The story of when Jerry Mathers didn't die in 'Nam
The Beav was surprised to learn of his own death.
Rumors and urban legends used to have a lot more credence pre-internet. It wasn't always immediately possible to disprove a claim, especially in the schoolyard. We might take for granted, today, our ability to quickly verify any fact, but Google hasn't always been around. It used to be that you'd just believe something until somebody told you otherwise.
Viewers must've been relieved, then, to see a familiar face on a 1970 episode of My Three Sons. The episode "Love My Neighbor" featured a couple becoming overly friendly neighbors with the series' protagonists. The young, fresh-faced husband hid a boyish, recognizable face behind a big ol' mustache. It didn't take Peter Gunn to sus out that the man used to be the boy we call the Beav.
Jerry Mathers, it turns out, didn't actually die in Vietnam, as many had been led to believe.
His presence on TV refuted a 1968 Vietnam wire-service story reporting the death of Pvt. J. Mathers, star of the beloved sitcom Leave It to Beaver.
The story was rooted in some fact. Jerry Mathers was enlisted in the Air Force Reserve, a decision he made prior to graduating high school in '67. After training with the Reserves in Texas, Mathers went back to school to study at Cal-Lutheran in the San Fernando Valley.
That's where he first became aware of his own death.
According to a Buffalo Evening News report on the topic, Mathers was woken up by a concerned roommate one morning. "Do you know you're dead?" Mathers' friend asked, thrusting a newspaper in Beaver's direction. Mathers, it appeared, had been killed in action.
This must've come as a shock to the former young Cleaver, as he sat there reading the report of his own death. It came as a shock to the viewing public as well, as rumors persisted for years.
This is all despite the fact that Jerry Mathers never saw action in Vietnam.