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Baby Boomer Dreaming
Leave It to Beaver: The Operating Manual of Family Life slowly disappearing
By Ray Hanania
If any one show on television taught us anything about life, it was Leave It to Beaver, the story of a young boy who lived in a typical home with typical parents who were never without and who had an older, kinder and gentler brother.
The Beaver, played by Jerry Mathers, had a picture-perfect family, the Cleavers, from 1957 to 1963 when the popular show aired before it fell into reruns. His full name was “Theodore Cleaver,” better known as “The Beaver.”
We learned everything about life from the Cleavers and the TV show. How to handle problems. Don’t hit your children. Don’t yell or scream. Don’t use violence. How to navigate the world of social interaction. How to date and address girls, and for girls, how to handle “nice boys.”
Leave It to Beaver was like an Operating Manual for American families. Well, White American Families, anyway. Christian White families. Well-off Christian White families with a very impressive home.
My sister and I used to watch the show every week on our little Black and White RCA TV screen with the crackling speakers. You really learned to listen with that TV. And we sat on the floor on an old carpet that was over vacuumed under a bookshelf built into the wall that had a complete 24 set of the white and blue World Book Encyclopedias that my parents bought thinking it would make us smart, but that cost a fortune back then, more than $800. Almost as much as a good car.
Our home was a little brown brick Georgian on a tree canopied street, no one which looked anything like the homes and neighborhoods we would see on TV.
The show clearly reminded me of how poor and how “without” we were as kids.
But we learned from the show, things that our parents didn’t teach us. They were very busy working. Dad left the house before sunrise. Mom was always making breakfast, wrapping sandwiches for our lunch boxes, and cleaning the house. She worked for a few hours every day at the Solo Cup company in nearby Jeffery Manor, where Richard Speck murdered all those student nurses. But she was always home to set the dinner table and serve a hot dinner.
Like the Cleavers, we all ate dinner around the table. I think the idea of waiting until everyone was home from work and school and shopping to eat at the same table came from watching Leave It to Beaver.
There were many lessons and many instructors to learn from on Leave It to Beaver.
His older brother, Wally, played by Tony Dow, was a role model for reason. Hugh Beaumont played his father, Ward Cleaver, and who didn’t sigh for the love of their mom, Barbara Billingsley, who was protective, so gentle, never yelled and always played the buffer to turmoil.
The somewhat gross joke in 1960s terms but considered mild in today’s lexicon – “Ward, you were a little hard on the Beaver” – didn’t become popular until the free thinking and drug-induced 1970s and 1980s.
But it was the characters, not the jokes that would come later, that hung out with the Beaver and Wally who often made the show and linger in memory.
Beaver’s best friend for many episodes was the apple munching and always eating Larry (played by Robert “Rusty” Stevens). There were others, including Judy and Whitey.
Wally’s friends were the Eddie Haskell, the possum-like troublemaker who used words and verbal taunts to push Theodore and sometimes Wally into trouble. “Good morning Mrs. Cleaver,” Eddie would always open with in a façade of faux manners.
Another was Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford played by Fran Bank, who initially wasn’t a friend but began the series as a bully of both Wally and Beaver. Later, he would become a close friend. He was fat, slow and played football in high school, becoming very lovable in later episodes.
We learned so much from the Cleavers.
Lately, we have been learning how to die. The right way. The Cleaver way.
Beaumont, or Ward, died in 1982. The TV show capped a long and successful career in movies. He retired in the late 1960s after Leave It to Beaver went off the air not to a beach, but as a Christmas Tree farmer. He died of a heart attack while visiting his psychologist son in Germany and he was cremated. His ashes were spread over an island his family owned on Lake Wabana in Minnesota.
Billingsley, or Mrs. Cleaver, died in 2010 at the age of 94 of muscle complications, a disease later called polymyalgia.
Wally went on to live a typical married life, married, divorced and remarried. He played roles in many movies and TV shows in the years that followed. Nothing spectacular. He was also a sculptor and his works were showcased around the world including at the Louvre in Paris.
Jerry Mathers, the Beaver, grew up plagued by having the same face as The Beaver. He is kind of like a model for the Mad Magazine character, Alfred E. Neuman who was the mascot and first face on the cover of the magazine’s first precursor issue in 1954. He was clearly a better-looking kid than an adult. Always so kind. Outside of Hollywood, he was a caterer and later spokesman for a pharmaceutical company that helped people obtain prescriptions.
Boy, we could use that kind of assistance, today.
And Lumpy, the mild-mannered kid who began as a bully but was always in “trouble” if that word really existed in the fictitious world of Leave It to Beaver, went on to become a wealthy bond broker, authoring a book “Call Me Lumpy” that played on his TV character.
His Hollywood career didn’t go far. Seems chubby little characters were not as popular in real life as they were on TV. Lumpy only did a few cameos on TV shows like Bachelor Father and 87th Precinct, and played roles in two films, Cargo to Capetown and The Story of Will Rogers.
Lumpy, though, was one of the Baby Boomer family. The Cleavers were America’s family.
He died this past week, Saturday April 13, one day after his 71st Birthday.
I guess if we can learn anything for all these lives as Baby Boomers, it is that we just don’t last long.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at TheArabDailyNews.com, TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
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