Jerry Mathers interview, part three
What was your relationship like over the years with other co-stars like Frank Bank or Richard Deacon?
Frank was my financial advisor for many years, because that’s what he did, and he died in April of last year. Richard Deacon was always a lot of fun. Actually he did some of the new Leave It To Beavers too, and I got to know him better then, because back then I had very few scenes to play with him because of the character he played. I was going to school in those days, so I could only work between eight and five or nine and six, and if I weren’t at school or on the set, I would probably go home. So I knew the adults on the show, but they weren’t really friends of mine.
At what studio was the show shot?
It started out at what is now CBS Center, that was the first year, and then we moved over to the Universal lot. That’s why there’s a show about a tree that Beaver plants, and he goes back for it – that’s why we had to switch houses, because actually we switched studios. And it was a lot more fun at Universal, because it was a huge place! We had a basketball net on the stage, and we’d play with the crew
One of our favorite episodes is The Soup.
Yep! That’s the most expensive one they ever did, and I can’t remember what the budget was. But for about five shows after that, we had to use the ensemble cast, because not only did they have to build a billboard on the soundstage, they also had to build one outside. So I think that’s one of the more memorable if not the most memorable show.
So, right after Beaver ended, what did you do?
Well, the studio had another series for me and my parents came to me and asked if I wanted to do another one. And the one thing that I couldn’t do but was very important to me was sports. So I told them no, and that I wanted to go to regular school. I spent the next four years in a regular high school. I went to Notre Dame, which is basically a school that preps you for Notre Dame University, but I didn’t go there – I’m a graduate of Berkley.
But I worked during the summers. It’s not that I didn’t want to work any more, but I wanted to be social and have friends my age. And so for the next four years I went to school and graduated from high school in 1967. I spent the next six years in the Air Force and International Guard, and then I went to Berkley and graduated with a philosophy degree.
So you were not killed in Viet Nam?
Nope! And I don’t know how that got started. Actually when I was at Berkley, people brought me a newspaper article that said ‘Actor Dies in Vietnam’ so I called up the newspaper and they told me it was probably someone with a similar name, or even the exact same name.
A lot of people called up my parents and said they were so sad to hear the news. In fact, Barbara Billingsley even called up my mom to say it was such a tragic loss, but my mom said ‘It’s not a loss, because we can find him right now!’ And then Shelly Winters went on The Tonight Show after reading it in the paper, and that’s where the rumor really took off. She was very anti-war and went on the show and said ‘We’re losing the cream of the crop of America, and I read that Jerry Mathers has been killed,’ and so people that I knew but didn’t see that often would see me and gasp, ‘Oh you’re alive!’
What are you doing today? You’re very involved in diabetes awareness, aren’t you?
Yes, I’ve had diabetes, but I’m now pre-diabetic. I’ve lost about fifty pounds! Diabetes is at epidemic proportions in the United States and a lot of people don’t realize that you don’t have to put on a whole lot of weight to either be diabetic or pre-diabetic.
So I just go out and tell people my story. Basically, after I finished The New Leave It To Beaver, I bought several businesses, one of which was a catering business. We were doing TV and movie productions, and you’re eating all the time. So I put on all this weight! I had a very good friend that’s a doctor and she kept telling me to come in for a physical, and she knew I couldn’t put on that much weight and not have some problems. I didn’t know that. And so finally, she knows me too well, she said for Christmas she’d give me a free physical. I thought that was great, so I went in there.
I came back a few days later and she said, ‘How’d you like to see your kids graduate from high school and go to college, get married, see your grandchildren? And I said, ‘Yes, of course, I want to do all of that!’ And she told me that I’d be dead in two to three years because my diabetes was just out of control. I didn’t have any symptoms and didn’t even realize how sick I was. But I do now! I did a lot of studying about it, and was able to lost the weight.
And so that’s what I talk about, that you can be just a little overweight, maybe, but if you’re a lot overweight, there’s a good chance that you could have diabetes. And I’m hoping this helps other people. I say it’s like fishing. I go out and I start off talking about Leave It To Beaver, because people are interested in that, and then I segue into my life now, and about diabetes and that the quicker people get tested and catch it, the better their life experience is going to be.
. . .
What a thrill for us at Me-TV! We send our sincere thanks to Jerry Mathers for his time. Don’t forget to head over to his website for more information on Jerry, his life and career, and his efforts to help educate people about diabetes.
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