Leave it to Beaver 60th Anniversary Memories
It’s hard to believe that our television show Leave it to Beaver has now been continuously airing since its premier on October 4th, 1957. For me, it has always been a great adventure. At the young age of 8 years old, I was starting on a life’s journey that has not only enriched me, but has brought me countless fans and friends all over the world. Who would have thought that such a simple tv show titled Leave it to Beaver about a boy and his brother growing up in a small town in mid- America in the 50’s and 60’s would ultimately become the longest continuously running show in television history.
As I look back over these last 60 years, the greatest gift that this wonderful program has always given me is all of the friends, fans and acquaintances that I have made who were a direct outcome of such a simple show. The Leave it to Beaver story lines were taken from real life and the situations that occurred then are still relevant and happening to children and families today. Lifestyles and fashions may have changed but the perspective of a child’s view of the adult world while growing up, is still relevant, relate-able and fun to watch. I wish to thank all of my many fans over these 60 years for enjoying the show along with me and hope that the family values of Leave it to Beaver will continue to be relevant and timeless.
I actually worked with Hugh Beaumont even before we started shooting Leave it to Beaver. I was cast with him in a promotional film for Rose Hills Memorial Park. One thing I remember is that during a scene, I was supposed to cry on cue. Hugh asked me if I had ever done that before and I told him, no. He said, “Put your face into your hands and laugh really hard. It’s an old actor’s trick because the sound of laughter and crying are very closely related. Sure enough, I tried it and it worked! Here is the Rose Hills film: http://www.jerrymathers.com/hugh-beaumont-and-jerry-mathers-rose-hills-memorial-park-commercial/
When we shot the pilot of Leave it to Beaver, Hugh was not the original father. But, when they re-cast the role for the series, Hugh was one of several people brought in for an audition. My mother actually suggested for him to go in for the interview! When I saw him, I was so happy because he was the nice man that I worked with on the Rose Hills shoot. So, when we read a short scene together, we had a good chemistry and Hugh got the part of Ward Cleaver. I was very glad that he was picked for the role and we had a wonderful friendship for his entire life until he passed away in 1982 from a heart attack. Hugh and my dad had become friends and he occasionally came to our house to play cards with my father and some of his friends.
What most people don’t know is that Hugh was an ordained minister before Leave it to Beaver. He graduated with a Master of Theology degree in 1946 from the University of Southern California (USC). Hugh had a long and illustrious career and did many films and television series in addition to Leave it to Beaver. One of his most famous characters was Michael Shayne who he played in 5 films. He was a hard drinking, heavy cigarette smoking detective in this part, in the style of Mickey Spillane. I think he was much more comfortable as Ward Cleaver because it fit his ‘real life” personality so much better!
As I mentioned above, here are some of my mother’s cherished memories of Hugh and how she was so instrumental in having him cast as Ward Cleaver!
Barbara Billingsley was a good friend and an even better mentor. For me she was like the favorite teacher that we all had in school. I was lucky enough to work with her for six years and have a life-long relationship with her. She was a very kind woman and a generous philanthropist who supported many charities always ready to give anyone in need a helping hand. Barbara was even more sparkling and fun than June Cleaver. Every once in a while she would get frustrated or upset and we always knew when that was because she would say, “Hell’s bells” and then put her hands over her mouth with her cutest “oops” look. This was the only “curse word” that I ever heard her say. And she always looked flustered and turned red when she realized that other people had heard her say that. She would then apologize profusely.
Barbara was always eager to teach a rambunctious lad (i.e. Me) proper civility and manners. An example of this was when I would rush ahead of her to see what was beyond the next door. She would reach up and grab me by the very short hairs at the nape of my neck and pull me back very gently and say, “Jerry, ladies always go first.” And, this is what she was—a truly regal lady. I miss her very much.