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16 gee whiz facts about 'Leave It to Beaver'

It wasn't 'A Small World' after all.

Image: The Everett Collection

The Cleavers were the perfect nuclear family, in the perfect suburbia of fictional Mayfield, U.S.A. Where was Mayfield? In the Midwest, perhaps, or sometimes near the ocean. It could have been anywhere in America, and that is one reason why Leave It to Beaver struck a chord with viewers.

From 1957 to 1963, Beaver and his big brother, Wally, grew up before the audience's eyes. The boys got into scrapes and developed crushes, while their ideal parents, June and Ward, steered them straight. The series still resonates as a quaint reminder of a bygone era, but it was surprisingly revolutionary for its time. It was rather novel to tell stories through children's perspectives. Leave It to Beaver also went out on its own terms, as we will see. 

Let's take a look at some fascinating facts about the show that will make you say, "Golly!"

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1

Before he was the Beaver, Jerry Mathers was Little Ricky on 'I Love Lucy.'

Well, for one scene, at least. An uncredited Mathers appeared on Lucy's lap in "Ricky's Old Girlfriend," when she dreams that her husband has left her for his old squeeze, Carlota Romero. The two beg for money outside a theater, as Ricky and his new bride drop coins in their cups. The season-three episode aired in 1953, four years before Beaver kicked off.

2

Mathers wore his Cub Scouts uniform to an audition.

Mathers auditioned several times for the role. In one sit-down with casting, the kid, about eight at the time, showed up in his Cub Scouts blues. He told everyone he was anxious to get to his den meeting. The sweet sincerity helped him land the role.

3

The show was launched the same day as Sputnik.

As Leave It to Beaver was premiering on CBS on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union was celebrating the launch of its Sputnik 1 satellite.

Image: Wikimedia Commons / NASA

4

It was the first television program to show a toilet.

It was just the tank, but the appearance of a toilet onscreen was a TV first. The boys were often in the bathroom off their bedroom. In this case, in the episode "Captain Jack," Wally puts an alligator in the toilet tank, telling the creature, "To your aquarium." The first episode in production order, "Captain Jack" was intended to be the premiere, but instead aired the second week.

5

It was originally called 'It's a Small World.'

The pilot for the series, titled "It's a Small World," aired as an installment of the anthology series Heinz Studio 57. Harry Shearer, of This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons, appeared in the episode as "Bicycle Punk." That's him on the right. Another potential title was Wally and the Beaver, but the corporate sponsor worried that it sounded too much like a nature program.

6

A growth spurt led to a new Wally.

Paul Sullivan originally portrayed Wally in the pilot. He was reportedly replaced because he went through a growth spurt after filming the episode. Enter Tony Dow, who only turned up to the studio to accompany a friend who was auditioning.

7

It was canceled after its first season.

Despite it's legendary status, Leave It to Beaver was not a smash hit at the time. After the first season ended in 1958, CBS axed the series. Fortunately, ABC swept in and rescued it. It would air on ABC for its remaining five seasons.

8

"In the Soup" was the most expensive episode.

ABC did not skimp on the budget. In the season four episode "In the Soup," Beaver gets stuck inside a giant bowl of soup in a billboard. (He wanted to see if there was real soup in there, naturally.) The episode cost $50,000, which is little over $400,000 in today's money.


9

It never broke into the Top 30.

Throughout its run, Leave It to Beaver never cracked the list of Nielsen's top 30 rated shows. That put it behind lesser-remembered series like The Garry Moore ShowThe Ford Show and The Ann Sothern Show. It's no real knock: There were a lot of classic shows on at the time.

Image: The Everett Collection

10

Mathers was the first child actor to get a cut of the merchandise revenue.

While it may not have lit up the charts, Beaver nevertheless spawned truckloads of tie-ins, from board games to comic books. Mathers got a cut of all of it, which was revolutionary for a pre-teen. Congrats to his agent and parents.

Image: The Everett Collection

11

Beverly Cleary wrote 'Leave It to Beaver' novels.

Speaking of merchandise, National Book Award and Newbery Medal winner Beverly Cleary, creator of Ramona, penned three tie-in novels. She was not particularly fond of the work. "It was boring work," she told the LA Times. "I’m not used to writing prose by the yard and I received several letters saying the books were better than the movie. I cut out dear old Dad’s philosophizing."

Image: Pictaram

12

The family was forced to move.

In the middle of the series, the Cleavers move from 485 Mapleton Drive to 211 Pine Street. There was a production reason for the relo. The facade of the original home was located on the Republic Studios lot, and the show switched its production to Universal. The Pine Street home was also used in Marcus Welby, M.D. and Desperate Housewives.

13

Some jokes were removed from the scripts.

Gee, Wally! The series aimed for an even level of amusement, and intentionally avoided riotous laughter of the I Love Lucy sort. Tony Dow told AARP Magazine, "If any line got too much of a laugh, they'd take it out. They didn't want a big laugh; they wanted chuckles."

14

There were practical reasons Barbara Billingsley wore pearls and high heels.

June's formal attire wasn't just about style. She wore pearls to conceal a "big hollow" in her neck, as she confessed in an interview. She switched from flats to high heels to appear taller as the boys grew. "I was lucky they didn't put me on an apple box," she joked.

Image: The Everett Collection

15

It served up one of the TV's first intentional series finales.

At the time, most series were unceremoniously cut from the schedule. But as Wally was about to enter college — and as Mathers yearned to attend high school in real life — the show had reached a natural end. In "Family Scrapbook," Leave It to Beaver said farewell with a nostalgic look back. (Plus, we finally learned why he was called "Beaver.") Few series planned their end in the 1960s, outside of Howdy Doody and The Fugitive.

Image: The Everett Collection

16

There were several reunions.

Of course, that was not the end. The TV movie Still the Beaver brought the gang back in 1983, followed by a sequel series, The New Leave It to Beaver, which ran a surprising 105 episodes.

Image: AP Photo / Wally Fong

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