Starring Barbara Billingsley...
And Jerry Mathers... as the Beaver!"
The archetypal 1950s American slice-of-life 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 (also at the start) Wally. Parents Ward and June rounded out the family group.
The series debuted on CBS in 1957, then after one season it channel hopped to ABC, where it ran until 1963. A reunion movie called Still the Beaver aired on CBS in 1983, which led to a subsequent series that aired on Disney Channel (in its infancy), TBS and syndication, eventually being retitled as The New Leave it to Beaver. The Film of the Series was released in 1997 was somewhat of a present day look at the Cleaver clan, but with more of an Affectionate Parody vibe.
Probably the third-most famous sitcom of The '50s, 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.
Hugh Beaumont was a minister and extremely devout (he had Conscientious Objector status during WWII and served only as a medic). He wrote and directed several episodes and wanted the show to reflect Methodist values. However, he was not deeply involved and indeed blamed the show for the death of his mother-in-law and near-death of his own son Hunternote .
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 archetypal 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."
- After-School Cleaning Duty: Beaver's occasionally seen cleaning erasers or the like. In "Beaver's Crush," his volunteering to clean up for Miss Canfield leads to the other students calling him a Teacher's Pet.
- 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.
- In a late season episode, Wally is looking for a car of his own and Ward insists on helping him. The first one they examine looks pristine, but turns out to be a smoky and immobile wreck. They subsequently find an automobile that looks worse for wear but runs far more smoothly.
- And Starring:
- "...Jerry Mathers as the Beaver."
- For the 1997 Film of the Series: "...Cameron Finley as the Beaver."
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Beaver. Mainly in the Wally-centric episodes where the writers had nothing for Beaver to do except hang around and make obnoxious comments while everyone else was trying to have serious conversations.
- Ascended Extra: Penny was originally introduced as a little neighborhood girl who was being picked on by her older brother but she would eventually go on to replace Judy Hensler as Beaver's rival (a.k.a. the creepiest girl in class). Similarly, Gilbert appeared sporadically throughout the first few seasons but would end up replacing Larry as one of Beaver's best friends.
- As Himself: Don Drysdale in "Long Distance Call".
- 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.
- Blatant Lies: Several episodes, but one of the most obvious and blatant comes in "Voodoo Curse," an early Season 1 episode. Wally and Beaver are told not to go to a horror movie ("Voodoo Magic") but do anyway. When the theater playing the film calls the house to let them know Beaver left his cap there, an angry Ward (and equally upset June) decides to confront their sons at dinner, asking them simple questions about the movie they were allowed to see Pinocchio). The boys dig themselves in deeper as Ward's defense attorney style questioning eventually catches them in their deception, and Ward declares they are not allowed to go to the movies for two weeks.
- Broken Glass Penalty: In "The Broken Window", while Wally and Beaver are playing baseball with their friends, Eddie Haskell (who else?) hits a ball through the Cleaver's living room window. The rest of the kids run off as Ward Cleaver arrives home. When Beaver asks why Wally and him don't do likewise, Wally replies:Wally: We can't. It's our home!"
- "Gee, Mom..." or "Gee, Dad..." or "Gee, Wally..."
- "Good evening, Mrs. Cleaver. My, that's a pretty dress." (Eddie Haskell)
- "Ward, old boy..." (Fred Rutherford)
- Chick Magnet:
- Wally is pretty laid back about girls, but they aren't laid back about him.
- Eddie Haskell claims to be irresistible to girls, although you never see any of them.
- Chronic Back Stabbing Disorder: Gilbert Bates. 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. In fact, this is a trait common to most of Beaver's friends, including Larry Mondello and Whitey Whitney.
- Clip Show: The series finale. Trope Maker.
- Comically Missing the Point: In one episode, Beaver decides at the last minute to cancel a babysitting appointment to have fun. When Ward has him call back, he learns that the mother found another babysitter and will not be hiring him to babysit again, after she had previously told him she won't consider another babysitter. Beaver is sad, Ward asks if he's learned a lesson, and Beaver says he has - don't babysit for somebody who won't keep her word.
- Curse Cut Short: Beaver in "Substitute Father" when, after getting tripped, calls the kid who tripped him something that is drowned out by the bell; though not before Miss Landers hears it. Based on the reaction, it's implied to be one of the biggies.
- Dad the Veteran: In one episode Ward Cleaver mentions having been in the Navy Seabees as a surveyor during World War II.
- Deadpan Snarker: Both of the parents, but especially June.Ward: A fine way to greet the returning breadwinner!June: How much bread did you win?
- Description Cut: The final lines of the show's final episode.June: You know, spending an evening like this makes you realize how much Wally and The Beaver have grown up.
Ward: Yeah. They're not little boys anymore. They're responsible individuals now, practically grown men.
(cut to Wally and the Beaver sitting on the floor, playing with a wind-up toy clown, which June had found earlier)
Wally: (excitedly) Hey, Beav! Look at him go! Isn't it neat?
Beaver: Yeah. Hey, Wally? Let me wind it up next time!
(the boys exchange smiles)
- Devil in Plain Sight, Drop-In Character, Mouthy Kid: Eddie Haskell
- Did I Mention It's Christmas?: At the very end of Season 1's "The Haircut", we see the Beav wearing an angel costume and singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" at a school pageant... after no prior mention of Christmas in the whole episode! Even odder, the episode — which was as close as the series ever got to a Christmas Episode — originally aired in October.
- 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.
- Doomed Autographed Item: Happens in "Ward's Baseball," where Beaver and Larry Mondello play catch with Beaver's father's baseball, which was signed by several famous baseball players (including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig). They ruin it, of course, and none-too-successfully attempt to forge the signatures themselves on a replacement ball.
- Dumb Jock: Lumpy Rutherford, who isn't exactly the brightest in the bunch, wins (and almost loses) a college football scholarship in "Lumpy's Scholarship." Ward convinces the college to reinstate Lumpy's scholarship if he improves his grades.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The first episodes began with folksy narration from Ward about childhood which would tie into the plot of the episode.
- The Everyman: The Cleavers are ordinarily depicted as being more grounded and less wacky than other characters. Compare Ward to the buffoonish Fred Rutherford and Wally to Eddie Haskell.
- Everytown, America: Mayfield appears to be a stereotypical American small town.
- Evil Counterpart: Eddie to Wally. Granted, he's more of just a jerkass counterpart.
- Fat Best Friend:
- Larry Mondello, a type A, is Beaver's best friend for the first three seasons.
- Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford, to Wally and Eddie Haskell.
- Fence Painting: Averted in "The Garage Painters", when Ward introduces Wally and Beaver to Tom Sawyer, and Wally and Beaver volunteer to paint the garage. Unfortunately, almost none of the kids are gullible enough to fall for this as they were in Tom Sawyer's time, and just when it looks like Benjie Bellamy is about to take them up on the offer, he dumps a can of green paint all over himself, leaving Wally and Beaver to paint the fence by themselves.
- 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.note
- Forced into Their Sunday Best: Happens to Beaver a couple times, to his great displeasure.
- Forgotten Theme Tune Lyrics: The show's theme song originally had lyrics and was titled "The Toy Parade."
- The Ghost: Beaver's classmate Angela Valentine, who (among other things) had an extra toe and once threw up in the school cloakroom.
- Golden Moment: The series did this often at episode conclusions, complete with Ward providing An Aesop to either or both of Wally and Beaver (always featuring pensive underscore music), and a promise from the child to do better. On occasion, a lighthearted bit would follow.
- 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: Despite the occasional disagreement, Ward and June are consistently shown to have a loving relationship.
- 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 Jerkass-to-younger-brothers Eddie Haskell.
- June Cleaver is the classic/stereotypical embodiment of the '50s version of the trope. She got to wear slacks in a couple of 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.
- Immune to Mind Control: Played with in one episode, where Eddie Haskell pretends to be hypnotised by the Beaver; true to form, the writers knew that no one can be hypnotised against their will.
- In-Joke: The Season 6 episode "Beaver on TV" contains one when the music from the tag for the show's production company, Revue Studios, played prior to the intro of "Teenage Forum"; the show Beaver was to appear on (as it happened, Beaver left to get some water just before the producer announced a format change where the show was switching from airing live to being recorded to air the following week).
- Instrumental Theme Tune: It's called "The Toy Parade", if you were wondering.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Beaver has a close friendship with Gus the firefighter, who appears to be of retirement age. He often asks Gus for advice.
- Jerkass: 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.
- Monochrome Casting: Kim Hamilton, who plays a maid in "The Parking Attendants", is the only African-American cast member to appear in any of the series' 234 episodes.
- The Moving Experience: Season 2's "Beaver Says Goodbye" has Beaver prematurely mention to his classmates that he's moving after overhearing Ward mention making an offer on a house in another town, only to find out the owner of that house accepted another offer; resulting in the kids giving Beaver going away presents despite the fact that it turned out he wasn't moving after all. Interestingly, the Cleaver family would move to another house in Mayfield by the start of Season 3.
- 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.
- Although it was stated that Beaver was starting a new grade every season, his maturity never seemed to progress. He was as childishly naive in the last season as he was in the first season and, with the exception of a couple of episodes, he never lost his disdain for girls despite the fact that he was clearly a teenager by the last season. The latter was particularly grating in light of the fact that Wally was practically drooling over them by contrast.
- 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.
- Outdated Outfit: In the Season 1 episode Beaver's Short Pants, June's Aunt Martha stayed with the family, while June was out of town. During her stay, she had Beaver wear a turn of the century Buster Brown suit to school, which was quite out of style in the 1950's, and subject Beaver to teasing from the other students.
- Parent ex Machina: Happens with some frequency. Often Wally, Beaver, or both do something they shouldn't have and their parents always seem to find out, often courtesy of some sort of unexpected circumstance. Happens often enough that it seems they Can't Get Away with Nuthin'.
- 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: Describes Beaver in some episodes, most memorably regarding brussels sprouts in "Beaver Won't Eat."
- Pilot: The show originally began as an episode of Studio 57, an anthology series (sponsored by Heinz, the title referring to its "57 Varieties" slogan) which initially aired on DuMont in its first season, before moving to First-Run 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.
- Please Keep Your Hat On: In the first season episode, "The Haircut", Beaver is hyped about playing in the school Christmas Pageant. Unfortunately, he loses his haircut money and has Wally act as amateur barber. Fortunately, Beaver gets to sing in the play. He simply wears a winter tuque.
- Precocious Crush:
- Beaver once developed a crush on a pretty new neighbor. 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!
- In one early episode, Beaver also develops a crush on Mary Ellen Rogers, who later became older brother Wally's on-again, off-again girlfriend (and by the time of the Sequel Series, eventually became Wally's wife).
- Put on a Bus: Larry Mondello.
- Remake Cameo: Barbara Billingsley, Ken Osmond and Frank Bank all make appearances in the 1997 film.
- 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.
- Social Semi-Circle:
- Early episodes in the first season show Ward and June Cleaver sitting for dinner at opposite ends of the table, with Wally and the Beaver sitting side-by-side facing the camera - much like the I Love Lucy example above. This sitting arrangement was soon abandoned, with Wally and the Beaver being assigned their own sides and the Cleavers never again being seen at dinner in one shot.
- However, the Cleavers eat breakfast and lunch in the kitchen and typically sit around one side of a round table.
- 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. Ward in the early episodes also gets angry very easily, not a typical trait for this type of character.
- Sudden Name Change:
- Fred Rutherford's wife is named Geraldine in Season One. Her name is Gwendolyn from Season Two onwards.
- In his first appearance in "Beaver and Gilbert", Gilbert's surname is Gates. His surname is Bates in all of his subsequent appearances, with the exception of "Beaver's English Test" in which Mr. Blair refers to him as "Mr. Harrison."
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
- Harry Henderson for Larry Mondello as the token fat kid.
- Penny for Judy Hensler.
- 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 ("Beaver's House Guest") and another about alcoholism ("Beaver and Andy").
- Villain with Good Publicity: Eddie tries this, but June and Ward can generally see through it.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Beaver and Wally's usually fun and carefree uncle Billy gives them one of these speeches when they're caught sneaking Gilbert into a movie theater, the first half at the theater then the second half at home. But Beaver and Wally worry that's just the beginning and that he's going to tell their parents who would hand out an actual punishment. Thankfully he lets them off the hook figuring the worry was punishment enough and that they learned from it.
- With Friends Like These...: Beaver's friends are often the catalyst for his getting into trouble.
- Gilbert Bates: In "Ward's Golf Clubs," Gilbert pressures Beaver to go out and hit golf balls with his dad's clubs until he does so. Beaver winds up breaking one of the clubs as a result. In "Long Distance Call," Gilbert and another friend talk Beaver into making an expensive long distance phone call to a well-known sports figure. It winds up being far more expensive than expected.
- Larry Mondello does this frequently. In fact, he often goads Beaver into bad behavior when his friend initially decides not to do something he shouldn't. In "Ward's Baseball," Larry eventually convinces Beaver (against his better judgment) to toss his dad's autographed baseball in the front yard, resulting in its destruction. In "The Pipe," Larry dares Beaver to smoke his dad's meerschaum pipe (using coffee, no less) after Beaver's refusal, ruining the title object. In "Beaver's Prize," Larry convinces Beaver to defy his parents having grounded him; they go to a movie and are later caught. In "Beaver's Fortune," Larry picks a fight with an older kid at school and then backs out, letting Beaver do his dirty work; when he tries this again, Beaver finally ignores him and Larry deservedly gets punched in the stomach.
- Whitey Whitney: In the episode "In the Soup," Whitey dares Beaver to climb into an oversized soup bowl on a billboard to see if there's actually soup inside. Beaver gets stuck inside the display.
- While Eddie Haskell is often a catalyst for Beaver getting in trouble, he is not Beaver's friend.
- Technically, the only friend of Beaver who never gets him into trouble is the elder fireman, Gus.
- Women Drivers: Referenced but not actually used when June learns to drive relatively late in life.