Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eager To Watch Beaver

Psst! Hey, you there!

I like to watch "Leave it to Beaver."

I'm outed. The beans have been spilled.

I hope you don't think I'm a creep or somethin'.

To be honest, I've never NOT liked The Beaver. He was someone I could relate to as a youngster, and now that I'm a grown-up, his world is somewhere to which I like to escape.

I prefer the older episodes, though. The ones where Jerry Mathers was small, no older than nine or ten years old. He was cuter then, and the storylines were more innocent.

We own a box set of one of the earlier seasons of "Beaver", and when you feel like the world is crawling up your rear end, it's nice to slide one of those discs into the DVD player and be taken away. It's like a Calgon bath that way.

It starts with the neighborhood the Cleavers lived in---one of the first sprawling sub-divisions built after the second World War. The two-story homes with the picket fences and the well-manicured lawns.


The Cleavers


The Cleavers' world just seemed so insulated from the stress and strain that befalls the American family today. No foreclosures, no job loss. Heck, not even any crime, save for maybe a pick-pocketed watch at the park where the kids played ball.

Ward, the dad, always came home at a decent hour, dinner waiting. June, the mom, greeting him with a smile and wearing a dress and pearls! Turns out that Barbara Billingsley (she's still living, BTW, at age 93), who played June, had a birth defect on her neck that she was self-conscious about. Hence the pearls.

Now you know.

There was Wally, the best older brother any little kid could have. If you watch the episodes closely, especially the ones when Beaver was small, you can see how endearing Wally is to his little brother. There's genuine love there.

In one episode, Beaver breaks down in the bedroom, worried about what Dad will say about his behavior. Wally, without speaking, pulls his hanky out of his pocket, hands it to "The Beav", and tousles his hair. How many high school boys show that kind of compassion to their elementary school-aged brothers nowadays?

There's just something cathartic about watching "Beaver." Maybe because you know it took place when Eisenhower was president, and drive-in movies were popular, and there were milkmen and the World Series was played during the day.

I was sad to discover that the actress who played Beaver's pretty young teacher Miss Landers, Sue Randall, died in 1984 at age 49 from cancer.

Miss Landers looked nothing like any teacher I had in my day.

Another reason to watch---as a grown-up male.

As for the role of June Cleaver, Billingsley apparently had her own theory about why she got the job.

"Roy (her late husband) died on a Saturday, while we were gardening," she once explained. "The Thursday before, I was up for the part of the mother in a series Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher were working on. Then Roy died, and nothing came of that series. But two months later, when they started on 'Leave It To Beaver', they remembered me and asked me to read for the part of June.

"I've always thought that they felt sorry for me."

There's nothing close to "Leave it to Beaver" on the tube nowadays. And there's not much like that kind of world in real life, either.

I feel sorry for us.

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