The Early Show featured a Cleaver family reunion Wednesday as part of its "TVland Flashback" series. Co-Anchor Jane Clayson spoke to three former cast members now in Los Angeles: Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver; Jerry Mathers, who was Beaver; and Tony Dow, who portrayed Beaver's older brother, Wally.
Billingsley was just a young woman when she was cast for the part of June Cleaver. Would she have done anything differently had she known that the role would have been idealized for generations?
"Well, I was doing the script, and I don't think I could have changed it. But I loved it," Billingsley says.
Was there a big difference between her and June Cleaver?
"My sons say, no," she says. "Gradually what happened is the writer started writing about you, as well as the character they created originally. So you all become mixed up."
Mathers auditioned for the role of Beaver when he was only eight. "All the original Leave It to Beavers were from real life," he says. "So that things that really did happen to boys, say, in the 1920s, '30s, that really happened in the '50s can go on forever." They are timeless, he says.
He wrote his autobiography, and while many try to get away from their past image, he embraced it.
"Leave It to Beaver and the character of Beaver is something I'm very, very proud of. It's one of the pinnacles of my career. I was just very, very lucky to be part of the golden age of television," Mathers says.
Dow played Wally, who was exasperated and protective of his little brother. But did he feel the same way about young Jerry?
Truth be told the cast members reveal there was a lot of fighting.
So what's it like now to watch themselves in reruns? "It's kind of like watching home movies," Mathers says. "Each one of the episodes is a week in our lives. So when you see it, it's like a certain animal. It wasn't just the ensemble cast. It was also a lot of different people in the crew. So I'll see it and say, 'I remember that was that week, and this director did this, or this thing happened."
Does Mathers have a favorite episode?
"You know, I do, but it has nothing to do with the show," he says. "There was one episode where Wally thought he was going to be a lifeguard up at the lake, and so he goes up there to be a lifeguard. And when he gets up there, he's too young. So they make him a hot-dog vendor," Mathers says. "The whole family goes up there, and it's very embarassing for him."
"When we got to go up to that lake, we could fish at lunch. And Universal Studios - it was on the back lot - put blue gill in the lake for mosquito abatement, and that particular episode I caught the biggest fish I eve caught there. And I caught more fish than Tony. So that's my favorite episode," he concludes.