Jerry Mathers searched for decades to reunite with Larry Mondello
Rusty Stevens' final Sixties role was on The Rifleman. After that, nobody could track him down for nearly two decades.
The last time anybody saw child actor Rusty Stevens on TV was in 1963.
His final appearance was on a special Halloween episode of The Rifleman called "Hostages of Fortune." In the episode, he plays a bully who ends up getting in a fistfight with Mark McCain (Johnny Crawford).
In the years before this Rifleman appearance, Rusty had been seen on popular shows like Wagon Train, Perry Mason, and My Three Sons. But to classic TV fans, he will always be best known as playing Larry Mondello on Leave It to Beaver from 1957 to 1960.
For Stevens, getting cast on Leave It to Beaver was a life change that came out of nowhere.
At that time, he was working as a paperboy, selling newspapers on a street corner, when a children's talent scout named Lola Moore happened to see him.
Rusty had been selling those papers for 10 months without anyone paying any attention to him, but to Lola, there was just something about him. She liked his style.
Stevens' parents were shocked.
"The studio people say he's a real discovery," his mom told The Valley Times — the very newspaper her son had been selling — in 1957.
In all of Rusty's life, he'd never once been asked to act in anything, not a school play or a church skit, nothing. But his mom admitted he loved to watch movies and TV Westerns and act out the parts around the house.
That year Rusty made his TV debut on Leave It to Beaver, becoming known to audiences as one of Beaver's very best pals.
Stevens continued appearing on Leave It to Beaver over 67 episodes while also appearing on shows like 77 Sunset Strip and Shirley Temple’s Storybook.
His acting career could've kept on going after Leave It to Beaver ended, but instead his parents decided to end his contract with the show and leave Los Angeles suddenly.
According to Leave It to Beaver star Barbara Billingsley, the issue may have been that producers weren’t fans of Stevens' overbearing mother. The TV mom claimed Stevens was fired.
Whatever happened, Rusty's family moved to Pennsylvania, and the last few projects he had acted in continued airing over the next few years, as Rusty gave up the life of a child star and traded it back for a normal childhood.
It seemed everybody forgot about Rusty. Everybody except his old buddy Beaver, that is.
Jerry Mathers kept searching for his old friend and was frustrated with how long it took to finally reunite.
"Nobody could find him for the longest time," Mathers told The Pantagraph in 1982, nearly two decades after Rusty had disappeared. "Everybody lost touch with him."
Finally, Beaver did find his pal, though, and when he did, he found him working as a car insurance salesman in New Jersey.
Mathers persuaded Stevens to take part in the 1983 Leave It to Beaver reunion movie, and Rusty even did three guest spots on episodes of The New Leave It to Beaver, making his final TV role the same as his first.
It had to feel like he was stepping back into another life, much the same as when he got scouted selling newspapers and got whisked away from the street corner to the studio, just like that.
According to Mathers, from that point on, the pair of classic TV buddies never lost touch again.