Leave It To Beaver
It has become an icon of stable family life in a nuclear family (comprising only the parents and their children) and moral decision-making in a world of small human foibles and no great issues.
The plot revolved around the life of Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver (played by Jerry Mathers), a pre-adolescent boy living in an upscale, middle-class neighborhood in the innocent years of the 1950s. His teen-age brother, Wally, was played by Tony Dow, his father, Ward, by Hugh Beaumont, and his mother, June, by Barbara Billingsley. Eddie Haskell was the teenage conniver who turns choirboy whenever he is in the presence of adults. Joe Connelly (1918-2003), a television writer was the main creator; his 8-year-old son was the inspiration for Beaver, and his 14-year-old son was the model for Wally. The producer was Harry S. Ackerman.
In its "Golden Age," television served as a kind of social training film; sitcoms like Leave It to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet, The Donna Reed Show and Father Knows Best were all prime-time staples that taught Americans newly arrived in the suburbs from city tenements how to act middle-class.
Central to each episode was the interplay between big brother Wally and little Theodore. Their boyish attempts to navigate the social currents of school, girls, and adolescence were often tinged with frustration and loneliness. In one early episode, when Beaver is worried that his teacher will hit him over a minor mess-up, Wally corrects him: "Only the coach can hit you."
June Cleaver, a typical housewife and mother, remained calm amid household tumult, providing crucial guidance to her sons while shielding them from nefarious outside influences with a matronly force of will. Her protection was frequently needed against the pernicious intrigues of Eddie Haskell. He engaged in impulsive, selfish, disruptive, and malevolent schemes, almost evil personified. For crafty Eddie, each day was one more step toward the twilight of the adults, which would herald his ascension to neighborhood ruler.
The father Ward Cleaver was a Solomon-like figure of quiet dignity who dispensed parental justice tempered with understanding. Perceptive viewers knew his furrowed brow and clenched jaw were hints of serious inner turmoil, reminiscent of the anger toward society and unfulfilled economic dreams that tormented Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman, the classic 1949 play about dysfunctional families.
A comparison of how children interact with their brothers and sisters on such 1950's situation comedy television programs as Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best with those on such 1980s programs as The Cosby Show and Family Ties found that children interacted more positively in the early period but were important and central - if more conflictual - to the main story action in the 1980s.
- Kassel, Michael B. "Mass Culture, History and Memory and the Image of the American Family," PdD dissertation, Michigan State U. 2005 65(9): 3537-A. DA3146050 613p.
- Mathers, Jerry. And Jerry Mathers as "The Beaver," (1998), memoir.
- Shaffer, Jeffrey. "Epic Beaver Cleaver", Christian Science Monitor, May 28, 1999, Vol. 91, Issue 128
- Mary Strom Larson, "Sibling Interactions in 1950s Versus 1980s Sitcoms: A Comparison," Journalism Quarterly 1991 68(3): 381-387