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.

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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.

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ZackZombro 10 days ago
There are some errors in this article.

1) His acting career did continue after LITB as he acted in seven other shows after he left Leave it to Beaver in 1960. His last acting credit was in 1963. These were not like movie roles which are sometimes released years after they were filmed. These were TV roles, filmed only months before airing on TV.

2) His family did not leave suddenly as is seen by the TV roles played for 3 years after leaving Leave it to Beaver

3) I may be wrong, but in interviews with Jerry Mathers and others, the producer of the Still the Beaver movie had to hire a detective to find Rusty. It wasn't Mathers himself who found him.

Those are the only errors I can see that appear immediately to me, but there may be others. But I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt. But I do wonder how many other errors are in these blog posts about actors on the METV site.
zlo 15 days ago
It would be great if kids today had parents like June and Ward .
janet0312 15 days ago
Larry is one of my favorite characters. Watching "Ward's Baseball" this morning pains me when I think about what that autographed ball would have been worth today. ARGH!
Adanor 18 days ago
Maybe his parents did the right thing. Rarely do child actors transition to becoming regular actors as adults and whisking him off to a regular life in Pennsylvania was the best thing they could do.
WordsmithWorks 18 days ago
It was actually very cool of Mathers to track down his old acting pal. If he began his search in 1982, it was all without the aid of Facebook or even the Internet. How many people wonder about friends from the past... and that's it?
LoveMETV22 18 days ago
I wonder if MeTV has ever considered running any of "The New Leave It to Beaver" episodes or the
"Still the Beaver" reunion movie.
CoreyC LoveMETV22 18 days ago
Won't happen cause I believe Disney owns the spinoff along with Universal.
LoveMETV22 CoreyC 18 days ago
Darn. Oh Well.
CoreyC 18 days ago
The only person who stayed in show business from Leave It To Beaver was Rich Correll who played Richard. He became a director and directed a lot of shows of the 80's and 90's.
LoveMETV22 CoreyC 18 days ago
Tony Dow also went on after LITB as a writer, producer, director and did visual effects on several projects. Maybe not significant in some opinions, but he did stay in the business.
LoveMETV22 LoveMETV22 18 days ago
Jerry Mathers as well remained in show business after LITB appearing in television as well as films from 1963 through 2008. TV mainly (1963-2008) but some films (1987-2008).
CoreyC LoveMETV22 18 days ago
Tony Dow and Richard Correll was the only Beaver alumnus who became directors.
LoveMETV22 CoreyC 18 days ago
Yes. Mather's remained in show business in tv and movies.
ErikRoush CoreyC 16 days ago
Tony Dow was apparently appearing in something (maybe a dinner theater) in the mid 1980's in Kansas City, MO. He suddenly walked out in front of my friend's car in front of the Embassy Suites hotel and we almost hit him. He jumped back, shook his head in embarrassment, then smiled and waved to us. I said "Oh My God, that was Tony Dow!". That was the only time in my life that I almost killed anyone from Leave it to Beaver.
WayneKeith 19 days ago
I'm in my 60s and still like to watch LITB whenever I can, especially the first two seasons before Beaver got too "grown-up"
GoUTVols1961 WayneKeith 16 days ago
I see that you like slow burning papers.
sistervic 20 days ago
I love Beaver, and the Rifleman, please pray for me making it through the out come of Ida in Jesus name. Thank you all, and God bless you.
grandpa5741 sistervic 20 days ago
Stay safe and well
birdhouse sistervic 17 days ago
Prayers sent to our God Almighty
Susan00100 20 days ago
Rusty was a great child actor; he was so realistic.
If LEAVE IT TO BEAVER was made today, Larry would be in foster care, while his parents rotted in prison!
sierra127 20 days ago
To be honest I never like Gilbert. Richard and Whitey ok. But Larry the best. Apple day guy
Last it’s your mother how would you ever say anything bad about their own
CoreyC sierra127 18 days ago
Gilbert and Richard was malicious.
sierra127 CoreyC 16 days ago
I’m not sure about that but they didn’t seem to care about the beav Like Larry did.
CoreyC sierra127 15 days ago
Look what Gilbert did he convinced Beaver to make a face in a class photo and Richard gave the police Beaver's name when he got caught by the police.
SteveThames 20 days ago
Anyone else notice/find it odd that Rusty Stevens (Larry) & Karen Sue Trent’s (Penny) final acting appearance was both on the Rifleman?
Michael SteveThames 20 days ago
"They used real bullets, so they avoided laying the actors" to paraphrase I think John Wayne on one of Lucille Ball's shows in the later sixties.
* Karen Sue Trent's 1st LITB appearance was the girl with the horse when Beaver & Larry ditched their ballroom dancing class. She was indeed a neat little gal on that episode! ☺
That was a great episode RedSam, but I believe the girl on the horse was played by Christyne Jordan (who also played the paper "boy" in another episode); easy to confuse the two girls as they were absolute cutie pies and good actors. Miss Jordan had beautiful brown eyes, while Miss Trent had beautiful blue eyes.
I was born in 1960 and been watching LitB ever since... NEVER gets old! And good for Jerry Mathers on searching Rusty out, love hearing about that!
sierra127 20 days ago
I hated to see Larry go from the show. He was beaver best friend. Always got him in some kind of trouble. Funny you never ever seem Larry dad or sister Just mom. Remember Larry. Running away hiding at beaver or the go cart. Ticket. To finding money in his yard Saying it must have fallen out of a plane. To the cookie money show which they gave money to a poor kid. Who seem forget who they were the nexts day.
Beaver lucky day. Skipping dance lessons. So so many. Fun shows
JHP 20 days ago
Jerry should have looked in any apple orchard - I'm sure Rusty was chomping on an apple
obectionoverruled 20 days ago
Viewers love to follow ‘seconds’ who support their host leads and know how to take a few punches for their pal, a la Barney Fife for Andy Griffith, Ricky Ricardo for Lucy, Paul Drake for Perry and of course larry Mondello for the Beav. The producer must had a pal as a kid who was always snacking and bad mouthing his parents. Larry was a hilarious straight man, with the cuffed up blue jeans and pockets filled with apples, candy bars and pocket knives. He was the kind of friend every American boy had at one time or another, and always always up to his ears in trouble - at home, school, wherever he went. Always giving the wrong advice, and when things really got hot, he’d bail out and head for home, leaving you in the lurch. What a pal - the greatest!
Where did Ricky Ricardo "take punches" for Lucy? He was the one usually delivering the (verbal) punches to her!
Rick 20 days ago
The casting of Rusty Stevens and Madge Blake was just perfect. He looked the the son that Madge’s character would have. And he acted like someone who was raised by Madge’s character. I like when characters of family actually resemble each other. I believe the character of Larry disappeared when the Cleavers moved to the new house. That was very believable to what happens in life.
tootsieg 20 days ago
Very nice story. Glad to read “Beaver and Larry” still keep in touch.
Marche 21 days ago
So great for Jerry to reunite with Larry. I love the fact that through the years they remained good friends. Both characters acted so good together. What a very good story.
Zip 21 days ago
That was a nice story. Larry was a great character! He was the quintessential "kid". I think everyone knew a kid like Larry.
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