How a Glass of Water Got ‘Leave It to Beaver’ Star Jerry Mathers Noticed by Alfred Hitchcock
Before his big break on television’s classic Leave It to Beaver, show star Jerry Mathers had performed in a handful of programs during television’s infancy, including The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Lux Video Theater, and General Electric Theater.
During one such program, the Master of Suspense himself noticed the child actor who would soon become known to the rest of the nation as the Beaver.
Here’s the Hitchcock film Mathers appeared in.
Jerry Mathers began acting at a young age
The baby-faced actor recalled to the Archive of American Television in 2006 how it was that he became involved in acting at a young age.
“It’s kind of an interesting story, I must admit,” Mathers began.
His parents, Mathers explained were not wealthy people; his father was a coach and his mother a homemaker. When his mother was out buying Mathers an outfit for his upcoming birthday, he was noticed by a modeling professional.
“A lady came up to [his mother] and said, ‘Your little boy looks just like the family in our catalog. Would it be possible for him to be a model for our catalog?'” he recalled.
His mother while at first hesitant about this stranger and her offer, was convinced, according to the actor, when the catalog scout said, “‘We could pay him and he could keep all the clothes that he would wear.’ My mom said, ‘You know, he could probably do that.’ So that’s actually how I started.”
Mathers on how small roles led to bigger ones
As a result of his modeling work, Mathers gained more and more notice and began acting in the live television programs popular at the start of the medium in the 1950s.
“I was doing a show called Lux Video Theater, which actually wasn’t a variety show; it was more drama,” he said. “And at that time, even the commercials were live. I had done some movies before that, like the one with my sister, This Is My Love, and a few other small parts, but no big parts in a movie.”
A glass of water got Mathers the Hitchcock film role
It was while Mathers was working on a live television program that the young performer caught the eye of British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, who had come on to do a live commercial for his previous movie.
The child actor’s thirst was his friend that fateful day, as he explained.
“I had done my part [on the program] and my mom said that I came back off-stage,” he said. “I was in another scene beyond that one, so instead of taking me back to the dressing room, they just stood me there. They had my mother there so that I wouldn’t make any noise or anything. They had one of those drinking fountains, like bottled water, with the little paper cups in the back of the stage.”
He explained that the water dispenser was right behind the stage and could be seen by the audience. He was thirsty and asked his mother to get him a cup of water.
“So I pulled on my mom’s skirt and said, ‘I want a drink of water.'” Mimicking his mother, Mathers recalled she replied, ‘”Shh, shh, don’t talk! You get water after!’ And I guess Alfred Hitchcock was standing over there getting ready to do this commercial.”
Hitchcock motioned for Mathers to come to him. “He got me to come over and my mom knew it was Alfred Hitchcock. So he got me the water very quietly and gave it to me.”
Mathers clearly had impressed the English director enough to remember him later on for a role in his upcoming film, The Trouble With Harry. Within a week, the actor said, he was called to Paramount, where he was brought to see Hitchcock, and was hired on the spot.
Years later, Mathers said, Hitchcock would always stop by to see him on the Universal/Beaver set when the director was working on his The Alfred Hitchcock Presents program.
“I would see him around the lot and he would always come up to me, I’d see this big Rolls-Royce,” he said. “He always had a chauffeur and he’d always pull up, the window would go down and he’d kind of lean out and say [imitating Hitchcock’s voice], ‘Oh, hello Mr. Mathers.’
“And that just blew me away. Because to everybody else, I was either Beaver or Jerry. He was the only one who called me ‘Mr. Mathers.'”