"Leave It to Beaver" (1957-1963) is a family show set in the suburban town of Mayfield that focuses on the Cleaver family: Ward (Hugh Beaumont), father and accountant; June (Barbara Billingsley), wife and stay-at-home Mom; and their two boys, Wally (Tony Dow) a teenager, and their youngest, Theodore, better known to everyone as "Beaver" (Jerry Mathers). While television of the 1950s and '60s had its share of family shows during its black and white age, including "Father Knows Best" with Robert Young and Jane Wyatt; "The Donna Reed Show" (with Donna Reed and Carl Betz); "Dennis the Menace" (starring Jay North); and later, the long running series, "My Three Sons" (1960-1972) with Fred MacMurray, it seemed unlikely that "Leave It to Beaver" would become the one sit-com to survive and continue to air on television, whether locally or on cable, almost forty years after its final first run episode in 1963. The aforementioned family comedy shows had its share of reruns over the years before slowly disappearing into Limbo, replaced by newer programs to its Color-oriented viewers, but this innocent black and white show which was done on film and not on video tape (thank goodness), and to date never colorized to attract younger viewers, it still entertains as is. "Leave It to Beaver" geared to its younger viewers when first aired, but today, the children who loved it back then are either adults or grandparents currently sharing their TV memories with their young ones. And the tradition continues.
Like most long-running shows, and this one lasted six seasons, the earlier episodes are obviously the best, mixing comedy, charm and well written dialogue. It's obvious that the writer or writers who developed this program had fond memories of what it's like being a child, for that many of the show's characters, mainly children, could easily be identfied with someone we at one time had know in our youth, one character in particular being Judy Henson, the school's poney tailed tattle-tale, teacher's pet and know-it-all, just to name a few.
Beaver's closest friend during the first couple of seasons was the chubby Larry Mondello, while Wally's pals were Chester, Tooey and the conniving Eddie Haskell. Over the years, characters have come and gone, but the writers managed to find new friends for Beaver while they kept and expanded the Eddie Haskell character, played to perfection by Ken Osmond, one of the most memorable and "smooth" characters ever to be created and developed. Along the way, Chester and Tooey were just written out, and a new character, Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford (Frank Bank) stepped in. At first, Lumpy was the neighborhood bully who hounded Wally and the Beav, but eventually became one of Wally's closest friends. With each passing season viewers got to see the show's new opening, watching the boys growing and maturing to young adults by season six. During the final season, the instrumental theme song remained the same, but the score was jazzed up a bit to move up with the rock-and-roll music era and breaking away from the wholesome 1950s. By the final season (1962-63), Beaver, the central titled character who was by now 14, has lost his innocent and boyish charm, becoming less interesting. With the writers sensing this, the scripts would place Beaver in the background in several episodes while stories would focus more around Wally and his friends. There were even segments in which either Lumpy or Eddie would have almost the entire half hour, but when Beaver had some storylines all to himself, it lacked something, becoming mediocre episodes. By mid season, Beaver would start becoming more interested in girls, but after 235 episodes, the Cleaver family went into retirement.
The amazing thing about this program is the development of its characters, not only the central characters but the supporting crew. Aside from Ken Osmond's ever so polite Eddie, who is well mannered in front of the adults and a "big mouth, wise guy" in front of all the others, there is Richard Deacon as Fred Rutherford, Lumpy's father; the charming Sue Randall as Miss Landers, Beaver's teacher; Burt Mustin as Gus, the fireman; Beaver's other friends including Stanley Fafara as Whitey Whitney, who appeared occasionally through the show's six seasons; Stephen Talbot as Gilbert, and Richard Correll as Richard Rickover. The show might have its share of contradiction, there was a Violet Rutherford, Fred's daughter and Lumpy's sister, who would disappear, making it appear that Lumpy is Fred's only "offspring," in spite of he talking about his other two sons in some earlier shows, characters which never materialized on the show; and Gilbert Bates being the only child living with his widowed father, suddenly having a mother and sister in later shows, and so on.
Aside this being a comedy show, "Leave It to Beaver" does take time out for some tender moments. In almost every episode, after either Wally or the Beav, or both, get tangled up with problems, whether it be their fault or not, there is usually a good father to son(s) lecture, along with the moral lesson to what's occurred. One in particular line recited by Ward (Hugh Beaumont) to his wife, June, that stands out is, "The way to get your children's love is to first earn their respect." Occasionally mother June would have her moment of truth with her boys as well, giving them the lesson, value and facts of life, something currently missing in today's TV family sit-coms. And even when the parents are in the wrong, this is one of those rare cases in which the TV Dad or Mom will come out and admit it, showing its viewers that even the parents aren't perfect, but they do what's best for their children as well as learning from their own mistakes.
The show even has episode favorites, such as a classic moment in which Beaver gets himself trapped in a billboard soup bowl, which to many is classic Beaver. Although dated and corny to some, "Leave It to Beaver" is harmless fun, good family viewing. There was even a 1983 reunion show, "Still the Beaver," along with a new up-to-date series, "The New Leave It to Beaver" (1985-1989). While it's good seeing those familiar faces again, a little older and slightly wiser, but minus the deceased Hugh Beaumont, who is sorely missed, nothing comes close to this original series.