As a child actor in his own situation comedy in 1957, Jerry Mathers had a lot on his shoulders starring in the now-classic television comedy Leave It to Beaver.
In portraying Theodore “The Beaver” Cleaver, Mathers as the title character had a great deal of lines he regularly had to learn.
Mathers beat out 5000 actors for the role of ‘Beaver’
When Mathers auditioned for the role of Beaver, it was a “cattle call” of 5000 actors.
By the time the audition had whittled down the prospective Beaver candidates down to 10 boys, the actor had just joined the Cub Scouts. Unfortunately, the day of his first meeting was also the day of the final interviews for the Beaver role.
The actor made it clear to his mother that he didn’t want to go to the audition because of his obligation to the scouts. And so, she dressed him in his Cub Scout uniform so they could both attend the interview and go from there to his scout meeting.
The child actor didn’t want to be at his audition, and the producers loved that
“I was the very last one,” Mathers said, recalling his impatience at waiting through the other nine boys’ interviews in the final audition process. “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.”
Mathers’ work-around for memorizing scripts
In his interview, Mathers stated, “I’m dyslexic. Being dyslexic, my eyes and my mind skip ahead. That to me, was very embarrassing.”
The actor revealed that when he was in school and knew he would have to read out loud, he would have his mother read him his portion the night before so he could memorize it. That way, it would seem that he was actually reading.
With his Leave It to Beaver scripts, he did the same.
“What a lock for an actor, because all I had to do was have somebody read [the script] to me and I could memorize it right off the bat,” he said. “I had trained myself not to read but to memorize it.”
It seems that Mather’s teachers, his show producers, and even his mother were initially unaware of his reading challenge.
“I’m a very sneaky person,” he admitted. “I didn’t want to tell. It was very embarrassing to me. Even though I’m an actor, I’m kind of a split personality. Even as a child, I didn’t like being singled out.”