Series: Leave It to Beaver
Archetypical 1950s Dom Com
, slightly unusual in that it focused on the youngest member of the Cleaver family, 8-year-old (at the start) Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver. He had an older brother, the Junior High
-aged Wally. Parents Ward and June rounded out the family group. The series debuted on CBS
in 1957, then after one season it channel hopped
, where it ran until 1963. The Film of the Series
was released in 1997 that was somewhat of a present day look at the Cleaver clan, but with more of an Affectionate Parody
Probably the third-most famous sitcom of The Fifties
, behind I Love Lucy
and The Honeymooners
. Along with Father Knows Best
, it is always invoked when looking back on 1950s culture and family life, whether as a matter of nostalgia, pop culture history, lighthearted parody, or scathing satire. People always seem to dwell on
the tract housing with white picket fences, or the fact that June Cleaver always
wore pearls and high heels, even when doing the most menial tasks.
The Beaver was played by Jerry Mathers in the series, and by Cameron Finley in the film. Wally was played by Tony Dow in the series, and by Erik von Detten in the film. Ward was played by Hugh Beaumont in the series, and by Christopher McDonald in the film. June was played by Barbara Billingsley in the series, and by Janine Turner in the film.
The show is also notable for being one of the first to feature a clip-show finale.
This show provides examples of:
- Aesop Amnesia: An archetypical example of a main child character (especially Beaver) forgetting his lesson by the next episode. This trait was spoofed in a TVLand promo for reruns of the series; the lesson would "enter one ear," float around without making contact with the brain, and "go out the other ear."
- The All-American Boy: Beaver.
- This is why Mathers got the job; they knew they had the right boy when, during his casting call, he expressed concern over missing his Boy Scout meeting.
- The Alleged Car: During the last two seasons, Wally's other main friend Lumpy drives one of these, and often mentions grabbing parts from a junkyard for it.
- And Starring: "...Jerry Mathers as the Beaver."
- Big Brother Is Watching: In a sense, he was in the 1962 episode "Lumpy's Car Trouble," where Wally breaks the rules for borrowing Ward's car for a track meet, by allowing its driver (Lumpy) to take a "shortcut" on the way home. The car's exhaust system was damaged, forcing the boys to push the disabled car along the highway to a nearby garage. Wally and Beaver (along with Lumpy and Eddie) hope the damage won't be noticed, but Ward finds out anyhow: a co-worker of his had seen the boys push the car and (unwittingly) ratted them out. That evening at home, Ward takes his sons aside and tells him he's aware of what happened, and declares the car off limits "for awhile." The trope goes into effect when Wally asks his father who saw them; Ward refuses to reveal his source ... reasoning that — because someone might be watching them — the boys will always have to be on their best behavior.
- Blond Guys Are Evil: Eddie Haskell. At least a fifties Dom Com teenager type of evil.
- Catch Phrase:
- "Gee, Mom..." or "Gee, Dad..." or "Gee, Wally..."
- "Good evening, Mrs. Cleaver. My, that's a pretty dress."
- "Ward, old boy..."
- Chick Magnet: Wally is pretty laid back about girls, but they aren't laid back about him.
- Chronic Back Stabbing Disorder: Gilbert. In many episodes, he pressures Beaver into doing something that he knows is either wrong, dangerous or stupid, and sometimes would say that he would do it as well. Then, when Beaver caves and gets into trouble, Gilbert would make fun of him, and yet still claim to be his 'best friend'. If it were not for Beaver's innocence and kind nature, Gilbert would not have been so Easily Forgiven.
- Clip Show: The series finale. Trope Maker.
- Dad the Veteran: In one episode Ward Cleaver mentions being in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
- Deadpan Snarker: Both the parents, but especially June.
Ward: A fine way to greet the returning breadwinner!
June: How much bread did you win?
- Devil in Plain Sight, Drop-In Character, Mouthy Kid: Eddie Haskell
- Dispense With The Pleasantries: From the 1997 movie.
Eddie Haskell Jr.: You looked as though you just walked out the runway.
June Cleaver: Eddie?
Eddie Haskell Jr.: Yes Mrs. Cleaver?
June Cleaver: Cut the crap.
- The Everyman: The Cleavers.
- Everytown, America: Mayfield
- Evil Counterpart: Eddie to Wally. Granted, he's more of just a jerkass counterpart.
- Flanderization: Many who have seen and heard of this show tend to exaggerate its Lighter and Softer nature, forgetting that it dealt with such topics as divorce, alcoholism, and Beaver's Hispanic friend. (To give one an idea of how controversial the last was, in The Sixties, a Madeleine L'Engle book was actually censored to remove the protagonists' Hispanic friend.)
- Forced into Their Sunday Best: Happens to Beaver a couple times, to his great displeasure.
- Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics
- From the Mouths of Babes
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: More than you might think. In the first episode we have this exchange:
(reading a note attached to flowers sent to Ward)
June: Who's Cornelia Rayburn? And when did she see you off your feet?
- Golden Moment
- Good Parents: Ward and June are unambiguously good people, and good parents to Wally and Beaver.
- Grand Finale: "Family Scrapbook", which was the first proper series finale in primetime television history. It was also a Clip Show, and indicated future directions of the Cleavers' sons: Beaver has completed eighth grade (and thus is ready to enter high school), while Wally is graduating from high school and has been accepted to college.
- Happily Married: Ward and June.
- Hates Baths: Both Wally and the Beaver in the early seasons, when they are still preteens. In the very first episode, they fake taking a bath to avoid actually taking one.
- Have a Gay Old Time: The main character's nickname has led to a myriad of filthy jokes in later decades, such as the classic from Revenge of the Nerds:
Guy 1: What is the dirtiest thing ever said on television?
Guy 2: I don't know. What is the dirtiest thing ever said on television?
Guy 1: "Ward, I think you were a little hard on the Beaver last night."
- Her Boyfriend's Jacket: This becomes a plot device in an episode in which Mary-Ellen Rogers wants to impress her friends, and charms Wally into letting her wear his letterman sweater.
- Hidden Depths: In one episode, June reveals that her aunt has raised her from childhood.
- Hidden Heart of Gold: Eddie occasionally shows that he's not such a bad guy, but don't tell anyone that.
- High School Hustler: The obsequious-to-adults but Jerk Ass-to-younger-brothers Eddie Haskell.
- Housewife: June Cleaver is the classic/stereotypical embodiment of the '50s version of the trope.
- She got to wear slacks in a couple early episodes, but this was eventually nixed by the producers, who felt it too unladylike and/or too sexy for the character.
- In reference to the pearls and heels while doing housework, Barbara Billingsley later explained in interviews that she didn't always wear them, and when she did there were practical reasons for them. She had a hollow in her neck that showed up quite visibly on camera, which the pearls concealed. (Even in later appearances/interviews, she can be seen with either a high-collared blouse or a pearl necklace covering it.) Same with the heels; she sometimes wore flats, but as Dow and Mathers grew, she thought it would be best to maintain a bit of height over them.
- Instrumental Theme Tune: It's called "The Toy Parade", if you were wondering.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Gus the firefighter
- Jerk Ass: Eddie Haskell
- Karma Houdini: In one episode, Beaver gets suspended from riding the bus for a week, only to get his privileges back after writing an apology letter to the bus driver. Afterwards, Judy gets suspended from the bus and asks Beaver how he did it so that her parents wouldn't find out. Beaver tells her and she acts grateful, but, as he suspected, Judy soon went back to mistreating him.
- Kick the Dog: Eddie occasionally slips into this territory, such as the episode where he tries to ruin Beaver's friendship with a Hispanic boy just for laughs.
- Kid Com: Possibly the Ur Example.
- Laugh Track: At the time this series came to be, this was just the start of LaughTracks becoming a common, standard practice in television comedies.
- Locked Out of the Loop: To preserve Beaver's innocence, his parents conceal the fact that their visiting friend is an alcoholic. Later, the guest tells Beaver that he has an illness that only liquor can treat, and Beaver dutifully gets him some alcoholic beverages. When his parents admonish him that that was the worst thing he could have done, he responds that they didn't tell him anything, and they realize that keeping him in the dark was not a good idea.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell) was a complete straight arrow in real life, and later became a respected police officer.
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Generally averted, though Beaver aged more slowly than the actor portraying him did, especially later on. Still, in the series finale he is explicitly stated to be entering high school; Jerry Mathers was, at the time, a fairly reasonable 15 years old.
- Obliquely Obfuscated Occupation: Ward, in spades. On occasion, we've seen Ward at the office - usually calling home, or receiving a call from June or Principal Rayburn - but his actual job is something of a mystery.
- Parent Ex Machina
- Pet the Dog: Eddie gets a few chances to do this, such as when Beaver gets a stain on Wally's suit jacket and is unable to fix it before a school dance. Eddie sees the ruined jacket, laughs, but then notices Beaver's sad expression. Eddie ends up fast-talking Wally into wearing casual clothing to the event, which spares Beaver from getting found out and scolded.
- Picky Eater
- Pilot: The show originally began as an episode of Studio 57, an anthology series which initially aired on the short-lived Du Mont Television Network in its first season, before moving to syndication in its second and final season. In the episode, Ward was played by Max Showalter (credited as Casey Adams) and Wally was played by Paul Sullivan.
- Precocious Crush: Beaver once developed a crush on a pretty new neighbor, however, both Wally and Eddie give him the business by saying if he's not careful, the woman's jealous husband will come after him. It doesn't help that at one point, the husband is shearing the hedges when he spots Beaver and tries to say hello to him... while the shears are still in his hands!
- Put on a Bus: Larry Mondello.
- Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: A popularly-spread rumor during the '70s and '80s was that Jerry Mathers had been killed in action during the Vietnam War. This rumor persisted even after the now-adult Mathers appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to specifically refute the rumor by showing he was very much alive and was still an active actor. (Not only that, Mathers never served in Vietnam in the first place. He did try to enlist in the Marines, but they wouldn't take him, precisely for fear of the negative publicity should anything have happened to him. He wound up serving stateside in the Air National Guard instead.)
- Dow and Mathers also appeared briefly on an early episode of Saturday Night Live. Mathers joked that he himself had started the rumor because he was afraid people were starting to forget about them. Dow responded, "Gee Beav, you big goof. I oughta slug ya!"
- Revival: A 1983 Made-for-TV Movie and a 1985-89 "New" series focusing on the adult life of the Beaver.
- Secret Diary: Ward gives aspiring novelist Beaver a diary, telling him it's for private, personal things — but also that great writers have used ideas they first recorded in childhood diaries. Beaver is subsequently late coming home from school, so of course the first thing his parents do is break into his diary, where he's written lurid accounts of criminal activity. Despite the setup, it never occurs to them that these are anything but factual.
- Serious Business: Frequently, and it's justified in that the show is written from a child's perspective; when you're a kid, a lot of insignificant-when-you're-older stuff really is Serious Business.
- Standard '50s Father: Ward Cleaver was the original Trope Namer, back when Standard '50s Father was called Mister Cleaver.
- Even though Ward was truly a "father knows best" archetype, a couple of episodes did point out that he wasn't without his faults. One episode had Ward really come down hard on Wally and Beaver … too hard, and when the boys ran into trouble, they were afraid to come to him for advice; Ward realizes that he acted out of haste. In another episode, when Wally and Beaver are late a couple of times delivering newspapers, the parents try to pick up the slack by delivering for them – except they delivered the wrong papers … not knowing that Wally and Beaver already had completed that day's delivery run with the correct ones, and they cause their sons to get fired.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Harry Henderson for Larry Mondello as the token fat kid.
- Teacher's Pet: Judy Hensler in Beaver's class borders on The Informant!.
"Mr. Willet, here's a list of everyone who talked while you weren't in the room."
- The Teaser: First-season episodes had one narrated by Hugh Beaumont.
- Unwanted Gift Plot: One episode is about Beaver giving his mother a sweater that she really doesn't like, but she's too nice to tell him about it. And then he suggests that she should wear it to a parent/teacher meeting.
- Very Special Episode: One about divorce and another about alcoholism.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Eddie tries this, but June and Ward can generally see through it.
- Women Drivers: Referenced but not actually used when June learns to drive relatively late in life.
- Your Tomcat Is Pregnant