5,000 boys auditioned to be the new ''Beaver'' Cleaver

Hopefuls read lines for Jerry Mathers himself.

You say: Hollywood has no new ideas anymore, they just keep rebooting old stuff. We say: there is nothing new under the sun.

Case in point: The 1997 movie, Leave It to Beaver, a comedy movie that sought to bring the Cleavers back into the pop culture forefront for a new generation. The same characters that you came to know and love in the 1957 series were now on the big screen! Ward, June, and the boys, but also Lumpy, Eddie and more. The movie even had cameos from Barbara Billingsley, Ken Osmond and Frank Bank.

Of course, the most important part in a Beaver movie is, well, Beaver. It wouldn't be easy to find a young'un to fill Jerry Mathers' shoes. 

Thus, the search for the youngest Cleaver began. The producers went on a national casting tour, hitting Chicago, L.A., Boston, Minneapolis and other cities where they saw hundreds of kids. Hundreds of young hopefuls turned up each day to read for not only Beaver, but the other members of the gang. Along with the directors, the children read their lines for Frank Bank (Lumpy), Tony Dow (Wally), Ken Osmond (Eddie), Barbara Billingsley (June), and the Beav himself, Jerry Mathers.

In the end, over 5,000 boys read for Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver. The winner was little Cameron Finley, a then-8-year-old from the Dallas area, who submitted a home video. "They must've had it about an hour when they called him to come out for an audition," his mother said in the Orlando Sentinel.

Cameron, though this was his first starring role, was not taken in by the sudden fame. "I'm not a movie star," he told the Fort-Worth Star Telegram on opening night. "I'm the star of a movie. There's a difference."

Finley hadn't seen the original Leave It to Beaver, a choice that he said was deliberate. "They didn't want me to see it," he explained, "because they thought it would mess up the way I acted. They liked the way I already acted. They didn't want me to act like Jerry Mathers."

The movie was slated to have two sequels, but after the movie was a critical and financial failure, the studio quietly canceled them. Though the reviews weren't good for the film itself, critics praised Cameron Finley. "The bright spot is the Beaver," a film critic from The Cincinnati Post wrote. "Little 10-year-old Cameron Finley really captures the essence of what made Beaver Cleaver so beloved. Beaver has no censor, he just says what's on his mind. Jerry Mathers managed to make us believe that, and so does Finley."

After Beaver, Finley made a few more onscreen appearances including the Sandra Bullock movie Hope Floats, before choosing to quit acting at the age of 12 so he could be a "normal kid". Finley later went to the University of California and is currently a molecular biologist, where he's published scientific articles such as "Caveolin isoform switching as a molecular, structural, and metabolic regulator of microglia" and "Epicatechin regulation of mitochondrial structure and function is opioid receptor dependent."

Gee, Wally, those are some ten-dollar words!

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18 Comments

WayneKeith 6 months ago
As soon as I saw "Shooter McGavin" playing Ward Cleaver I knew it wasn't gonna be pretty.
trogg888 8 months ago
Never saw the movie but i still watch the old series from 7 til 8 on metv and still enjoy it.sometimes you just should leave well enough alone.case in point bewitched.great actors terrible movie.one of these days maybe ill get around to it but i doubt it.i dont like my childhood memories tromped on if i can help it.i didnt go see the munsters either
obectionoverruled 8 months ago
Can’t recreate the times that Beaver and Wally tumbled around in their shared bedroom, or Eddie came over to schmooze June only to get past her and Wally into trouble, or Dumpy Lumpy called for Daddy after Eddie and the boys pulled his axle out from under his jalopy.
LalaLucy 8 months ago
Hated that movie. There was an undercurrent of irreverence in it that was not at all the spirit of LITB. That was the time period they were giving the modern treatment to a lot of great old shows, typically in movie versions. Not a one of them worked, to my mind. You can't really recreate that kind of success when you don't have a feel for the original intent. That is why I feel like that about most all reboots. There are a few exceptions, but, mostly these things tank and add an eye-rolling footnote to a beloved show or film. Instead of taking inspiration from great material and making their own great thing, Hollywood just cranks out a new, generally mucked up, abrasive version of the old.🙄
LalaLucy LalaLucy 8 months ago
That rant aside, glad he is a child star that went on to success in another field. Always nice to see that happen.
texasluva LalaLucy 8 months ago
I think that rant was well founded. Many child stars more or less fade into oblivion. Settle down, have a family and live a normal life. There are exceptions. For every 100 there is one that spends the rest of their lives as a star in acting. Kurt Russell, Shirley Temple, Drew Barrymore, Jodie Foster, Natalie Portman, Dakota Fanning, Leonardo DiCaprio and more. Though we are thrilled they did. I do not like reboots so much with exceptions of course. I think the movie making business is finally grasping for straws. Making tons of movies less then average. I was appalled looking up dozens of 2022-2023 movies and most had a below 6.0 rating. Plus running the gauntlet on series like Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and others that turned sour. Oh the first 3 or so were great (The first Halloween insanely great). Most of the actors above still make one hell of a movie(s). Catch Me If you Can along with a dozen others for DiCaprio. Jodie Foster when younger Taxi Driver then Silence of the Lambs. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land (Hey that's part of your name). I stopped going to movies a few years ago. Though I do collect them from 1930's to current ones that have some meat to them. 10 Cloverfield Lane was the last I saw at a walk in. The oldest I've seen recently The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Errol Flynn. Newest Renfield (2023) Nicolas Cage. Many thousands in-between (years). Yes, let's not muck up some of the other Classics.
LalaLucy texasluva 8 months ago
Yes, indeed! Many excellent points there! My collection ranges from the 1930s to today, but they all have to have some meat to them! My husband's a bit perturbed at my armchair critic ways, but he knows who to go to for honest opinions or a Who's Who when it comes to classic film and TV. Lol. Renfield is still on my list to see and I know I have heard of 10 Cloverfield Lane, but anything other than the title escapes me.
BorisK 8 months ago
If they remade it in 2023 (and please don't), we sadly all know what the new show would be like ...
GargusPiezano 8 months ago
Call it something else. Don't taint the legacy!
CaptainDunsel 8 months ago
"Epicatechin regulation of mitochondrial structure..." ?
I never realized that "Beaver" was *that* Cameron Finley!
texasluva 8 months ago
The movie turned out to be a bust. Not that there was anything wrong with Cameron Finley's acting. Probably because of wrong timing and overall performance. Coming in at a 5.1 rating which is well below average 6.0. I do not believe they even grossed near what was put into it.
Jon texasluva 8 months ago
I thought Ward Cleaver was miscast, and I thought there was some mean-spiritedness among the characters. It was a disappointment. I think I saw it in Garland, TX, which bragged about being Cameron Finley's hometown on the theater marquee.
texasluva Jon 8 months ago
Too funny about the Garland, TX. First I am just around the corner from there in Plano, TX. Second the opening to Zombieland takes place in Garland, TX . Sometimes it's better to leave well enough alone. Many re-runs turned out to be bombs of earlier Classic TV shows.
Andybandit 8 months ago
Wow 5,000 boys got to audition in front of JM. Who played the Beaver himself. That is awesome.

cperrynaples Andybandit 8 months ago
Yeah, so it was stupid of him NOT to be in the movie! After all, he did Married With Children, which was much more vulgar!
LoveMETV22 cperrynaples 8 months ago
Well at minimum it was recognized in commercial form. Regardless of Mather's personal choice LOL!


justjeff 8 months ago
A brilliant young man. I'm so glad he chose his own path in life, rather than becoming just another "former child star" of the Hollywood movie machinery that's chewed up and spit out when they're done with the youngster...
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