There wasn’t a brotherly bond between Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers even though the two were cast as siblings. It was mainly due to their age differences that the two didn’t click.
There also wasn’t an opportunity for them to hang out when off the set. The two would eventually appear in a play together 30 years later and it was only in adulthood that the pair became friends.
Leave it to Beaver can be appreciated for its humor, but is it possible that a sitcom could be classified as something other than just entertainment? According to some scholars, Leave it to Beaver tackled and taught many people about social issues at the time.
Some sociology academics and professors consider that the show is important to add to the college syllabus as it’s compared to the likes of Modern Family and other modern sitcoms.
It was difficult for Tony Dow to break out of his role as Wally. Most casting directors couldn't shake the fact that he could play any other role and he was typecast, as some actors are when they get stuck being associated with certain characters.
Tony Dow signed his fate when he played Wally and he would lose out on a lot of work and opportunities to expand his career. He has mentioned that he was trying to be a serious actor yet was constantly getting apple-pie roles. He made this complaint back in 2019.
Ward Cleaver may have come across as one of the tamest and gentle characters on TV, but Beaumont initially got his big shot when he played meaner and tougher roles.
Before starring on Leave it to Beaver, the actor was P.I. Michael Shayne in several movies, a tough-as-nails character that Beaumont was embarrassed a bit by. Mathers even stated that he wasn’t sure that the character would be anything a minister would want to be remembered for.
General Electric and Purina were both sponsors for Leave it to Beaver during its time on air. Another big sponsor would come along though in season three.
The famous car company Chrysler offered their endorsement even though Ward Cleaver drove a Ford vehicle in the show. Making sure not to have a rival being advertised, Chrysler and the show’s producers made the decision to swap out the Ford for a Plymouth Fury, instead.
“It’s a Small World” was the pilot episode for Leave it to Beaver. On April 23, 1957, the world got its first taste of the show with its premiere. But fans of the show had to wait three decades after the pilot was initially broadcasted to even see it again.
The episode was deemed lost and for 30 years many thought that there was no hope at recovering the lost episode. It was only in1987 when the pilot episode was discovered to be in an Illinois storage unit that the world was able to relive the premiere.
It's always a drawback working with child actors because they inevitably grow up. They don’t stay children for long and this can unfortunately lead to their dismissal from shows. Such was the case for Judy Hensler who played Jeri Weil.
The actress ignored the producer’s request to tie back her chest to keep the youthful appearance of her character after she started hitting puberty. She was given the boot and made to say goodbye forever to Mayfield.
In 1955, Mathers played a role in the legendary Alfred Hitchcock film, The Trouble with Harry. This was all prior to him being in Leave it to Beaver, but it was pure chance that the series would be filmed near the Alfred Hitchcock Presents studios.
The two would run into each other often on set, and the famous filmmaker would refer to the young Mathers as “Mr. Mathers” whenever the two met.
In 1966, Jerry Mathers was able to enlist in the United States Air Force Reserve. He eventually made it to the rank of Sergeant.
In 1968, news broke of the death of Private J. Mathers during the Vietnam War, with the media reporting that the actor was Killed in Action (K.I.A.). But it would all be revealed as a farce as Mathers never even went overseas, much less saw active combat.
Although Lumpy Rutherford was a character that may not have been the brightest crayon in the box or sharpest tool in the shed, the actor who played him, Frank Bank, was very successful. It’s even in his last name: Bank would make bank.
At the end of the show, he would go on to make over $300K a year working as a stockbroker. Banks would also go on to represent co-stars Tony Dow, Mathers, and Billingsley.
The saying goes, never work with children or animals. But in the case of Larry Mondello, it was actually the pushy parent that made things worse. The actor, who played Beaver’s best buddy, was given the boot after his overly-attached mother got involved.
Billingsley stated that the constant bickering and quarreling between Mondello’s mother and the producer eventually resulted in his character being kicked off the show. Sometimes a nagging parent can be worse than working with a bratty toddler!
Joe Connelly, a co-creator behind the show Leave it to Beaver, has been noted for having the show such a rich portrayal of what it’s like to be a child. Connelly had much to draw inspiration from, too.
In real life, Connelly’s sons Ricky and Jay were the inspiration behind Beaver and his brother Wally. Also, much of the series’ storylines revolved around conversations his sons had in real life.
Many future stars in Leave it to Beaver played small roles at the time. But it was 14-year-old Harry Shearer who played Frankie that would most famously go on to play the voices of Ned Flanders, C. Seymour Skinner, and C. Montgomery Burns – all three characters in The Simpsons.
While many of the other cast members would go on to bigger and better things, Harry Shearer may have slipped under the radar, but we’ve all been listening to his famous voices for decades.
There are many actors who get into the music business after their acting days are over and Jerry Mathers in no exception. Before Leave it to Beaver ended in 1963, he debuted his single “Don’tcha Cry” in 1962 via Atlantic Records.
The song was a bust and failed to make the charts. Mathers would then go on to form the band “Beaver and the Trappers” but again, the band found little to no success.
It’s well-known that child actors tend to fall on hard times following post-fame and success. Sadly, Stanley Fafara followed in these footsteps, and in the wake of the 1963 end to Leave it to Beaver, Fafara, who played Whitey on the show, got involved with drugs.
He became addicted, broke, and died in 2003. The actor was so poor that a headstone couldn’t be afforded so for 13 years his grave was left unmarked.