After "Leave it to Beaver" the Deluge
When did the world begin to get so darn confusing? After the fall of Adam? When the Boston Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees? During the first Kennedy-Nixon debate, when the press decided that the real story was Richard Nixon's five o'clock shadow?
Is there one year that can be singled out as the one that set us on the road to Vietnam, Watergate, and Lazer Tag? Yes, it was 1963, when "Leave It to Beaver'' went off the air. For six years, Americans had tuned in and gotten the straight skinny from Ward Cleaver, Beaver's father. No smoke and mirrors, no "spin'' put on events of the day, no damage control. Ward simply laid it on the line week after week. Young Theodore (the Beaver) would get in a jam and Ward would talk him through it.
Once the Beav was sweating out telling his parents about an "E'' on his report card. Eddie Haskell (the show's version of Richard Nixon) talked him into altering the mark into a "B'' with a pen. The cover-up fell apart, of course, whereupon Beav and the rest of us learned from Ward how deceit usually compounds rather than ameliorates difficult circumstances. Ronald Reagan and the White House basement gang must have missed that episode.
Like his fellow Americans, the Beaver was innocent and trusting. He would often wind up in predicaments without fully understanding how or why he got there. When his friend Whitey dared him to climb into a giant teacup atop a billboard, darned if Theodore didn't rise to the challenge. Unfortunately, getting in was much easier than getting out with honor. Sound familiar? Eventually, the fire department rescued the chastened young hero.
Soon after the program went off the air, John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, and Lyndon Johnson, the "peace candidate'' in the 1964 election, led the nation deep into the Vietnam quagmire. Ward Cleaver faded from our collective consciousness, and Eldridge Cleaver took his place. The cities burned. College campuses shut down. The generations turned their backs to one another. The quiet, philosophical talks that Ward and the Beav had during each episode seemed to have taken place during a distant geological epoch. In 1968,
Americans elected a more closely shaven Richard Nixon with his secret plan to end the war, which he proceeded to spread into Cambodia with tragic results. Rarely has the cancellation of a television show had such ramifications.
There were widespread rumors that Jerry Mathers, who played the Beaver, had died in Vietnam. He hadn't, but certainly "Leave It to Beaver,'' the embodiment of the mythical American family, was deader than a doornail.
Sadly, Hugh Beaumont, who played Ward Cleaver, died several years ago. Recently, Jerry Mathers — along with other alums from the original series — made something of a comeback. Mathers plays the father this time, in a show called "Still the Beaver,'' now on cable. But it is not the same without Ward.
I don't blame ABC for the whirlwind we have reaped since 1963. I just know that if Ward Cleaver had been on the tube each week telling us what was right and what was wrong, what was proper and what was not, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in today.
Here's how the show might play in 1987. Beaver, now nearly 40, is the editor of the local newspaper, the Mayfield Mauler. He suspects the leading mayoral candidate, Clarence (Lumpy) Rutherford, of hanky-panky. He approaches Ward with a journalistic conundrum.
"Should reporters stake out a candidate's townhouse to see if, well, you know, he's minding his P's and Q's?''
"Have you been watching reruns of '77 Sunset Strip,' Son?''
"I'm serious, Dad.''
"I was afraid of that. Look, Son, how would you like it if people staked out your home?''
"I guess you're right. By the way, Dad, have you ever committed adultery?''
"That'll be about enough, Theodore.''