Sunday, March 18, 2018

brothers in arms

One of my favorite shows has always been "Leave It To Beaver." Although the show debuted before I was born and completed its six-season run when I was 2, I happily watched it in reruns on local channels, decades before the Nick-at-Nite concept was hatched. The show was pitched as a warm family comedy, offering a glimpse into the problems faced by kids, followed by gentle lessons in parenting. Its goal was light humor, regularly shunning the broad slapstick of "I Love Lucy." According to co-star Tony Dow: "If any line got too much of a laugh, they'd take it out. They didn't want a big laugh; they wanted chuckles."

Lumpy, Eddie and Wally.
The one thing that always intrigued me about "Leave It To Beaver," was how the conflict was created in each episode. Most of the time, it followed the same formula. You see, Beaver (played by Jerry Mathers) and his big brother Wally (played by Tony Dow) were pretty good kids. They were polite, well mannered and respectful. However, their judgement was questionable. Specifically, their choice of friends. Both Beaver and Wally had friends who were total assholes. Every one of them. They were a pack of lying, conniving, two-faced con artists whose main goal in life was to make life miserable for the Cleaver brothers. Most famously, there was Eddie Haskell, Wally's slimy "best friend" played with oily creepiness by future LA police officer Ken Osmond. Eddie was always sucking up to Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver, only to mock them behind their backs. Then, he would invariably steer good-hearted Wally in the wrong direction when tapped for advice. Eddie would routinely convince Wally to hide a dent in the family car, to doctor a low grade on a test or to forge his father's signature on an important document. For some reason, perhaps as a testament of his loyalty to an undeserving friend, Wally would follow Eddie's direction and get himself in a bigger predicament that could have been avoided if he had only not listened to Eddie. By the episode's end, a humbled Wally would have to swallow his pride and own up to his actions, only to be forgiven by his dad, though Eddie Haskell's ass would remained unkicked. Wally's other friend, Lumpy (played by the late Frank Bank) was a typical, knuckle-headed dope who would jump off a bridge if Eddie Haskell told him to. Yet, Wally, a bright, popular, good-looking young man, somehow let his insecurities get the better of him and heeded every underhanded suggestion from Eddie and Lumpy, those sneaky bastards. Wally always forgave them for their bad advice and still came back for more.

Beaver, Gilbert, Whitey.... and Larry.
Beaver was also a victim of his lousy friends' double-dealing actions. Beaver's pals rivaled Wally's in every shifty and despicable way. Larry Mondello, Beaver's idiotic acquaintance was a sloth-like, slow-witted moron who led Beaver astray at the same rate that he stole apples from the Cleaver kitchen. This character was written out of the show in the third season when actor Rusty Stevens moved out of the Los Angeles area. His position as a bad influence was taken by Gilbert and Whitey, two minor characters that were given bigger roles. Gilbert and Whitey were just as weaselly and scheming as the departed Larry, repeatedly leading a naive and trusting Beaver down the primrose path. It was Whitey who famously dared Beaver to check if a giant steaming bowl on a billboard really contained soup. Instead of telling Whitey to find out for himself, Beaver climbed up a ladder, fell into the bowl and... well, it wasn't good. Parents were called, Beaver got in trouble and Whitey, that backstabbing little shit, got off scot-free. And Beaver still hung out with him and continued to take his advice. Gilbert convinced Beaver to make a funny face in a school picture, promising that he would as well. Of course, Beaver made a face and Gilbert didn't. Beaver got reprimanded and, as usual, Gilbert concocted some excuse that made it look like it was Beaver's idea from the start. And poor Beaver clammed up so as not to rat out his friend.

In addition to getting Wally and Beaver into trouble, these so-called friends were always borrowing money and toys and comic books and sporting equipment from the Cleaver boys. They mooched dinners by taking advantage of Mrs. Cleaver's hospitality. In the case of Wally, they moved in on girlfriends. In Beaver's case, they taunted him for having a girlfriend. These "friends" had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. So why did Wally and Beaver keep them around? There wouldn't have been a show otherwise. And that's what makes television television.

Don't worry Wally, I won't ever let you down.


  1. I only remember this show in reruns too. Maybe I didn't watch them enough to see how despicable the friends were, but now that you point it out, yeah, those were lousy friends. I wonder who thought that was a good idea for children's entertainment and what was wrong with those people?