‘Leave It to Beaver’ Star Jerry Mathers Proved the Comedy Was Decades Ahead of Its Time in More Ways Than 1

For a television comedy that first aired over 60 years ago in the heyday of black and white programming, Leave It to Beaver was surprisingly progressive.

In the midst of what many would regard today as bland plotlines, Beaver would tackle difficult situations Americans faced. And, in one episode, the show presented an item that caused quite a shock to censors.

The cast of 'Leave It to Beaver' in a dinnertime scene. Seen are, clockwise, Hugh Beaumont (standing) as Ward Cleaver, Jerry Mathers as Beaver Cleaver, Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver, and Tony Dow as Wally Cleaver
The cast of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ in a dinnertime scene | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

‘Leave It to Beaver’ addressed the abuse of alcohol

In the course of the show’s six seasons, Leave It to Beaver touched on subjects including alcoholism and divorce.

The episode titled “Beaver and Andy” features the young main character encountering a house painter who drinks excessively.

“It turns out, I think it’s intimated, that the reason Ward [Cleaver] hired this painter was that he couldn’t get a job because of his drinking problem,” Mathers told the Television Academy Foundation.

The episode concludes with the painter named Andy apologizing for his behavior. Beaver’s parents explained to their boys the truth that drinking can pose a problem when it gets out of hand. It was a shocking subject matter for its time. Considering how prevalent drinking throughout the day was in the ’50s with the “two and three martini lunches” and cocktails in the afternoon or dinner, it was a prickly topic handled with finesse by the show.

‘Beaver’ also dealt with divorce

In “Beaver’s House Guest,” the program saw Beaver invite a friend with divorced parents over to the Cleaver home for a sleep-over. Beaver’s friend’s name was Chopper, played by future character actor Barry Gordon.

Beaver in the episode is jealous of Chopper’s two birthday parties, two sets of birthday gifts, and the cool gifts he gets from his father, to the point that he momentarily wishes his own parents would consider divorcing.

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This changes when during his stay, Chopper’s mother calls the Cleaver household weeping to demand her son come home because, as Chopper stated, “she needs me.” Beaver’s friend laments his situation, telling Beaver it’s he who’s the lucky one.

At the end of the episode, Beaver’s mother June suggests that she and her husband stay in touch with Chopper’s mother to offer help if she needs it.

The episode of ‘Beaver’ that was almost censored

The episode titled “Captain Jack” was just the second episode of the show’s first season (via IMDb). Beaver and his older brother Wally decide they want a pet. Told by their parents that they can’t have a dog or cat until they’re more responsible, the boys decide to purchase what they’re told is a baby alligator from the back of a comic book.

“Wally and Beaver decide that they’re going to send away for one of these and they will keep it and then after a month, they’ll say to their parents, ‘look we’ve raised this wonderful alligator and we are responsible enough to have a pet,'” Mathers recalled.

The boys realize they need to keep it in water and decide to use the toilet. Unfortunately, showing the toilet on television was not allowed.

“You have to remember, these are the times, under the laws of that time, for television and movies, if you were a man and a woman and you were sitting on the bed, you both had to have one foot on the floor,” the actor said. “Married couples had to sleep in separate beds. Lucy [Ball] couldn’t say she was pregnant. When [the censors] saw a toilet tank, or a bathroom, that was unheard of. They actually banned that show. It did eventually air.”

A compromise was reached that allowed for only the back of the tank to be shown. It would be years, however, before a situation comedy showed an actual toilet on camera.