When you think of the classic 1950’s sitcom, Leave It To Beaver, ‘controversial’ is not usually the word that comes to mind. After all, the show is pretty much the paragon of cookie-cutter American idealism that filled the airwaves back in those days. Shows generally weren’t trying to push boundaries then; rather, they preferred to show an idealized American lifestyle, free of any of the rigors and controversies of actual life. As such, Leave It To Beaver was a form of escapism for audiences, who could leave whatever was going on in their lives and enjoy the ‘perfect’ family setup. But while Leave It To Beaver existed largely in a world without too much conflict, there was one incident in the very first episode they filmed that was too controversial to air. In this video, we’re taking a look at it, as well as some fun facts about this classic show that you might not be familiar with! So join Facts Verse, as we present: The Leave it to Beaver Bathroom Scene Caused a Big Stir.
One of the novel aspects of Leave It To Beaver was that it told its story from the point of view of the young protagonist, Beaver Cleaver. While hearing from the perspective of a child might not seem all that groundbreaking these days, it was something 1950’s audiences hadn’t seen before. That’s perhaps what drew audiences in – a chance to hear from a younger character whose opinions they didn’t often get. But beyond that interesting quirk, there wasn’t much about Leave It To Beaver that pushed the envelope. It sat pretty firmly in the range of acceptable and non-controversial shows that were expected at the time.
And yet, a specific plot point from the pilot episode accidentally caused a huge problem. Due to the conservative norms of the era, a lot of real life wasn’t allowed to be shown on television. And, for some bizarre reason, that included toilets. Now, we aren’t talking about toilet humor, or people going to the bathroom, or anything like that. TV shows literally couldn’t show a physical toilet. They had to somehow pretend that they didn’t exist, despite being in most every home in the country. In fact, at that point, shows couldn’t even have a shot that was inside a bathroom at all. But as the production staff set about filming their potential first episode, they found themselves in a pickle. There was an element in the script that meant they NEEDED to show a toilet. And yet they weren’t allowed to.
How They Got There
In the era when the show was set, magazines and comic books would run ads on their back cover for animals that you could buy that would be mailed directly to you. That might seem barbaric these days, but it was a thing actually offered in those days. The writers of the pilot episode of Leave It To Beaver thought it would make for a fun storyline. They had the protagonist, Beaver, and his brother Wally order an animal from a magazine. And of course, since they were too young to know better, they ordered an alligator. They presumed that the alligator would be full grown (though one can’t imagine the postage that would have cost!) but instead the magazine sent them a baby alligator in the mail. The two brothers have to figure out what to do with the creature, and how to care for it. The boys knew enough to realize that the creature needed to be in water. So they decided that the easiest place for it to live (and be hidden from their parents) was in the toilet’s water. And obviously for the audience to see this happen, they’d need to see a toilet. Or at the very least, acknowledge that such a thing existed.
The network’s reaction
CBS execs caught wind of the plan to show a few frames of the boys’ toilet in the pilot episode. Apparently it caused quite a stir. Their standards and practices department had an issue with showing the toilet bowl on television. And yet the network was excited about the show, so they wanted to do everything they could to make sure it got on the air. The issue took so long to sort out that the first thing they did was push back that episode, called “Captain Jack” so it was no longer the first episode that aired. It gave them a little more time to figure out what to do. Eventually they figured out somewhat of a workaround. They agreed to let Leave It To Beaver show the toilet, but not the actual bowl. They could show the back of the toilet tank. That would imply that the boys put the alligator inside the bowl, without actually showing it. The episode then ran as the second of the series, and history was made. Leave It To Beaver became the first show to air footage inside a bathroom, and the first to actually show a toilet. Jerry Mathers, who played Beaver Cleaver, later remarked that the scene was not only groundbreaking but it was necessary. He joked that for two kids trying to hide a tiny alligator in water, there was really no other place in the house that would have worked. So if that storyline was going to stay in the show, they’d need to show a toilet.
Other famous toilets on TV
While Leave It To Beaver was the first to show a toilet on TV, some other shows have helped to push the envelope when it came to this odd topic. For example, the show “All In The Family” also played a role in TV and toilet history when it let audiences hear the sound of a toilet flushing. Of course, by the 1970’s shows were beginning to break free from the conservatism that pervaded the airwaves in the ‘50s and ‘60s. And All In The Family was one of the biggest proponents of this practice. They had episodes that revolved around the hot-button topics of the day – things like sexism, homosexuality, abortion, racism, and more. So it’s not surprising to learn that they were the first to have the audio of a toilet flushing. Even so, it was apparently a shocking event for viewers. The scene was turned into a joke – it was a sitcom after all – but it was still a big deal. And it wasn’t until years later that bathroom humor, or even using the bathroom, would be a normal component of TV shows.
Married With Children picked up the torch 16 years later, and was the first show to regularly incorporate literal bathroom humor into its scripts. It was a show that relied on fairly predictable and low-brow humor, so it wasn’t super shocking that it would extend that to the bathroom. They had regular shots of the family toilet, as well as scenes in the bathroom. And a toilet flush could be heard in many episodes. The era of the toilet taboo was officially over.
Finally, in the hit show, Ally McBeal, which began airing in 1997, the bathroom actually became a focal point. The show was set in a law firm with a co-ed bathroom. That alone was enough to cause a stir from audiences. But there were several characters who let us know about their particular bathroom habits (one had an automatic flusher on a keychain that he would press before he entered the bathroom, for example.) And the bathroom became a place where important scenes would take place. The fact that it was a co-ed bathroom made for some awkward, funny, and always interesting interactions between the characters. There was even an episode where the main character, Ally McBeal, got stuck in one of the office toilets!
A couple more fun facts about Leave It To Beaver
-The show was supposed to be called ‘It’s a Small World’ originally. And it actually aired as part of another anthology series, called Heinz Studio 57. The network decided not to run with that title, and they then shifted to “Wally And The Beaver.” But they then decided that could make audiences assume that it was a nature show. So they shifted to Leave It To Beaver.
-The original Wally character was played by actor Pat Sullivan. But, as tends to happen, the filming of the pilot episode comes long before the filming of the rest of a season. Networks will film the pilot, test it with different audiences, make changes, and then decided whether to even air it or not. Then, if the reactions and ratings are good enough from when the pilot airs, they green light the rest of the series. This is a process that can take the better part of a year in some instances. And that means any child actors on a show are potentially going to hit a growth spurt, or puberty. Pat Sullivan unfortunately hit a growth spurt in between the pilot and the series. So he had to be replaced with Tony Dow. What a tough way to lose a legendary gig! The kicker was that Dow wasn’t even at the studio lot to audition for the show. A friend of his was auditioning for the part of Wally, and Dow tagged along.
While Leave It To Beaver might have been known for a squeaky clean image, and for showing an idealized lifestyle of 1950’s America, it did at least have one moment of rebellion. And while nowadays it seems downright tame, it was a bold move during those days. So, our hats off to the Beaver crew as well as CBS for at least pushing the envelope just slightly.
Now its’ time to hear from you. Did you know that Leave It To Beaver was the first show to ever air a toilet on Television? Let us know inf the comments section below!