‘Leave It to Beaver’: Why Jerry Mathers Refused to Do This Episode of the Show
Actor Jerry Mathers is, no doubt, classic television royalty. Along with Tony Dow, Barbara Billingsley, and Hugh Beaumont, Mathers was part of the cast of the pioneering situation comedy Leave It to Beaver.
The actor shared that working as a youngster on the set was a wonderful experience but he had his limits, and explained there was one episode that he was simply unwilling to take part in.
So he refused. Here’s what happened.
How Mathers got cast as the Beaver
Mathers revealed to the Television Academy Foundation in 2006 how he was cast in the role that made him famous. He explained that it was a process: he’d already auditioned and now was attending the interview to determine if he would be picked. It was down to 10 candidates. In his Cub Scout uniform he waited to be called to speak with the show’s producers, anxious to get to his scout meeting.
“I was the very last one,” Mathers said, recalling his impatience. “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.’”
While Mathers’ mother was not pleased when her son told her what he’d said, it turned out his honesty got him the job.
“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.”
The ‘Beaver’ actor was willing to climb into an enormous coffee cup
In one episode of the program, Mathers said in the same interview, the script called for him to climb into a giant-sized soup bowl.
“In Times Square at the time, they had a smoking advertisement, I believe it was for Winstons or Camels,” he said.
The show’s producers were inspired by the real-life billboard and decided to try an episode employing a similar idea with smoke blowing out of it. They had to think of something other than cigarettes, however.
“Well, [the show] decided, ‘Wouldn’t that be an interesting thing to do a show about?’ So they didn’t want to use cigarettes so they thought, ‘Oh we’ll use a thing of soup.’”
Beaver’s best friend Whitey talks him into checking the steaming bowl of soup out for himself to see if it’s real, and hilarity ensues.
“So Beaver starts to climb the billboard and gets up and the soup is in a saucer,” he added. “And he puts his hand up on the rim of the bowl that the soup’s on. One of the famous lines is, ‘Just put your foot on the lady’s thumb!’”
Eventually, Beaver gets to the bowl to investigate, falls in, and gets stuck, to the point that the fire department has to be called.
Mathers had a ‘tantrum’ about this episode and wouldn’t do it
The actor explained that he was game for just about anything on the show. Anything, that is, except being asked to embarrass himself on national television.
“Probably my biggest temper tantrum on the set was one time on the show where Wally and Beaver are supposed to be getting ready to go to a big party,” he recalled. “We’re in front of a mirror tying our ties. They thought it would be cute for us to be in our underwear.”
Mathers, not yet even 10 years of age, didn’t think it was cute at all.
“I just said, ‘I can’t do that,” he recalled saying heatedly. “I was probably like 8 years old and I said, ‘Everybody will see me in my underwear!'”
The writers acquiesced and the script was revised to have Mathers and Dow tying their ties in their pants.
“That’s the only time I can think of that I said, ‘No, I won’t do something’ for them,” the actor said.