How ‘Leave It To Beaver’ Was Different From Every Other TV Show in the 1950s

Jerry Mathers as Beaver Cleaver
Jerry Mathers as Beaver Cleaver | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

When Leave It To Beaver premiered on television in 1957, it certainly wasn’t the only series about American family life.

There were also shows such as Father Knows Best starring Robert Young and Elinor Donahue and The Donna Reed Show featuring the actor known mostly for her film work up until that point.

However, Beaver was quite unique from all the other shows, and here’s how.

Jerry Mathers got cast on ‘Beaver’ despite his lack of interest

Promotional studio portrait of actors Tony Dow (L) and Jerry Mathers from the television series, 'Leave It to Beaver,' circa 1957
Tony Dow (L) and Jerry Mathers from the television series, ‘Leave It To Beaver,’ circa 1957 | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To hear actor Jerry Mathers tell it, what made his winning the role of Beaver Cleaver on the lighthearted family program so interesting was what he didn’t do in his final interview with the show’s producers. He’d survived the “cattle call” of 5000 child actors down to the last ten in the running.

Eager to make it to his Cub Scout meeting, Mathers had no interest in chit-chat, small talk, or really in anything that would make him late. Each of the other nine final kids had gone through their interviews, interminably long to Mathers, and it was finally his turn.

“I was the very last one,” Mathers explained in 2006 to the Archive of American Television. “So I come in and I was just really jittery. The producers knew me because they’d interviewed me over six to eight weeks.

“They looked at me and said, ‘Jerry, what’s wrong? You’re so jittery today. Don’t you want to be here?’ I said, ‘No, I want to go to my Cub scout meeting.’ They said, “OK, you can go.’”

Producers liked Mathers’ determination to be a kid

The cast of 'Leave It to Beaver'
The cast of ‘Leave It To Beaver’ | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Most other producers would probably have scratched Mathers’ name off their list, but to them, the fact that he was behaving like a real kid — and not an actor — convinced them he was the right person to play Beaver Cleaver.

“That night, they called and said that I had the job as the Beaver in a new pilot,” he said.

“And the reason I got the job is because they said they would rather have a kid who wanted to go to a Cub Scout meeting than a kid who wanted to be an actor. So that’s how I got the job for Leave It To Beaver.”

‘Leave It To Beaver’ was the first show from a kid’s point of view

Mathers pointed out that at the time that Leave It To Beaver hit the airwaves, there weren’t very many family-based shows.

“There were a lot of police and gangster shows,” he said. “There were very, very few what they called situation comedies, and if there were, they were about adults.

“Now, Leave It To Beaver took a totally new and unique perspective. It was the adult world seen through the eyes of a child. It was a unique show. In fact, if you watch Beaver, even from the pilot, it’s taken from a child’s perspective. It was very much of a new genre for television, to see the world through a child’s eyes.”