RIP Wally

28 07 2022

Los Angeles

Tony Dow has indeed passed, yesterday, at the age of 77. Day before, it was reported that he did, and then it was retracted but noted that he was probably only hours away. The hour struck for good yesterday.

As most of you know, I have this as my avatar on most of my social media presences.

It’s a screencap from Season 2 Episode 24, “The Bus Ride.”

Note:  If you try to watch ^this^ YT video on its standalone YT URL, it will claim that it has suicidal imagery and make you hit “Agree and Proceed.”  Here in the current year, you’d think the problem would have been that it traumatizes Black people.  Gotta love AI.

I adopted this as my avatar after the Jena, Louisiana noose hysteria in 2007. (“No noose is good noose”). When I changed countries and continents, I also found out that Jena (here pronounced “Yay-nuh” or “Yee-nuh”) is a Thuringian city of decent size and some deep history. First time I was there was in October 2019, which was the first time I saw all the significant Thuringian cities.

So as you can probably figure, I’ve watched LITB. In fact, I think I’ve seen every episode.

In recent years, a lot of people from the LITB actor universe have passed on. Barbara Billingsley (“June Cleaver”) in 2010 at 94. Frank Bank (“Lumpy Rutherford”) in 2013 at 71. Ken Osmond (“Eddie Haskell”) in 2020 at 76. And now, “Wally Cleaver.” By comparison, Hugh Beaumont (“Ward Cleaver”) passed in 1982 at 73, in fact, he happened to be in Munich when he passed, visiting his son. Richard Deacon (“Fred Rutherford”), in 1984 at 62.

So now, only The Beaver (Jerry Mathers) is left, age 74. His character’s name was in the title, and he’s the one who outlived them all. No surprise, because he was/is the youngest. I’m guessing that most of the people who played the characters that were his friends in the same grade as himself are still living.

Tony Dow’s passing is actually making me think of history a little bit.

***

When my mother turned me on to LITB, must have been when I was around eight years old, she made it out like the way life was depicted in the show was the way it was for pretty much everyone during that period.

Already I can hear the peanut gallery and the back of the class yelling out in unison: “OH BULLSHIT~!”

As I got older, and able really to grasp and understand history, I realized that she wasn’t quite telling me the truth. Because it certainly wasn’t that way for her.

I’m going to go through what I believe to be is some of the relevant history of the matter.

***

LITB ran for six seasons, from 1957 to 1963. It was on CBS during its first season, which was the network you wanted to be on. But after that, it switched to ABC, the network you didn’t want to be on, for the remainder of its run. (I’m guessing because CBS didn’t want it anymore for its poor ratings, in spite of all else, which I’ll get to.) It was slotted in four different nights of the week, and two of those were Friday and Saturday, which was pretty much like not being on TV at all. It never cracked the top 20 in ratings, even during its best season.

So how is it that anyone even remembers the show at all, or knows about it today, here in 2022-land? Such that the passing of the man who played the older brother on the show is even somewhat newsworthy.

For that, we need to start three decades earlier. That the First World War caused a lot of cultural changes is pretty well known to most people who are conversational in 20th century history. The increasing libertine attitudes were more prevalent in some countries (cough, cough, Weimar, cough, cough, speaking of Thuringia), than others. But all throughout the Western world, especially countries that were WWI combatants, that was the trend.

Including the United States. Most of you know the history of that at least to a rudimentary level.

Hollywood’s part in peddling the cultural rot in the 1920s did eventually generate a backlash. That eventually resulted in something called the Hays Code. It wasn’t any kind of state-enforced law, but an industry cartel agreed upon set of standards to stop the backlash and prevent actual state censorship. Formally, the Hays Code was most seriously self-enforced from the early ’30s to the mid ’50s, but its affects lingered on for much longer. In fact, I happen to think that the Hays Code still has lingering effects on the industry to this day. This might be different now, because I haven’t seen an American polprod since about the middle of the last decade. But even then, generally speaking, and in the entirety of my conscious existence in watching TV, the cops always win, the criminals always lose. That was part of the Hays Code, in order to prevent people from thinking that the cops and the law in the real world could be beaten and that one could “get away with it.” So as to prevent marginal people (“morons”) from even trying. Too, because TV networks and movie studios are also linked with local and national news divisions, and those want and need a good relationship with real world law enforcement agencies, (inside tracks to information), this notion to show that “you can’t ever get away with it” serves to keep that real world relationship amicable. On the flip side, that eventually caused something called The CSI Effect, where real world jurors expect the real world cops to do it as well as the cops on TV, and refuse to convict defendants when the real world cops don’t. And most of the time, they actually don’t. Because, well, TV is TV, reality is reality. But that’s for another day.

So while the Hays Code as A Thing might have petered out by around the mid-’50s, its precepts still lingered. Combined with the fact that television was far from universally praised in the first full calendar decade of its existence, (“The Vast Wasteland,” etc etc.), TV and media company execs wanted to continue to grease the skids by providing “wholesome” non-controversial programming that itself was Hays Code compliant.  Not helping matters were the game show corruption scandals of the second half of the decade.  And all this was at the same time that there were other moral hysteriae afoot about comic books and rock and roll. I know there were actual Congressional hearings about the “dangers” of comic books in 1954.

Against that background, you can see why the TV execs of the time wanted to throw bones to the wolves.

Shows like LITB, “Ozzie and Harriet,” and “Father Knows Best,” were such “bones.” And why the networks tolerated their relatively low ratings and the fact that they were money pits, to a point — In fact, the famous LITB episode where The Beaver gets stuck in the soup cup on a billboard was the most expensive television show to produce in the history of TV until that point.  (BTW, a “discriminating” hostess?  You can tell this was before the Civil Rights Act, lol).

Another parenthetical: The reason there were so many St. Louis references in the dialogue during the LITB run I believe was because its sole sponsor for the entire run was Ralston-Purina. This was back in the days when almost all shows had only a single advertising sponsor.

Yet another parenthetical: LITB was the first show on American TV to show a toilet. That was in the second aired episode in the first season, the one where Wally and Beaver order a pet baby alligator. Evidently, that toilet scene was so controversial that it was a struggle even to get the suits upstairs to sign off on it, that a whole frickin compromise had to be worked out where only the top half of the toilet was shown. Such were the times. Which all sort of goes to prove my point.

Anyway, as time went on, the Hays Code self-enforcement cartel became weaker, and the LITB type shows ended. With no imperative to replace them with similar shows. The last real “dorky” family show in my reading of the history was “The Brady Bunch.”  But even that was a bit different, in that it portrayed a widow with her daughters and a widower with his sons getting married and creating a blended family. It too never had good ratings during its original run, but was rescued and kept afloat by its cult following.

LITB was destined to be forgotten totally, as if it never existed. And that would have been the case.

Except…

Fast forward to the decade of my birth.

Americans in the decade of the 1970s suddenly got nostalgic for the 1950s. The first canary in the coal mine was Don McLean’s famous song, “American Pie” (1971), which itself was an anthology-as-song of popular music between the Iowa plane crash of 1959 which killed Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson (Waylon Jennings was supposed to be on that flight, but gave up his seat to The Big Bopper because the latter was feeling sick and didn’t want to suffer a long bus trip), on one end, and the clusterfuck that was the 1969 Altamont Free Concert (“Woodstock West”) on the other end. But maybe it was because of Watergate, economic malaise/stagflation/misery index, the failure in Vietnam, or the existence of the Ford Pinto, that people wished for “better times” and “the good ole days.” Blah blah.

Which means, this, a disco arrangement of the “I Love Lucy” theme song, is the most ’70s thing possible, as it mashed up two big late ’70s trends, ’50s nostalgia and disco. Clubs that played this song had Vitamitavegamin on tap.  (RIMSHOT) (Allusion to the joke that the VHS tape of the cast of “Friends” giving a tutorial on how to use Windows 95 is the most ’90s thing possible).

And what people of the 1970s remembered about the 1950s was what they wanted to remember. Selective memory. Which is, always has been, and always will be, a bad human propensity. Can’t have the good ole days without the good, now can we?

That’s when someone must have discovered LITB sitting around in some film vault, the metal cylinder can collecting dust.

Off to the races.

So what it all means is that what LITB eventually became in its second and more popular life was the selective memory filter through which nostalgic people of a later era would come to view delusionally the 1950s. Conversely, LITB would become a cautionary tale metaphor for those who expounded the dangers of papering over the more difficult parts of history with too much “good ole days” schmaltz.

And because LITB became popular again, so did its principal actors. Neither Hugh Beaumont, nor Tony Dow, or Jerry Mathers, ever got much prominent work in the industry after LITB, because LITB typecast them. Of the big four, the one who did the least actual speaking and was seen the least during the LITB series run, Barbara Billingsley, was the one who had the most work post-LITB. (“I speak jive.”) Which is probably why; That’s what saved her later career prospects.  Sorta like the gang banger who commits the fewest crimes has the best chance of avoiding prison when the cops roll the whole gang up.

The renewed popularity of LITB actors eventually begat a reunion movie on CBS, which, as I noted, hosted the first season of LITB. “Still the Beaver,” in 1983.

That in turn begat a series revival, called “The New Leave It to Beaver,” which lasted from 1984 to 1989, on The Disney Channel first run, and it is still to this day (supposedly) the longest running series revival of a previous original series in the history of American television.

Hugh Beaumont was supposed to be in the reunion movie, but, like I said, he died in 1982, just before the shooting and filming started. So the script had to be rewritten to indicate that the Ward Cleaver character passed at some time in the past before the events of the movie. Richard Deacon (“Fred Rutherford”), was in STB, but as he passed in ’84, he was never in NLITB.

***

I can rationalize even if I can’t justify anyone whose existence ca. 1957 was truly LITB-like thinking that LITB was way more a documentary than a sitcom. But, like I said, it wasn’t the way things actually were for my mother. So why, when her life and existence was not like that, would she try to sell me on that it was the way it was for everyone? Is the power of selective memory so potent that it gives people memories of things they never actually experienced? Or does nostalgia cause people to believe lies about their own lived experience past? Of course I know the answer to that one: The stadium where a memorable event happens only holds 50,000 people, but thirty years later, 10 million people were there. Nostalgia does create its own bandwagon effect.

***

A little more LITB trivia before I get up on outta here.

* It was set in “Mayfield,” but it never indicated a state. And that was deliberate, so as to keep the geography relatable. There was one point where Wally got a package, and it showed the fictional Cleaver house address, but Wally’s thumb just so happens to cover up the state after “Mayfield” on the typed out address line. That’s how far they went not to associate the show’s fictional setting with an actual state. I think in NLITB, “Mayfield” was given a named state, but don’t quote me on that.

In reality, LITB was shot on the Republic Studios backlot (S 1-2) and then the Universal Studios Backlot (S 3-6), both in Southern California. When it came to dialogue, you got the impression that Mayfield was in where it was IRL filmed, Southern California, but then sometimes it mentioned “California” as a far off state. NLITB was again filmed on the Universal Backlot in L.A., except for its final season, when Universal totally renovated the area, and NLITB filming was moved to Orlando.

You see the link I provided. From that, you can see that the house that was used in “The Munsters” later on was also seen in LITB and was on the Universal backlot. “The Munsters” episodes were co-written by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, who themselves wrote LITB scripts for the early part of its run, and supervised other writers later on, so much so that even episodes that C&M didn’t actually write, they were credited in the actual credits as having a supervisory role. C&M were actually a famous script writing pair with a long successful resume, that had a lot of clout in the industry at that time. I’m guessing that if there was any way to get C&M in the credits, you did, because it meant big gravitas.

* IRL Jerry Mathers was one school year older than his Beaver character, and IRL Tony Dow was one school year younger than his Wally character. Wally the character and Tony Dow IRL was 12 turned 13 during the first season filming, and he was then portrayed to be in the eighth grade. When normally, 12-13 years old is seventh grade. Jerry Mathers IRL should have been in the third grade then, but Beaver the character was shown in the second grade. Eventually, both were readjusted to their actual reality, but in different ways. “Wally” had two junior years, Seasons Four and Five. (With no explanation anywhere in S5 why he was still a “junior.”) “Beaver” looked much older at the end of S5 than at the beginning, and was portrayed as being in the sixth grade. But toward the end of S5, a dialogue said that “Beaver is going into the eighth grade (next school year)…” — Meaning I’m guessing the producers/writers knew he was starting to look way more adolescent than boy, and had to adjust.

* Some time back, I noted some eerie similarities between the Ward Cleaver character and another TV dad, Jim Walsh (the original “Beverly Hills 90210,” played by James Eckhouse).

* The Cleaver family car during S 1-2 was a four door Ford Fairlane of what was at that point the current generation. However, for the rest of the run, it was some sort of Chrysler product. Ending with the S5 and S6 car being a 1962 four door Plymouth Fury. While Chrysler was not an official sponsor of the show, I could imagine that there was some sort of relationship between Chrysler and someone either at the studio or the production or ABC the network which begged that.

* Speaking of cars, I really liked “Knight Rider” as a kid.  When Netflix had it, I slow binged watched it.  In its first season, 1982-83, Tony Dow was in an episode.  That was probably filmed at about the time “Still the Beaver” was, and I’m guessing that he got that KR bit part because of the renewed interest in the LITB universe.


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32 responses

28 07 2022
countenance

I mentioned the Hollywood cultural rot of the ’20s. Yes, ((())). But don’t forget, and here’s another interesting angle, who was right there in the middle of it: Joe Kennedy Sr.

28 07 2022
countenance

Goes like this:

Circa 2022: “You know? If these damned kids these days don’t pull their heads from out of their smartphones, they’ll never amount to anything.”

Circa 1989: “You know? If these damned kids these days don’t stop playing Nintendo, they’ll never amount to anything.”

Circa 1978: “ZOMG DISCO LOL~!!!!1”

Circa 1968: “You know? If these damned kids these days don’t knock off this free love silliness, they’ll never amount to anything.”

Circa 1964: “Them damned long haired f*gs from England!”

Circa 1955: “You know? If these damned kids these days don’t stop watching TV, they’ll never amount to anything.”

Circa 1954: “Comic books and rock and roll will be the ruination of civilization!”

Circa 1940: “You know? If these damned kids these days don’t quit boogy woogying to big bands, they’ll never amount to anything.”

Circa 1927: “You know? If these damned kids these days don’t quit doing the Charleston, they’ll never amount to anything.”

Circa 1900: “You know? If these damned kids these days don’t quit playing baseball, they’ll never amount to anything.”

Circa 2040: “You know? If these damned kids these days don’t disengage from their 3D AI bionic sensory implants, they’ll never amount to anything.”

28 07 2022
Evil Sandmich

Your mom’s remark put me in a mind of how we told our son that some movie, say Breakfast Club, was what it was like to be in the eighties. Obviously a dramatization, and we, and no one we knew, lived like that, but the character interactions, the styles, the social mores, etc. still allow us to drop ourselves back to that time.

28 07 2022
countenance

Me, eight years from now, showing my sons the original 90210:

“This is how everyone in the early ’90s lived.”

28 07 2022
countenance

Another infamous inflection point in American TV history.

The rural purge of 1971.

The major nets all canceled their rural and western shows in one fell swoop.

That’s easy to understand. All you need is simple arithmetic.

1971 minus 1946 equals 25.

The first of the Boomers turned 25 in 1971, and therefore got into the advertiser coveted age range.

The rural and western shows had good ratings, but among the two worst possible age demos as far as advertisers were concerned: Old men and little boys.

So out went Gunsmoke, and in went programming that, as the current year jargon goes, was edgy.

28 07 2022
countenance

On the flip side of all this: “Rebel Without a Cause,” and “Blackboard Jungle.” Both 1955.

28 07 2022
countenance

“Angry White Male Studies” course.

Oh BS.

It’ll be nothing more than letting students binge watch the entire series run of “All in the Family.”

As I come through with more TV puns.

https://campusreform.org/article?id=19885

28 07 2022
28 07 2022
David In TN

Thanks for the above essay. I lived through it.

I lived in a similar neighborhood to the one depicted in LITB age six through nine, I watched the show while it was on in prime time. I knew it wasn’t actual reality. The best thing was rooting against Eddie Haskell.

I stopped watching it about half-way through the original run. I never did like sitcoms, NEVER watched Ozzie and Harriet, did Father Knows Best. I don’t think I’ve seen a LITB episode for several decades.

Also, never cared for comedy films. Preferred action-adventure, eventually drama, film noir.

Here’s a question: Name the film in which Hugh Beaumont played a German.

29 07 2022
countenance

Ken Osmond IRL was the total opposite of the Eddie Haskell character.

28 07 2022
Notsam

Was mentioned several times that the “Warden” was from Shaker Heights.

29 07 2022
countenance

Must have been a different Shaker Heights that long ago. Today’s Shaker Heights, and Ward would be telling The Beaver to mow around the Black Lives Matter sign.

29 07 2022
notsam

You would be correct.

28 07 2022
Puggg

My father always told me to never stand straight behind either a horse or a Pinto.

28 07 2022
Hard Right

When my mother turned me on to LITB, must have been when I was around eight years old, she made it out like the way life was depicted in the show was the way it was for pretty much everyone during that period.

It pretty much was that way back in the sixties.

28 07 2022
Alright Dan

Makes you think that civilization has seen better days.

28 07 2022
notsam

Motors and trannies were ok if you could keep the bodies on them.

29 07 2022
Hard Right

I’m old enough to remember when a “tranny” referred to a transmission.

28 07 2022
Bebrian

Dude that Pinto line had me rolling over here.

29 07 2022
David In TN

The MeTV Channel shows LITB M-F. On Sunday, starting at 11 am CT in a tribute to Tony Dow they will have a Wally Cleaver Marathon.

I saw a Tony Dow quote in which he said something like, “Ken Osmond was the best actor among us because he wasn’t like the Eddie Haskell character he played.”

30 07 2022
Anony Someone
31 07 2022
Auntie Analogue

Jerry Mathers isn’t the sole surviving Leave It to Beaver cast member, this one is also still with us. . . : https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0828719/?ref_=tt_cl_t_6

1 08 2022
countenance

I see that most of Beaver’s friends are still living. In addition, Luke “Tiger” Fafara, (“Tooey Brown,” one of Wally’s friends), is still living. His younger brother Stanley played Whitey Whitney, one of Beaver’s friends.

31 07 2022
notsam

One of my favorite episodes..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vJ79RT-MIc

1 08 2022
countenance

That was one of only two episodes where identifiably non-white people had speaking roles. The only black to have a speaking part was in the final season, the ep where Wally and Eddie park cars for a society wedding. It was one of the kitchen staff.

I say that because I have heard that wokescolds are going back and digitally inserting diversity in some of these old shows. If you ever watch LITB and see any other non-whites with speaking parts other than those two episodes, then you’re watching a modern day forgery.

The 1997 LITB movie (Cameron Finley as The Beaver, etc.), does have a black Gilbert.

1 08 2022
Hard Right

More nostalgia. George Jetson born yesterday.

https://nypost.com/2022/07/31/what-the-jetsons-predicted-right-and-wrong-about-the-future/

Get ready to meet George Jetson — because he’s about to be born.

The button-pushing, flying-car-riding, iconic future man entered the galaxy on July 31, 2022, according to “The Jetsons” canon. While George is having his first birthday, the show itself is about to celebrate its 60th: it debuted on Sept. 23, 1962, a century before it’s set.

1 08 2022
countenance

I don’t know what happened to it, but I used to read a blog called Paleo Future, which, as its title suggests, is all about checking up on the predictions of the future made in the past, to see how well they turned out. “The Jetsons” is probably the ne plus ultra of paleofuturism.

I remember one episode of The Jetsons, where George and Jane discovered that they weren’t legally married. In the process of actually getting legally married, Jane went off to her own hotel room, apart from George. George was aghast, but Jane said something about not wanting to cohabit the same bedroom (in not so many words) before they were married. As if people of 2062 were going to be as uptight about that kind of thing as were people in 1962. Then again, Jane was a stay at home mom in 2062. WRT both things, it didn’t take long after 1962 for things to change.

BTW, it’s more likely that we won’t have a first world at all 40 years from now than we’ll have ubiquitous flying cars. Don’t even think about vacations to a distant star system.

1 08 2022
Hard Right

I’m not sure there’ll be a First World in ten years the way things are going.

2 08 2022
countenance

I sneered at the Congressional hearings about comic books in the ’50s.

Maybe they knew what they were doing:

https://www.amren.com/news/2022/08/superman-tackles-online-hate-groups-in-essential-modern-ya-story/

2 08 2022
Hard Right

Superman is an illegal alien. Deport his ass.

6 08 2022
Sebastian Hawks

I remember in the late 80s they had one of those hookum family shows on Sunday night early on one of the big 3 network. About “Corkey” the retard with Wilfred Brimley and Shannon Doherty and an actor with Down’s syndrome. It was pretty lame.

9 08 2022
countenance

ONJ’s passing yesterday leads me to refer to this classic post:

The First Pop Record of My Conscious Memory

The “cousin” I refer to was one of the party of six that came here from St. Louis to my wedding. The house is of course my uncle’s house, the same uncle who passed three years ago, and that house was recently sold. I’ve already been in touch with the new owner, and he said he’d be happy to let me come back next July when I’m there to see the place one last time. I also had to tell him that he’ll still be getting snail mail in my name for a long time, because it is the last “official” St. Louis and Missouri and American address for an American expatriate.

Anyway, one of ONJ’s big things in life was starring in “Grease” opp Travolta. “Grease” was a movie about the 1950s made in the 1970s. The musical it was based on was also made in the ’70s. Remember, nostalgia for the ’50s in the ’70s.

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