Did you grow up watching the great American sitcom Leave it to Beaver? It was one of the best sitcoms in American history and told the story of the All-American family, revolving around young Beaver Cleaver.
It takes us back to an America that many of us miss and like to relive as we watch reruns of the show.
Sadly, many of our favorite actors and actresses from the show have now passed away. Luckily, the immortality of television lets us remember their talents.
Let’s look back on their remarkable lives and careers as we reminisce about Leave it to Beaver and its’ impact on American culture.
The head of the Cleaver family was Ward Cleaver, played by Hugh Beaumont. Hugh Beaumont was originally from Lawrence, Kansas and went on to become a football star at the University of Chattanooga in Tennessee.
He later received a master’s degree in Theology at the University of Southern California. Upon his graduation, he began his career as a clergyman and a lay minister. No doubt he would entertain his congregations, and this prepared him for an acting career.
He began his acting career by participating in a “Gateway to Hollywood” competition. While this brought him more acting gigs, at the time he wanted to prioritize his ecclesiastical duties over his acting work.
In fact, at times he felt that his acting work might conflict with his ideals as a man of God. Nevertheless, he continued taking acting gigs making his name in many B-movies during the 1940s.
However, the role of a lifetime came when he was cast as Ward Cleaver in the 1950s sitcom Leave it to Beaver. Americans could relate to Ward as the All-American dad who took care of his family and provided many of the show’s best laughs.
He continued to have bit parts in TV shows following the end of Leave it to Beaver. Unfortunately, in 1972 he suffered a stroke that made him take fewer roles. It was during this time that he showed off his writing chops – managing to sell several radio and TV scripts to producers.
He passed away from a heart attack in 1982 while visiting his son Eric in Germany.
They say behind every great man there’s a great woman. Behind Ward Cleaver, there was his wife June played by the inimitable Barbara Billingsley. Like Hugh Beaumont, she lived a full life before delving into her role as June Cleaver.
She had worked as a model and had spent much of her time as a single mother. These experiences made her perfect to play the loving mother on Leave it to Beaver.
She landed the role after having bit parts in films such as “The Bad and the Beautiful” and “Three Guys named Mike.” She was adored by Leave it to Beaver fans for her role as June and after the show ended, she had bit parts that were quite similar to her role as the All-American mom!
She died of polymyalgia at the age of 94 at her home in Santa Monica, California.
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Of course, not all the characters in the show were entirely wholesome! After all, each show needs at least one troublemaker to add some conflict and heighten the laughter.
The troublemaker in Leave it to Beaver came in the form of Eddie Haskell played by Ken Osmond. Eddie Haskell was Wally Cleaver’s best friend and was responsible for the gang getting into trouble.
It seems as if Ken Osmond was destined to be an actor from day one. He began his acting career at age 9, when he had a part in the film “So Big” starring Sterling Hayden and Jane Wyman.
This led to a series of bit parts in major films. He also had exposure to acting roles in television early on. He had roles on shows such as “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” and “The Loretta Young Show.”
In 1957, he was asked to audition for “Eddie Haskell,” who would be a one-off character in a new show called Leave it to Beaver. Ken Osmond had to partake in several auditions before he landed the role. It seemed as if Eddie Haskell would only last for one episode and that Ken would have to continue looking for work elsewhere.
Yet audiences loved Eddie Haskell. He eventually became one of the regular characters on the show. Eddie Haskell was the role that defined Ken Osmond.
After the show ended, he continued to be typecast in similar roles. He took a long break from writing and worked as a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. After retiring from policing, he returned to acting and had a few bit parts in films and TV shows. He also appeared as Eddie Haskell in reunion episodes of Leave it to Beaver.
Another great character from Leave it to Beaver was Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford played by actor Frank Bank. Lumpy was another one of Wally Cleaver’s friends and was known to be the “bully” character.
But Frank Bank was known to be a gentle and kind person. He had bit roles in television shows and a couple of films before landing the role of Lumpy Rutherford in Leave it to Beaver. This became the role he was most known for and he didn’t get many offers after the show ended.
He retired from acting and began his career as a bond broker in Los Angeles. He did make appearances in The New Leave it to Beaver and Leave it to Beaver reunions. He died of cancer at the age of 71 in 2013.
Lumpy Rutherford’s father was Fred Rutherford, played by Richard Deacon. He was known for bit parts on shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Jack Benny Program. He also had small roles in films such as Lay That Rifle Down and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Fred Rutherford was Ward Cleaver’s obnoxious coworker. His performance began the trope of the annoying coworker that became a staple of so many American sitcoms.
Following Leave it to Beaver, Richard Deacon spent the rest of his career playing bit parts in feature films and popular TV shows. His film roles included work in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, as well as other popular films such as The Patsy, Dear Heart, Blackbeard’s Ghost, and Bad Manners.
His TV appearances outside of Leave it to Beaver included roles in The Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour, Bonanza, Get Smart, and The Addams Family.
He passed away at the age of 63 from cardiovascular disease in Los Angeles.
The main cast of Leave it to Beaver had another actress who had a similar background to Hugh Beaumont. Madge Blake was also from Kansas and her father was a Methodist circuit rider who discouraged her from pursuing a career in acting.
Nevertheless, Madge Blake became known as one of the most prominent character actresses for American films and television shows.
In the 1950s, she had roles in shows such as City Detective, The Ray Milland Show, and It’s a Great Life.
She also played the infamous gossip columnist Dora Bailey in the classic film Singin’ In The Rain. She later had roles in The Real McCoys and The Jack Benny Program. Once she got the role as Margaret Mondello in Leave it to Beaver, she became a favorite to American audiences.
Margaret was the mother to Larry Mondello – one of the Beaver’s closest friends. She beautifully played the role of the always nervous mother dealing with a not-so-bright son! As with Richard Deacon’s portrayal of Fred Rutherford, Madge Blake’s character became an popular trope for future American sitcoms.
In addition to Leave it to Beaver, she had small parts in shows such as Batman and I Love Lucy. She died in 1969 from a heart attack in Pasadena, California.
We should look back at these great talents and appreciate their work in Leave it to Beaver and other television shows and films. One thing that they all have in common is that they worked tirelessly to bring their characters to life. Their dedication to their craft is what made Leave it to Beaver a great show and why we love it today.
From the main cast, Tony Dow who played Wally and Jerry Mathers who played Beaver are still with us! Tony Dow never intended to be an actor. But after being spotted by a casting agent, he was asked to audition for Wally Cleaver.
He became known as the older brother we all wished we had. Ironically, during the show’s initial run he never watched a single episode of the show. He recalls that the writers didn’t want many of the child actors to watch the show – so that they didn’t let the fame get to their heads!
Jerry Mathers will always be known as Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver who represented the All-American boy. His portrayal of the character was impeccable, and he’ll always be loved for representing a character from a bygone era.
He was also a reluctant actor, yet he still managed to give one of the greatest performances in American sitcom history. And we’re grateful to him for it…
Are you a fan of Leave It To Beaver? Do you think that many of the deceased cast members got their due? Or do you think that we have forgotten about them and need to respect their legacy more?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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