Gee, Wally! The Inside Scoop of Leave it to Beaver

Many coming-of-age sitcoms came out during the 20th century, but few were as influential, beloved, and remembered as Leave It to Beaver. The show launched in 1957 on CBS and quickly switched to ABC after Season One. The show followed Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver and his family.

The Cleavers family / Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers / Baraba Billingsley, Hugh Beaumont, Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers
Source: Getty Images

Beaver’s meddling personality and curiosity was the first time audiences got to see something from a child’s point of view; it even impacted other popular shows like The Wonder Years and Malcolm in the Middle. Leave It to Beaver remains a popular staple of pop culture to this day – more than half a century later.

Here are some behind-the-scenes secrets that will take you on a nostalgic journey.

The I Love Lucy Cameo

Jerry Mathers made an appearance in an I Love Lucy episode entitled Ricky’s Old Girlfriend. He sat on Lucy’s lap while she dreamt that her husband left her for one of his ex-ladies, Carlota Romero.

Baffled Lucille Ball having knives thrown at her in the television series 'I Love Lucy' circa 1951.
Photo by CBS/Getty Images

In the dream, the two beg for money outside a movie theater, and then Ricky and Carlota drop coins in their cups. Although Mathers appeared in the scene, it was an uncredited role. Perhaps that’s why many people don’t know about his little cameo. Plus, the episode aired in 1953; the episode debuted four years before Leave It to Beaver came out.

Jerry Mathers’ Audition

Jerry Mathers didn’t land the role of Beaver right away; he auditioned many times, but it wasn’t until a sit-down with the casting producer that the eight-year-old secured the role. The young star showed up wearing his blue Cub Scout uniform.

Jerry Mathers classic portrait circa 1961.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

When he confessed to everyone how nervous he was about being late to his den meeting, he captured the hearts of the casting crew. The sweet sincerity and innocence of the precious child helped him land the iconic role. Along with his adorable face and acting talents, of course.

First TV Show to Feature a Toilet

Even though it was just the toilet tank, Leave It to Beaver made history as one of the very first television programs to feature a toilet. The first time a toilet was seen on screen was in the horror movie, Psycho.

Toilet scene where Jerry Mathers is being told he must enter the bathtub.
Source: Pinterest

The boys had a bathroom which was attached to their bedroom. They were in there in the episode Captain Jack, which showed Wally putting an alligator into its aquarium, or as we’d call it, the toilet tank. The episode was supposed to be the premiere, but they ended up airing it in the second week instead.

It’s a Small World After All

It’s a Small World was originally considered to be the title of the show—flashback to Disney World. As an addition to Heinz Studio 57, the pilot was entitled It’s a Small World instead. Harry Shearer, star of This is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons, made an appearance on that episode playing a mischievous, little bicycle punk.

Harry Shearer is standing with two friends behind him looking like little gangsters.
Source: Pinterest

Another title for the show that was being tossed around was Wally and the Beaver. However, the name was scratched from the list pretty quickly because a corporate sponsor felt like it sounded like a nature program. It kind of does, to be honest.

A New Wally Was Cast Because the Old One Grew

Originally, in the pilot episode of the show, Wally was portrayed by Paul Sullivan. However, after filming the first episode, the kid had a major growth spurt and was reportedly replaced. Tony Dow ended playing the part from the second episode on.

Young actors Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers posing together for the camera, circa 1955.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Tony didn’t even particularly want the role. He just showed up at the studio with one of his friends who was auditioning. Unfortunately, for that friend, Tony got the part. He just came as moral support, but the casting producers noticed him immediately. Was it fate? Or was Tony just at the right place at the right time?

Canceled After Season One

Although the show has become an iconic piece of nostalgia with a legendary status, Leave It to Beaver wasn’t exactly a smash hit when it first aired. Most people weren’t interested in tuning in, and the first season was a disappointment.

Hugh Beaumont is kissing Barbara Billingsley on the forehead in a publicity shot for the show.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

The show wasn’t doing too well at all, so when Season One ended in 1958, CBS immediately axed the series. That’s when a competitive network ABC came to the rescue and took over the show; they kept it on air for another five seasons! After that, the show gained a loyal and dedicated audience.

The Most Expensive Episode

Over at ABC, there was no skimping on the budget. So, In the Soup, a Season Four episode, came with a pretty penny. The episode included Beaver getting stuck in an enormous bowl of soup displayed on a billboard.

Still of Beaver inside an enormous soup bowl and a police officer helping him to get out.
Source: Imgur

Naturally, Beaver’s curious nature wanted to find out if the billboard actually had real soup in there. So, he went up there and ended up getting stuck. The hilarious episode cost a smooth $50,000; if that doesn’t sound like much to you, that amount would be $400,000 today if you calculate inflation.

Never Made It Into the Top 30 Shows

Throughout the show’s run, Leave It to Beaver never made it to Nielsen’s Top 30 rated shows. The series was left behind shows that no one even remembers these days, such as The Ford Show, The Ann Sothern Show, and The Gary Moore Show.

Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers are hugging their tv mother Barbara Billingsley while they pose for the cameraman.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

I mean, it’s not that big of a deal. We don’t have to hold it against the rating list; it’s not like they knew it would become a classic. Like other iconic shows of that era, it was ahead of its time. But eventually, Leave It to Beaver got its time to shine.

Paving the Way for Child Actors

Although Leave It to Beaver wasn’t topping the charts at the time, the audience they did have adored them! They were able to produce a bunch of merchandise, from comic books to board games. And to make things even better, Jerry Mathers got a percentage of it all.

Promotional portrait of Tony Doe as Wally, leaning on actor Jerry Mathers as his brother Beaver, for the tv series.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

That’s right, little Jerry Mathers. This was significant because it was the first time ever a pre-teen received royalties. He paved the way for future child stars not to be taken advantage of. Congrats to his parents for securing their child star this pretty sweet deal!

Leave It to Beaver Novels

Speaking of merchandise, the creator of the famous Ramona character, Beverly Cleary, wrote three-tie-in novels, which eventually went on to win a National Book Award as well as a Newbery Medal. However, she confessed to the L.A. Times that her work was “boring.”

Author Cleary at her home office in Carmel Valley.
Photo By Christina Koci Hernandez/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

She also admitted that she was used to writing prose by the yard. She would get letters telling her that the books were better than the series – possibly, she suggested, because of the fact that she left out the philosophizing of dear old Dad.

The Cleavers’ Big Move

Right in the middle of filming the series, the Cleavers ended up moving from 485 Mapleton Drive to 211 Pine Street. So, what was the reason for their sudden relocation? Well, it was all apparently due to production. As it turns out, there wasn’t much of a choice.

Jerry Mathers is sitting on the set, ready to snap a picture.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

Apparently, the original house had a façade that was moved from the Republic Studios lot over to the Pine Street home when production transitioned over Universal. Fun fact: The Pine Street house was also used in both Desperate Housewives and Marcus Welby, MD.

Some Jokes Were Removed

Leave It to Beaver aimed to hit an even balance of amusement and did a wonderful job doing so. Phrases like “Gee Wally!” were used, and the show purposely avoided laughter outbursts like the ones on other shows like I Love Lucy. They just wanted to get a few chuckles.

“Gee Wally!” Beaver is exclaiming to Wally in a still from the tv show.
Source: / Copyright: abc

According to AARP Magazine, Tony Dow said that if any line got too much of a laugh, it was cut out in editing. The showrunners were hoping to get some toned-down giggles, but they didn’t want huge laughs and hilarity.

The Truth About Barbara Billingsley’s Accessories

There were actually reasons for Barbara Billingsley’s accessories. It wasn’t always about style and formal attire for June. There was a practical explanation why she wore pearls on the show. It was to cover a “big hollow” in her neck.

Portrait of Barbara Billingsley wearing her typical pearl necklace.
Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images

During an interview, the actress confessed that she wore the necklace to hide it. She went on to say that the reason she needed to wear high heels was because of the boys’ growth spurts. As the boys grew taller, she needed to appear taller as well. She joked about how she thought they would put her on an apple box.

The First Intentional Series Finale

Back then, it was uncommon for a television series to unceremoniously get cut from the TV schedule. But Wally was about to start college, and Mathers was longing to go to high school in real life, so the show kind of naturally ended.

Still of Tony and Jerry stirring the helm of a boat.
Source: / Copyright: ABC

Leave It to Beaver said goodbye in a nostalgic manner with the last episode, Family Scrapbook. This was the first international series finale. In it, the audience finally found out why he was called “Beaver.” Other than Fugitive and Howdy Doody, not many shows planned to end in the 1960s.

Hugh Beaumont Was a Minister

Hugh Beaumont was preaching to a congregation but was still too poor to earn a living wage… that is until he stepped into the shoes of Ward Cleaver. That’s right, in real life the actor was an ordained minister for the Methodist Church.

Publicity of the tv show for a Happy Easter family card.
Source: / Copyright: ABC

In order to pay the bills and make ends meet, the minister took on some modeling gigs, which ultimately led him to the screen. He would go on to become a pilot as well as the beloved iconic father figure on Leave It to Beaver.

Eddie Haskell Did Not Grow Up to Be Alice Cooper

Rumors have circulated that rock and roll artist Alice Cooper was actually Ken Osmond in real life. The allegations surfaced after an interview in which Cooper was asked about his bad-boy streak, where it came from, and how he got into mischief.

Rock singer Alice Cooper performed on stage dressed in a full dark leather outfit and black makeup in his eyes, circa 1980.
Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

Cooper’s response was that he was like Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver. For some reason, many people assumed that meant that Alice Cooper was literally Eddie Haskell. As it turns out, Cooper didn’t portray the character. People read way too much into things – that’s one thing that hasn’t changed.

Where Did the Cleavers Live?

Leave It to Beaver never told us where exactly in the U.S. the Cleavers lived. However, there were two clues that confirmed that the television family was actually based in Wisconsin, the cheese capital of the United States.

Vintage postcard from Wisconsin.
Photo by Found Image Press/Corbis/Getty Images

The first hint was given in an episode where Wally says that the high school band was going over to Madison for a competition. But if that didn’t give it away, the second clue was when the Cleavers decided to watch the Green Bay Packers and took a trip to watch the game!

The Cleavers Could Have Looked Differently

We all now know the members of the Cleaver family are Beaver, June, Ward, and Wally, and the characters weren’t touched from the development stage of the show. However, according to Jerry Mathers, the actors almost ended up being completely different.

Tony Dow is washing dishes with a towel in the kitchen alongside an unidentified actress and Jerry Mathers sits beside them.
Photo by ABC Television/Getty Images

In 2014, Mathers spoke to MeTV and admitted that the only ones who appeared in the pilot were Barbara Billingsley and he. Hugh Beaumont and Tony Dow’s characters were played by totally different actors at first. But other than the first episode, they weren’t part of the cast that would later come to be.

Beaver and Wally’s Brotherly Bond

You reach a point when age doesn’t really matter anymore… Even though Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers played siblings, the two of them didn’t exactly have that brotherly bond. The two just didn’t click, and it was mainly because of their age differences. It wasn’t like there was any beef, but they weren’t friends either.

Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers eating popped corn with a baffled look on their faces.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Plus, they never really had a chance to hang out off set, so they just kind of worked together. Fast forward 30 years, and the two actors appeared in a play together.

Leave It to Beaver Class

Leave It to Beaver can certainly be appreciated for its humor, but the sitcom could possibly be classified as something other than just pure entertainment. According to several scholars, Leave It to Beaver taught their viewers about many social issues going on at the time.

Beaver is sitting in the classroom and taking notes.
Source: / Copyright: ABC

In fact, some sociologists consider that the show is so significant that they add it to their college syllabus as it’s compared to family sitcoms from this era, such as Modern Family. They certainly believe that their students could benefit from it.

Tony Dow Was Typecast

It wasn’t easy for Tony Dow to break out of his Wally character. It’s not uncommon for an actor to become typecast, and most casting directors couldn’t see him playing other types of characters. People were just used to seeing him as Wally, so it was hard to associate him with someone different.

Tony Dow is sitting beside a swimming pool circa 1965.
Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images

So, when Tony Dow decided to play Wally, he essentially signed his fate and lost out on a lot of work and opportunities to grow his career. In 2019, he explained that he was really trying to be a serious actor, but he kept getting apple-pie roles.

Tough Guy Reputation

On screen, Ward Cleaver came across as one of the most gentle and tamed characters on television. But High Beaumont initially got his big break when he portrayed meaner and tougher characters. Before starring on Leave It to Beaver, Beaumont portrayed P.I. Michael Shayne in several movies.

Publicity shot from the movie ‘The Lady Confesses’, four men threatening Hugh Beaumont while Mary Beth Hughes is staring at one of them.
Photo by LMPC/Getty Images

The character was so tough and stern that the actor was embarrassed by it. Mathers even admitted that the tough-as-nails character wasn’t anything a minister would want to be remembered for. Thankfully, Beaumont is remembered as Ward Cleaver instead.

Why Ward Got a New Car

Many shows have sponsors and endorsement deals, and this was also the case in the 1950s and 1960s. During the time Leave It to Beaver was on the air, General Electric and Purina were both sponsoring the show. But when Season Three rolled around, another major sponsor joined.

Ward Beaver is starting his car outside the house.
Source: Pinterest

Despite the fact that Ward Cleaver drove a Ford on TV, the famous car company Chrysler offered their endorsement. In order to be very careful about advertising a rival car company, Chrysler and the producers decided to switch out the Ford for a Plymouth Fury.

The Lost Pilot Episode

The show’s pilot episode was called It’s a Small World. The world first got a glimpse into the sitcom when it premiered on April 23, 1957. But after that, fans had to wait three decades after the show initially started to ever see the first episode again.

The Cleaver family is waving goodbye in their front yard.
Source: / Copyright: ABC

For at least 30 years, the episode seemed lost, and many people there was no hope in ever finding that lost episode. But in 1987, the pilot episode was found in an Illinois storage unit, and the world would get to relive the premiere once again.

Judy Hensler Was Fired for Growing Up

The tricky part about working with child actors is that they inevitably grow up. You can only stay little for so long. Unfortunately, when a child actor goes through puberty before their character, it could lead to their departure from the show. This was exactly what happened to Judy Hensler, who played Jeri Weil.

Close-up still on Judy Hensler playing Jeri Weil.
Source: Pinterest

Producers requested that she tie back her chest to keep the youthful appearance of her character, but the actress didn’t listen, so she was given the boot. Hitting puberty was part of life, and she didn’t want to look like her young character forever.

Mathers Was Friendly With Cinema’s Greatest Auteur

In 1955, Mathers took on a role in the legendary Alfred Hitchcock’s dark comedy, The Trouble with Harry. This was all before he was ever on Leave It Beaver, but it just so happens that the series would be shot next to the Alfred Hitchcock Presents studios.

Alfred Hitchcock is framing a shot with his hands circa 1964.
Photo by Tony Evans/Timelapse Library Ltd./Getty Images

As you can imagine, the two would frequently run into each other on set. It was pretty funny that they already knew one another. The famous filmmaker also had a nickname for the youngster: Mr. Mathers. The actor probably looked pretty cool hanging out with such an iconic director.

Jerry Mathers Was Reported as K.I.A.

Jerry Mathers was able to enlist in the United States Air Force in 1966; he eventually made it to the rank of a sergeant, which is pretty impressive. In 1968, news broke that Private J. Mathers was killed during the Vietnam War.

Portrait of Jerry Mathers wearing the U.S. Air Force unfirm.
Source: Pinterest

The media reported that the actor was Killed in Action (K.I.A.), and the world was stunned. They couldn’t believe the beloved star was dead. But as it turned out, Mathers never even went overseas, let alone saw active combat. Thankfully, he was very much alive.

Lumpy Rutherford Was Successful in Real Life

Lumpy Rutherford wasn’t exactly known as the sharpest tool in the shed. But although the character wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box, the same couldn’t be said about the talented actor who played him, Frank Bank.

Actors Frank Bank and Jerry Mathers posing for the press at TV Land Awards circa 2005.
Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images

The star was incredibly successful and was destined to… I mean, his last name is Bank. It only makes sense that Bank would make bank. By the end of the show, the actor would make more than $300K a year working as a stockbroker. He would also eventually go on to represent his co-stars Tony Dow, Mathers, and Billingsley.

Dear Old Mom

You know what they say, never work with children or animals. But when it came to Larry Mondello, it was actually the pushy parent that caused all the issues. The little boy who played Beaver’s best friend was fired when his overly attached mother got involved.

Close-up on Larry Mondello in a still from ‘Leave It To Beaver’.
Source: Tumblr

Billingsley explained that the constant bickering and arguments between the producers and Mondello’s overbearing mother ultimately led to his character getting booted from the show. The poor young actor did nothing wrong. Sometimes, irritating mothers are harder to work with than annoying babies.

Joe Connelly Was Inspired by Fatherhood

One of the show’s co-creators, Joe Connelly, has been noted for giving Leave It to Beaver a rich portrayal of what it’s like to be a kid. As it turns out, Connelly had a lot of actual life events to draw inspiration from.

Ward Cleaver is explaining something to his boys while June Cleaver is sitting behind him.
Source: / Copyright: ABC

In his real life, Connelly had two sons, Ricky and Jay. His own boys were the inspiration behind Beaver and his brother Wally. Also, many of the situations and conversations that happened on the show revolved around his sons. Perhaps the authenticity is what made the show so beloved.

Everyone’s Favorite Neighbor Made a Cameo

Many of the future Leave It to Beaver stars played pretty small roles at the time. But it was 14-year-old Harry Shearer, who portrayed Frankie on the show, went on to famously play the voices of Ned Flanders, C. Seymour Skinner, and C. Montgomery Burns (all three characters in The Simpsons).

Harry Shearer is posing for the press during a Party circa 1997.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

While the rest of the cast members moved on to bigger and better things, Harry Shearer may have slipped under the radar a little bit when it comes to physical acting roles, but the world has been listening to him talk in his famous voices for decades.

Jerry Mather’s Music Career

There are plenty of actors who transition into the music world after their acting days come to an end. It’s a good way to stay in the spotlight and dip your toes into another artistic endeavor. Jerry Mathers is no exception.

Jerry Mathers in his teens, circa 1995.
Source: Getty Images

Before Leave It to Beaver ended in 1963, Mathers released his debut song Don’tcha Cry in 1962 with Atlantic Records. The song was a bust and didn’t make the charts. But Mathers didn’t give up; he formed the band Beaver and the Trappers, but, sadly, it wasn’t very successful either.

Stanley Fafara Couldn’t Afford a Gravestone

It’s a pretty well-known fact that child actors tend to fall off the rails. Early fame and success can be really traumatizing for such a young child, even though they don’t realize it at the time. Sadly, Stanley Fafara fell into this ugly stereotype.

Stanly Fafara as a child actor in ‘Leave It To Beaver’ and an older Stanley Fafara at an event.
Source: Pinterest

After Leave It to Beaver ended, the actor who played Whitey started using drugs. He became highly addicted and went broke before he died in 2003. The actor was so poor at the time of his death that he couldn’t afford a headstone. His grave was left unmarked for 13 years.