Saturday, September 04, 2004


Reg'lar readers of BLACK TO COMM know that, besides dishing out the hot information on a whole buncha rock & roll (and other musical) acts that I know about and you don't in order to do a li'l one-upmanship on you (hee!), I deal with other pertinent subjects that are more or less custom-made for your cheezo-bred living. I've written about everything from old automobiles to fast (and not-so fast) foods as well as z-grade movies and comic strips you just don't see anymore. Things that matter to you the most, items that you never could live without (even though the powers that be want you to live without 'em in their vain attempt to create "the new man") no matter how hard you try to...things that SAY more about what you are (as a classless pot-bellied SLOB) than all of the hand-wringing sob saga lectures aimed at you and your existence ever could. And one of the big enchiladas that says more about ME (as a classless mid-Amerigan pot-bellied slob) than anything else could is LEAVE IT TO BEAVER! Yes, Norman Lear thought he was telling it like it is when he created the oaf Archie Bunker, but ALL IN THE FAMILY never seemed like it was speaking about my was more like a lecture from some New Yorkers who were kind enough to let us know just how base we all were. Like Dave Berg's commentaries in MAD, all Norman Lear was doing was dribbling out there progressive line that only spoke for himself and his cocktail buddies. BEAVER, on the other hand, spoke for me, and continues to do so, for it's the only television program I can think of that was "real" not counting maybe DRAGNET which was pretty earthy in itself but since I'm not a cop or crook I can't totally identify with anyone on the show, 'cept maybe a victim.

Y'know, I can see all the effete limpwrist snobs out there complainin' about how "unrealistic" BEAVER is as I type...y'know, by attacking the obvious while ignoring the subtlety..."Oh, how many children fall into giant soup bowls and play hookey from school only to end up on TV..." and all that rot. Well, I never climbed billboards or played hookey or anything like that, but I sure understood the manic kiddie cravings behind such actions! LEAVE IT TO BEAVER was the first and as far as I know only TV series to say it like it was/is about growing up young and mid-class (though it's obvious from the program that the Cleaver family are clearly upper-middle class and almost rich living in an area that is in actually Shaker Heights Ohio, the ritzy suburb of Cleveland!) whether it be the forties, fifties or pre-corrupted sixties/seventies/eighties... and being a general doofus kid feeling out this thing called life usually falling flat on his face.

I mean...Beaver unreal??? As Ron Weiser sorta said once, it was the hippie with his long hair and headband and tinkling bells and peace and love (while at the same time carrying pictures of Chairman Mao and Ho Chi Minh) who was the corny, unreal one. LEAVE IT TO BEAVER was the most real of the fifties sitcoms I could think of, certainly "more real" than FATHER KNOWS BEST or even a goodie like MY THREE SONS and just as wonderful as THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, which was a pretty real show in itself! Hey, how many Eddie Haskells have YOU run up against in your school days? How many Judy Hennslers were in your class??? Frankly, I had to put up with armies of both Eddies and Judy's in my school as well as neighborhood and frankly, if there's anything "unreal" about LEAVE IT TO BEAVER maybe it was the fact that father Ward Cleaver seemed like such an understanding, overly patient pop...most dads I've seen all over the place seem to be heavy-handed swatters who think that walloping their kids is the way to their minds when it's just nothing but an excuse to let off more steam while making themselves believe they're doing their kids a favor settin' 'em straight while bashin' their britches. Now, Larry Mondello's always-unseen dad is the one who was doing the swatting, but this show wasn't called LEAVE IT TO LARRY, which I believe was the name of a short-lived concurrent series!

I was going to do a BEAVER article plus print the results of the BEAVER contest I posted in the twenty-second issue for the twenty-third BLACK TO COMM but got such a lousy response that I flicked the error-laden article I did (so it was good that I never printed it after all!) into some junk pile and decided to forget it. Consider this the remnants of that piece, a top ten list of what I consider the best BEAVER episodes to appear on the cathode tube not only then but now, where a whole new generation of kids can watch the program and not have to be bored out of their gourds by the shows made "especially for them" by a bunch of BEAVER-haters whose wares are extremely horrid quap now being passed off as "quality (yawn!) entertainment." And you know I'm right! (And if you want to add your own faves or delete a few, go right ahead!)

So, in no particular order (more or less):

1) The one where EDDIE HASKELL SLEEPS OVER AT THE CLEAVERS. Like I once said, Eddie Haskell is my favorite character on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. Think about it...he's cool, crafty, sneaky and (best of all) says and admits a lotta things that other kids wouldn't dare that most of the time turn out to be the truth. Sorta like the Pat Buchanan of teenagers. Plus, he's a sly devil who usually turns out to be more than he boasts to be, and is always willing to start a fight and then back down when someone like Wally takes him up on his offer. This particular episode has Eddie suddenly spending the weekend at the Cleavers, causing trouble when he unsuccessfully tries to "psycho out" Wally at a game of chess (which Eddie's father taught him because "it might come in handy in business") and knocks the chessboard over when Wally wins claiming it was an accident and that the game wasn't over at all! After getting into an arguement Eddie goes back to his place, after which it is discovered that the only reason Eddie was spending the weekend at the Cleavers was because his parents were away and Eddie's afraid to be home alone so Wally has to go over to Eddie's and get him back! High point-when Eddie explains to his "father" that he should go back to the Cleavers in the other room while Wally tries to hold back his laughter. Real class stuff, and a fine showcase for the talents of the often underrated Ken Osmond. (BTW, I've often wondered if future cop Osmond got a lot of fan mail from kids in reform schools and mental institutions writing about how Eddie Haskell "influenced" them and other things along those deviant lines. It would be a good question for an interviewer to ask Osmond, because I have the sneaking suspicion that there's a roomfulla correspondance generated by a whole swampload of teenaged bums out there who thought Osmond and his role were the greatest thing to hit youthdom since Leo Gorcey!)

2) Wally gets a "Jellyroll" haircut! I just saw this one last week after not having seen it since I was at least seven (!), and it's just as good as I remembered. Unfortunately, Eddie Haskell is not seen in this episode (but is mentioned as the root of the problem since he was the first to get this radical new hairstyle!) which is a shame since this episode's premise (dealing with a new greaser fashion that's sorta like a reverse ducktail that has to be seen to be believed) is just begging for this wizeacre's presence. The show is hilarious, with this wild jazzy music being played (and abruptly ending) whenever somebody with the "Jellyroll" appears, and even though the ending is pretty mushy (Wally agrees to comb his hair in the usual way after Beaver attempts his own "Jellyroll" looking like a precursor to Eddie Munster (which doesn't surprise me since LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and THE MUNSTERS were made by the same production company, George Gobel's Gomalco) and June convinces Wally that the style is too garish for her propriety it still fills the bill!

3) THE BIG DIPPER ROLLER COASTER-The amusement park (Euclid Beach??? My sister surmises that "Bellport" is a coded name for Euclid Ohio!) is opening for the season and is offering a group rate on tickets. Beaver's lucky enough to be the fifth man in the package Wally and his friends got together (much to the dismay of Eddie Haskell) but after Whitey and Richard tell him about the treacherous Big Dipper roller coaster Beaver gets cold feet. A visit to Gus at the firehouse (Gus being played by veteran old guy actor Burt Mustin, who lasted well into his late-eighties as a character actor on a variety of Norman Lear programs!) gives Beaver the courage he needs to face the ride. Classic for the pre-ride barbs by Haskell as well for the ride itself and the reactions of those aboard the coaster, especially Our Hero Eddie!

4) BEAVER FALLS IN THE SOUP BOWL. This seems to be everybody's fave, and it's certainly a top ten pick. On the way home from school, Beaver and Whitey see a new billboard for "Zesto Soup" complete with steam emanating from the bowl. Whitey tricks/taunts Beaver into climbing up the billboard to peek into the bowl to see if there actually is soup up there, and naturally Beaver falls in while having a looksee. The scene where a crowd gathers and Eddie Haskell makes some more of his famous remarks ("Oh fireman, save my child!") is top notch. Again, this reminds me of my youth when I'd see the Schweibel's billboard in Youngstown with the bread always tumbling out of the open bag wondering just where all them slices went!

5) BEAVER AND THE BABYSITTER. There are a number of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER episodes I saw when I was a kid and really related to, only by the time I saw them after years of living a BEAVER-less life (it seems as if the local stations who should've aired this program over and over avoided it like the plague, which is a shame since it would have fitted into channel 33's afternoon schedule snugly alongsides the other oldies they were airing throughout the seventies) they didn't have the same oomph. Like the one where Beaver got a "D-" in math on his report card and Eddie Haskell changed it to a "B+" when nobody was looking...I really enjoyed it (and could understand the pain Beaver felt) when I was a young 'un but seeing it years later it just didn't hold up that well. (Then there are others that, while accurate and real-life and all, don't quite gel with me because they seem to be too close to the truth, like the time Beaver has to go to the football awards banquet and doesn't want to wear a jacket and necktie only to get there and find out he's the only one who didn't cop out...that reminds me of something I did only I can't remember what right now!!!) This is one episode I saw as a kid that does hold up very well...Beaver's folks are going to a party and Wally's gonna be out as well, so adolescent Beaver's stuck with a babysitter, right after he tells his friends he's going to be alone for the whole evening!!! This one does capture the feelings you used to get when you were getting older and your parents still had visions of you as a toddler or somethin'. Fortunately the Annette Funicello lookalike who babysat also understood the feelings, which is why this one has a happy ending! (As usual, but who cares???)

6) BEAVER'S SHORT PANTS. Here's another one I could, and still can, relate to very well...Beaver's out-of-time old maid aunt is staying at the Cleaver's while June is away, and her antiquated ways are wearing the fellows down. Things reach a head when Aunt Martha buys Beaver a short-pants suit and cap similar to the ones schoolboys wear in England, which may go down well there but not in Mayfield! You can just feel the tension as Beaver has to go to school dressed like this and tries to hide from everyone...unsuccessfully of course. It makes me feel like I did when I was a kid, and I hadda be nice and prim and proper (fortunately, it didn't take hold, but just having to be that way ruined me for good) while all the other kids were listening to the radio and doing wild stuff that made them the well-rounded beings they are today! Almost as bad as getting Charlie Brown shampoo bottles for Christmas...when you're eighteen!

7) WALLY DATES JULIE FOSTER. I don't think this one will make too many LEAVE IT TO BEAVER top ten lists, but it always stuck out with me. Wally's dating his English teacher's daughter, and Eddie and Lumpy think he's going to get good marks as a result! Great for the closing scene which reinacts that great bit of class humiliation where the teacher hands back test papers and reads the scores aloud so everyone can hear 'em!

8) Then there are the ones where UNCLE BILLY visits. Before Edgar Buchanan made his mark on PETTICOAT JUNCTION in 1963 you could see the former dentist in a wide variety of roles as well as in a few small series of his own along the way (like the now-rare western JUDGE ROY BEAN). On two of three BEAVER appearances he played the boys' Uncle Billy, who more or less was like a surrogate grandfather not only dishing out a lotta money to the kids but a lackadasical attitude that you tend to find in aging batchelor uncles. The episode in question is the one from the last season ('62-'63) where Billy's staying with the boys while Ward and June go away for the weekend, and Beaver sneaks Gilbert into the movies and gets caught, then calls Uncle Billy thinking he's gonna come down to the theatre and give the manager what for! Boy, does Beaver get surprised!

9) BILLY. This has nothing to do with Buchanan, but's a first season episode where Beaver discovers an old teddy bear in the trash and rescues it from the garbage truck (after ditching it when his friends come over to play and taunt him for having it!) because it has such sentimental value and is a reminder of a time in his life when he was ill and the only companion he had was this doll. My father thinks that the kids who were teasing Beaver had him dead to right, but I dunno, this episode reminded me of when I was a kid and there were these all-too-many sad times and it was things, not people, that gave me hope and made me feel better. Yeah, I know that's screwy but given today's topsy-turvy world it's the material things that matter, and people for the most part have less aptitude and appeal than a piece of vinyl filled with barbaric sounds or a hunk of paper brimming with words of wisdom and humor. Think about it!!! Hey, I'm sure that for a lotta kids today their teddies mean a whole lot more to 'em (in a spiritual way) than the ogres they're forced to associate with day in and day out!!!

10) DANCING SCHOOL. There are a lot more that should be up here, and I know you'll write in mentioning your faves, but here's a final one that seems to ring a chord with me considering it has more to do with that eternal theme of parents wanting to "better" their kids by turning them into squares and the kids wanting nothing to do with it. Beaver and Larry are forced to go to dancing school which they naturally hate. It's a degrading, demeaning experience where these kids, who should be young, wild and dirty and all that, put on suits and have to dance with icky girls and all. After one afternoon of this the boys decide to ditch next week's lesson which they do, only to stumble across some gal on a horse who offers them rides! Sounds like a better Saturday afternoon to me!!!!

HONORABLE MENTION: Beaver puts a curse on Eddie using a Raggedy Andy doll, Lumpy puts cherry bombs under Wally and Eddie's car hoods, Wally gets a job at the drugstore soda fountain and Eddie and Lumpy are jealous, Beaver thinks he's entered THE TWILIGHT ZONE because he thought the TV show he appeared on was live when it was actually taped for future broadcast, Eddie quits school, Beaver gets a ticket for driving his go cart on the street, Beaver falls in the lake, Beaver and Larry get arrested after being caught in stolen boat, Girl who's writing autobiography for Beaver adds a lotta hooey in it after finding out Beaver called her a goon, Beaver's called a "sheepdog" by taunting girl and gets some great comebacks from Eddie to use on her ("You look like a cover girl...for MAD magazine!"), Beaver and Larry are late for school, play hookey and end up on a live remote TV program, Beaver and Wally invest in stock and instead of Eddie's pick take Ward's suggestion for a safe investment which goes nowhere while Eddie's takes off, Wally falls for girl working at a local theatre who turns out to be low-class, Eddie wants to work on a fishing boat for the summer, Beaver and Wally argue over going to a sporting event with Ward (with Wally's high school psychology backfiring on him), Beaver refusing to eat his Brussel Sprouts...


Christopher said...

And there's the one where Beaver makes his goony-face in the class picture

tim ellison said...

I actually wrote a paper in high school about how Leave It to Beaver was actually a realistic show! There are some genuinely moving episodes. You mentioned the one about Billy. There is also the one where Eddie moves out of his house. Do you know that one episode where Richard Richover has an existential crisis or something and Beaver picks up on it, too? I've only ever seen it once.

The great moment in the one in which Wally gets a jelly roll, of course, is when Beaver appears with HIS jelly roll--the final straw! Also, did you forget the barrel hoops episode? (Best line: "Fred thinks it was the same gang of toughs who..." I can't remember...stole his wallet when they were on vacation somewhere or something.)

Christopher said...

Tim-Thanks for the note. I'm glad there's SOMEONE ELSE OUT THERE who agrees that BEAVER was q realistic show, or at least more realistic and reflective of what a lotta people go through "growing up" than most reality-based programming. As for the episodes you've mentioned...the "barrel hoop" one (where Wally and Beaver try to get revenge on Lumpy, who started out the series as a way-older bully before being transformed into more of a geeky awkward homeboy type, only to have Fred Rutherford fall into their trap) was good, but didn't quite strike me as upper-echelon. Neither did the one where Eddie moved out, which captured a lot about striking out on your own but didn't impress me as one the the best. On a scale of one-to-five, I'd give both maybe three to three-and-a-half. The one about Beaver and Richard's "crisis"...I'm not familiar with that one offhand (!), but I do recall another episode I should have mentioned where Beaver hits the "awkward years," a nice coming of age one where he gets some mighty "creepy" feelings about being an adolescent. This was a next-to-last season episode where he goes back to visit Miss Landers and Gus the Fireman. Maybe the episode you're referring to is the one where Beaver walks past the firehouse and it's boarded up, yet another good indication of the passing of time and how things change way too fast for a lotta folks' tastes?

tim ellison said...

The one I'm thinking of must be one of those two episodes. It starts off with Beaver hanging out with Richard, and Richard is depressed about something. He sits on the street and tells Beaver that he does this and won't go home until he sees a car with some out of state license plate.

There was a lot of depth in the show character-wise. Larry Mondello, Eddie Haskell, Lumpy Rutherford, Fred Rutherford, Judy Henssler, Ms. Landers: all very strong characters (as, of course, were all four members of the family).

tim ellison said...

Oh, also: the episode where Larry steals money out of his mother's sewing basket, throws it out the window, and convinces Beaver to look out in the yard with him for money that's fallen out of airplanes so that they can go to the carnival. Possibly the saddest Larry-related episode, but still a classic.

Christopher said...

Yes, the one you mentioned where Larry throws his mother's spare change out the window and had Beaver look for it was great. I like those episodes where someone uses trickery on Beaver and he naturally always falls for it, such as the time Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver didn't want Beaver to see the "Voodoo Curse"/"Blood River" double feature at the theatre, so Eddie finds a loophole where although Wally was told not to take Beaver to see the films, they said nothing about Beaver not being able to take Wally! Naturally Eddie inadvertantly tips his hat to Ward and June! I saw the one where Richard's having a nervous breakdown before but will have to view it again...since I went through more than my share of those when I was his age I should relate to it!

The "Spanking Machine" episode (where Larry tells Beaver there's a spanking machine in the principal's office---Beaver later on gets his head stuck in a fence) was also worthy of mention, if only because I was told the exact same thing as a first-grader (by my older relatives) and actually believed that the cubby hole in my principal's office was where it was stored!!!
I still had my doubts when I was much older and was told it was just a fib, and it wasn't until years later that I learned that this story had its origins with that episode of Beaver!

Anonymous said...

About the Big Dipper roller coaster - I think Bellport and Euclid beach might be referencing Belmont Park on Mission Beach in San Diego - There is a street here called Euclid, and the park itself, as well as the rollercoaster (called the Giant Dipper) are longtime local landmarks sorta like Coney Island for the NY area.