Synopsis by Hal Erickson
One of the undisputed classics of American television, the weekly, half-hour sitcom Leave It to Beaver was created by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, who had risen to prominence as principal writers of the TV version of Amos 'n' Andy. Fulfilling their ambition to create a warm, credible sitcom about modern suburban life as seen through the eyes of small children, Connelly and Mosher came up with a pilot film, "It's a Small World," in 1957. This trial balloon featured Jerry Mathers as six-year-old Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver, Paul Sullivan as his 11-year-old brother Wally, Casey Adams (aka Max Showalter) as their accountant father Ward, and Barbara Billingsley as their housewife mother June. Also appearing in the pilot were Diane Brewster, Richard Deacon, and, in the one-scene role of a wise guy neighbor kid named Frankie, a very young Harry Shearer. Though the concept did not fly as "It's a Small World" (the pilot would be folded into a syndicated anthology series, Studio 57), CBS evinced interest when it reemerged, with several new cast members, as Leave It to Beaver, which debuted October 4, 1957. Carried over from "It's a Small World" were Jerry Mathers and Barbara Billingsley, while new to the cast were Hugh Beaumont as Ward Cleaver and Tony Dow as Wally. Likewise retained were Diane Brewster and Richard Deacon, albeit in different roles as respectively, Beaver's schoolteacher Miss Canfield and Ward's co-worker Fred Rutherford. The basic original premise was also kept on, with Beaver and Wally trying to interpret the ways of the world through their own youthful and naïve perspective. The Cleavers lived in the town of Mayfield, and shared many of the same trials and tribulations as the "nuclear families" who comprised the series' fan base. What really sold the series was the warm, realistic rapport between the Cleaver kids and their parents, and the authentic-sounding dialogue, full of the slang and idioms common to youngsters of the Eisenhower era. The huge supporting cast included Rusty Stevens as Beaver's chubby pal Larry Mondello, who was invariably seen chomping on an apple and who lived in fear of his disciplinarian father who always seemed to be on a business trip to Cincinnati (Madge Blake, aka Batman's Aunt Harriet, was occasionally seen as Larry's mom); Stanley "Tiger" Fafara as another Beaver buddy, the adenoidal Whitey Whitney; Stephen Talbot as young Gilbert Bates, who spent most of his time talking Beaver into getting in trouble; Richard Correll as Richard, evidently brought in during the series' third season as a Larry Mondello replacement; Jeri Weil as snotty, insulting Judy Hensler, Beaver's classroom nemesis; Frank Bank as Wally's school chum (and Fred Rutherford's son) Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford, an amiable, none-too-bright oaf; Pamela Beard as Mary Ellen Rogers and Cheryl Holdridge as Judy Foster, Wally's erstwhile girlfriends; and Sue Randall and Doris Packer respectively as Miss Canfield's successors at Beaver's school, Miss Landers and Miss Rayburn. By far the most famous and celebrated of the series' supporting players was Ken Osmond as Wally's pal Eddie Haskell, that juvenile Uriah Heep who laid on the insincere charm whenever he was around Beaver's parents ("Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver. My, Mrs. Cleaver, you're looking lovely tonight. Are Wallace and Theodore at home?"), but who reverted to his true personality as a weaselly, conniving creep whenever he was alone with Wally and The Beav. Moving from CBS to ABC for its second season, Leave It to Beaver ultimately lasted six seasons and 234 episodes, signing off only because Tony Dow and especially Jerry Mathers had outgrown their roles. The final network episode aired on September 12, 1963; one week later, the series entered rerun syndication, where it has flourished ever since. And in 1985, most of the original cast (minus the late Hugh Beaumont) were reunited in their same roles in a new series, The New Leave It to Beaver, which was a spin-off of the earlier retro special Still the Beaver, and which remained in production until 1989. While the newer version is not held in terribly high esteem by fans, the original remains an audience favorite.