To be honest, it was initially a little bit weird, but ultimately a whole lot of cool, to be on the phone with Jerry Mathers last week. We grew up watching him, after all, and we were pretty excited. Mr. Mathers was friendly, gracious with his time and shared some great stories with us. Here’s the first part of our interview with the man who has been in the public eye since he was in diapers and a ten-gallon hat.
Let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from?
Sioux City, Iowa, June 2nd, 1948.
And what was it like in Sioux City?
Don’t know! I left there when I was, maybe six months at the most. My dad entered the GI Bill. He was a bomber pilot during World War II, so when he got back, he went back to where he was from, which was Sioux City. My mom was actually from Minnesota, but then he got into USC, so the family moved out here before I was a year old. But I get people from Iowa all the time asking me if I know people, and I feel bad but I have to say ‘Nope, I don’t remember anything about it!’ We did go back and visit there periodically because we had family back there, but that was only for a week at a time sometimes. But, yes, we moved to Los Angeles and I’ve been raised here.
So, how did the whole acting thing start?
Well, as I say my dad was going to USC and my mom was a housewife, and they obviously didn’t have a whole lot of money. My mom was out shopping at one of the big department stores here and a lady came up to her and said, ‘You know, your son fits our clothes very, very well and I wonder if you’d be interested in having him be a model.’ My mom thought this was the big city and that there’d be some sort of catch, and she said ‘I really don’t know about that; what would he have to do?’ And the lady said ‘He’d have to walk out on a runway with a model, in these clothes. We’d pay him, and he’d get to keep the clothes.’ My mom said ‘Oh, that sounds good, I think he could probably do that!’ So that’s how it started!
But what a lot of people don’t realize is that at that time, television was just starting, and there were really no child actors of a very young age out here. All of the actors out in Hollywood were movie actors, and in a movie it’s on film, so if you make a mistake you can go back and redo it. Now, in New York television, they could draw from Broadway, but here in Los Angeles there just weren’t any kids that were used to working in front of a live audience. And unlike the filmed shows we have today, they all had a live audience.
So, after doing all that modeling, at the age of about three, I was doing a show called The Colgate Comedy Hour. They had a different celebrity, usually a comedian, hosting it every week, and it was a skit type of format. My first job was walking into a barroom through a set of swinging doors, and I would just pass under it with this big ten-gallon hat on and I would walk through a bunch of cowboys that were having a fight – breaking bottles and chairs over each other – and they would pick me up and set me on the bar. I was wearing cowboy boots, the hat, a six-shooter and diapers, and I’d say, “I’m the toughest hombre in these parts, and you’d better have my brand!” And then they’d go into a commercial for Pet Milk. Once you did that right, I worked all the time. So I did all of the live shows because they knew that I could say lines, and they knew that things would never really bother me, because a lot of times in live TV, things would go wrong and you just had to improvise.
You worked with Alfred Hitchcock. Do you have any memories of that time?
Yes, he became a friend of mine, as I spent a lot of time with him in Vermont, which was where The Trouble With Harry was filmed. I’d see him when I was filming Leave It To Beaver, and he was doing Alfred Hitchcock Presents then and he’d drive in in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce or Cadillac and he’d roll down his window and he’d always say “Hello, Mr. Mathers” if he saw me. He was always very nice and always said hello, and I had a very good relationship with him.
There’s much more of our Jerry Mathers interview to come, so stay tuned to The Me-TV Monitor!
Hawkeye Birthday to you!
Best wishes go out to Alan Alda, star (and occasional director and writer) of M*A*S*H, born on this day in 1936 in New York City. Alda was the only actor to appear in all 251 episodes of the show, so it’s our 100% guarantee that each time you tune in to M*A*S*H (that would be Monday through Friday at 7 PM/6 C) you will see Mr. Alda.