Jerry Mathers said 'Leave It to Beaver' is situational comedy, not a documentary of the '50s

"They were writing situational comedy. So, there were things that were stretched that would [never] happen."

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When watching Leave It to Beaver, it's normal to feel a wave of nostalgia. For some people, the show brings back memories of a simpler time. Many believe the show gave insight into how American families were during the earlier decades. They saw a tight-knit, middle-class family with parents that allowed their children to express themselves and learn valuable lessons.

Although these families were all over the nation, Leave It to Beaver wasn't trying to recreate this All-American family image. Jerry Mathers believes that the series is not a documentary of the '50s. During an interview with the Television Academy, Mathers shared his views on the show's concept.

He began by focusing on what he thought was interesting. "The boys [were] always sent up to change for dinner and were always told to go up and wash," he said. "And people would say, 'that never happened,' but, Mr. Connelly, I would go over every once in a while to his house, his kids would go [upstairs] and wash and put on clean clothes [before dinner]."

Mathers is referring to one of the show's writers, Joe Connelly. He then went on to talk about how Connelly and the show's other writer, Bob Mosher, were aware that Leave It to Beaver was one of the first shows about an American family, especially from a child's point of view, to be seen worldwide.

"Some of the shows that were family shows [only] showed in the United States, but they didn't have worldwide recognition," the actor added. "So they were very cautious of presenting [the] United States in a very good light. Leave It to Beaver has played in 91 languages in 127 countries."

Mathers noticed that the landscape of sitcoms has changed since the show's debut and believes that many series similar to Leave It To Beaver are reality-based, even if they're situational comedies.

"If you watch most of the shows today, they're done by stand-up comedians, and they're 'Set up, set up, joke,'" he said while talking about sitcom formats. "Leave It to Beaver is not like that. There are no big laughs in the show. The comedy comes out of the situations [based] on the characters. It's not joke-orientated."

Although the series was family-centered and filmed during the '50s, Mathers said the show was not trying to portray life during that time.

"Leave It to Beaver is not a documentary of the '50s. Since we were filmed during that time, [viewers] thought that [we were trying to portray how the world was at that time]. It wasn't that. They were writing situational comedy. So, there were things that were stretched that would [never] happen. But, it's not a documentary."

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World_Famous_Beaverpeida 16 months ago
Jerry has stated in many other interviews that it was HIS life growing up in the valley and the lives of many people he know. But of course, there were some things that could be exaggerated a little, but the producers did say in interviews at that time period, that there was no need to elaborate on the things from their own childhoods which made it into the show (this info is from The World Famous Beaverpedia).
PulsarStargrave 16 months ago
The first 3 seasons of HAPPY DAYS were relatively more "realistic" about the era!
bagandwallyfan52 17 months ago
bagandwallyfan52 17 months ago
You seem to be fan of hers. Do you know why they changed the name of her character from 'GLORIA CUSACK` to 'JULIE FOSTER'? It's always baffled me!
Runeshaper 17 months ago
That's some very interesting insight.
sierra127 17 months ago
To me it show how safe things were i could walk all over the town with no worry at all .. people watch out for each other neighbors were friends .. family sat at the table for dinner and wash their hands ward was by far the best dad on tv he was a father first .. he some emotion
... hunting jacket .. always hit me ...
Runeshaper sierra127 17 months ago
Definitely a beautiful time period for what you've mentioned above (-:
ELEANOR 17 months ago
In one episode, it's a normal day and school is out for the day. June says to Wally, "Where's Beaver?" He says, "Oh he stopped by the firehouse." And whether you want to say that the show was or wasn't a documentary, that was a totally normal thing for the 50's and 60's that kids walked home from school BY THEMSELVES and sometimes didn't come straight home. I remember those times well. Sometimes my BEST TIME OF THE DAY was walking to and from Girl Scouts. So sad that kids these days don't have those experiences.
cripplious ELEANOR 17 months ago
in the county my dad lived in several kids were kidnapped and beheaded.
daDoctah 17 months ago
Anyone who takes family sitcoms of that era as representative of actual suburban family life at the time must explain not only housewives who wear pearls to do the housework, but also why everybody sits on the same side of the dinner table, leaving the other side completely unoccupied.

It's my contention that they did this in conscious imitation of the Last Supper. One can just imagine whichever disciple was responsible for making the dinner reservations. "So this is for 'Christ', party of thirteen, but we'd like a table for 26 so we can all sit in a row on one side so our friend Mike can paint our picture. Oh, and if possible we'd like non-spill salt shakers; seems one of our number is a little clumsy and always knocks them over."
CoreyC daDoctah 17 months ago
I believe that there was a reason that Barbara Billingsley wore pearls throughout the series. It had to due with something about her neck.
Moverfan daDoctah 17 months ago
Morst likely, everybody was on one side of the table so they could get everybody's face on camera--they did the same thing on The Golden Girls.
remodel18 Moverfan 17 months ago
I am assuming that is the reason for that too.
remodel18 daDoctah 17 months ago
I don't know about the pearls but women from that era wore house dresses and their aprons on. I am assuming the reason for the seating is the camera angle.
ELEANOR CoreyC 17 months ago
She had a small indentation in her neck that didn't photograph well. Hence the pearls. Incidentally, pearls became popular when the "Jersey Lily," an English modal chose to wear pearls to a party because her other jewels were unavailable. Everyone automatically copied her and pearls became de rigueur.
vinman63 17 months ago
MeTv should show Father Knows Best which was similar to LITB but some what different.
CoreyC vinman63 17 months ago
Father Knows Best represented the Eisenhower Era. When JFK became president the show ended.
MadMadMadWorld 17 months ago
I don't know why LITB is always labeled a "1950s sitcom" when exactly half of it was in the late-'50s (1957-59/60), and half was in the early'60s (1960/61-63). So, it had a great mix of both of those terrific eras, arguably the very best, and peak of the United States power and prestige. One of my favorite episodes was in that 5th season, "Stocks and Bonds" (June 23, 1962) when Eddie pushes Wally and the Beaver to invest in "Jet Electro" because it is a "Space Age" small-cap stock that could "blast off!" Ward pushes for the staid-stodgy, local-based electric utility, so the boys reluctantly let him buy that. You have to see it, if you have not, to see which stock wins the race! One piece of amazing trivia that goes along with the Jet Electro stock debate, was LITB's debut on Oct. 4, 1957, the exact date of the USSR's Sputnik, the first satellite by man launching the Space Age, and ultimate Moon landing.
teire 17 months ago
My favorite. In my house we always washed up (mostly our hands) before dinner and sometimes changed into clean clothes if we had been out playing. We always changed into play clothes and sneakers after school, the dads would often change into more casual clothes when they got home from work.
BrittReid teire 17 months ago
Same at my house growing up.
MrsPhilHarris teire 17 months ago
Same for me.
Barry22 teire 17 months ago
We always washed up before dinner.
tootsieg teire 17 months ago
Same here as well. We had school clothes and play clothes.
bagandwallyfan52 17 months ago
Tony Dow was the Perfect Choice to
play WALLY.
FrankensteinLover 17 months ago
Such A Wonderful Show with Amazing Actors, and still so much better and Original then the Garbage On Tv Today Polluting the World.
Heavy metal and rap are both
Noise Pollution and is also garbage
polluting the world just like some of the garbage on TV TODAY is
Polluting the world.
Rap Music is for sure Polluting the Earth and Kid's Minds.
LoveMETV22 17 months ago
Great story. The Academy website is great, not only for this Jerry Mathers interview, but a number of others. Too funny his mention of when he visited Joe Connelly home that his "6" kids would go up to wash up and change (maybe a thing of the time or at least in the Connelly home it was).
"So they were very cautious of presenting [the] United States in a very good light" (perhaps out of context), but....would that include the cautious non-portrayal of the " toilet." Funny how times have changed.
CoreyC LoveMETV22 17 months ago
The only show that sort of introduced the toilet was All In The Family. A running gag was Archie flushing the toilet.
Michael 17 months ago
It sounds like he's talking about Full House in current shows.
Pacificsun 17 months ago
Interesting story! Thank you for including the hyperlink which just makes the story even better. Especially when it comes from the actor.

To add to the conversation, I remember watching it in primetime and it was just a fun, entertaining Series! We didn't imagine ourselves doing most of those things. So yes, the story was of course built around the plot. But (IMO) I saw elements of those parents in mine, who were stern and expected polite manners and respect. My mom was very much like the Cleavers stay-at-home mother. But there were many single parent homes who lived a different experience, but didn't detract from the other.

In these reflective times it has come under criticism by those who seem to be perfectionists and sadly, complainers. But look at all the alternative formats as well. Why knock Leave It To Beaver when it's celebrating a positive model, in the company of alternatives, as well?
Moody Pacificsun 17 months ago
Like so many shows especially sitcoms of the 50s & 60s LITB had a somewhat distorted view of what life was like then. But most people in those days didn't care. They wanted escapism & something entertaining. It's kind of sad that we can't have anything like that today.
harlow1313 Pacificsun 17 months ago
One smaller thing I like about the show is that it sometimes does a good job in showing the way boys think.
remodel18 Moody 17 months ago
Fortunately, I always felt my family was like this family and Father Knows Best.
bagandwallyfan52 17 months ago
Leave It To Beaver was a wonderful
TV show. I wish that Chester Anderson
(Buddy Hart) Tooey Brown (Tiger Fafara)
Bill Scott (David Kent)Judy Hensler
(Jeri Weil) and Larry Mondello (Rusty
Stevens ) had not disappeared from the
show. Penny Woods (Karen Sue Trent)
Also left LEAVE It To Beaver later but I think that her last episode was Beaver
The Bunny Instead of Farewell To Penny.
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