A Conversation With “Leave it to Beaver” Star Jerry Mathers

Bringing up decent children in a sometimes indecent world is challenging to both parents and teachers.

So as Americans celebrate this country’s 238th birthday, what better time to visit with one of the most iconic stars in television history, Jerry Mathers, who played Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver on the classic “Leave it to Beaver” series that aired from 1957-1963, and find out what he has to say about the changes that he has seen in an acting career that began when he was two and continues to this day (see jerrymathers.com).

“Leave it to Beaver” has continuously been on the air since 1957.  What accounts for the enduring quality of the show?

“The show airs all over the world and people still enjoy watching it in many different languages,” Mathers said.  “Obviously there’s a broad market for quality television.  Not only do I have fans of my generation and older, but also their children and grandchildren.

“The life experiences of children growing up in the 1950’s are still relevant and understood by people today. If you watch the show as a child you relate to Beaver, if you’re an adolescent you relate to Wally, and as parents you see the situations from June and Ward’s point of view.”

Considering how permissive TV standards are today, it’s hard to believe that the very first episode of “Leave it to Beaver” almost didn’t air because there was a scene showing a toilet used as an aquarium for the boys’ pet alligator.   The compromise was to only show the toilet’s tank.  Looking at what passes as family entertainment today, what goes through your mind?

“When I watch many shows today they are written as joke shows; it’s set-up, set-up, joke; endlessly without much of a story.  In ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ the humor comes from the situation, not just jokes that a writer thinks everyone should laugh at.”

How do you answer critics that “Leave it to Beaver” depicted a family that never really existed in this country?

“Some people criticize the show saying that it does not depict real life of the 1950’s, but it wasn’t supposed to be real life; it was a situation comedy about a child growing up.”

Do you think the crassness in today’s media has a negative influence on today’s youth?

“I think it is very possible that many young people could be influenced when they watch so many shows on television that popularize rude and offensive behavior as normal and acceptable human discourse.”

What motivated you to get involved with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Summer Cybercop Challenge for Kids that focuses on the dangers of cyberbullying?

“I have law enforcement officers in my family, a family that gives a lot back to the community.  The Internet has linked us to everything good and bad in ways we couldn’t have imagined when I was a kid so it’s important that parents and children understand how they can help prevent themselves from becoming victims.”

Any thoughts about the demise in decency these days?

“The mores of culture ebb and flow and we as individuals are responsible to judge what is right for us.  It is important that we set positive examples with the hope and belief others will follow.”

Sound advice from a man who not only represents wholesomeness in his career, but in his life as well.

So once you’ve eaten some barbeque, grab a slice of pie and watch an episode of “Leave it to Beaver” and ponder if we are that much more civilized today now that the whole toilet can be shown on television.


Getting to the Bikini Bottom of Children’s Programming

Well, I guess my two boys may have been damaged due to watching every episode of “SpongeBob Squarepants” at least according to researchers from the University of Virginia.

Using a massive study of, ahem, 60 four-year-olds, the researchers discovered that the group watching 9 minutes of SpongeBob developed learning problems when compared to another group that watched a PBS children’s show, and still another who simply drew pictures with crayons.

For decades, some people have viewed cartoons as damaging young people, be it the violence or the frenetic pacing, or the manipulative commercials.

All I know is this.  My childhood was richer because of Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Screwy Squirrel cartoons.  And I hope that my boys will likewise have similar fond memories of SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, and Mr. Krabs.  It is a show reminiscent of the best cartoons from animator geniuses such as Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones, cartoons that are funny at both an adult level and a child’s level.  

It’s those other so-called children’s shows that are damaging in terms of lack of imagination and lack of respect for its intended audience.  Now that’s something the researchers at the University of Virginia should study.