"The Beaver" Goes To Broadway

Actor Jerry Mathers attends opening night of the new production of 'Grease' on Broadway, at The Brooks Atkinson Theatre,on Aug. 19, 2007 in New York.
Getty Images/Peter Kramer
It was almost 50 years ago that we first saw the TV classic "Leave It To Beaver," with Jerry Mathers as "The Beaver."

A half-century later, Mathers is still acting. He's made his way to Broadway, where he stars in the musical "Hairspray." He visited The Early Show to talk about Broadway, and his battle with diabetes.

"Being in 'Hairspray' was always a dream of mine," Mathers said. "I've done major movies with Hitchcock, Bob Hope, done 'Leave It To Beaver,' done almost everything else, but being on Broadway is something I've always wanted to do."

But the demanding schedule of a Broadway show forced Mathers to deal with his health problems.

"It was a little tough because I have diabetes. Ten years ago, my doctor said if I didn't do something about it, I'd be dead in three to five years," he said. "So I took off the weight and started monitoring my blood sugar. I happen to use the OneTouch Ultra2 system. But people with diabetes must manage their disease."

Mathers lost more than 70 pounds.

"I looked around me and everybody was overweight and I didn't realize how many people die of diabetes," he said. "People are dying all the time. It's an epidemic people really don't understand."

The character of Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver remains an icon among baby boomers in the decades since it debuted. Mathers said he still gets recognized on the street, which can sometimes be a bit unnerving.

"The first day I was here, walking down the street, going back for a rehearsal, and a police car pulled up next to me with the lights flashing. The two police officers jumped out. I was going, 'what did I do?'," he said. "I think I crossed that light. But I thought you could do that in New York and not get in that much trouble. They said, 'Can I have your autograph?' Oh, sure, I gave them an autograph."

But it didn't end there.

"Then we had a crowd around us," he said. "They dispersed the crowd and said 'Nothing to see here.' Then they followed me all the way home with their lights flashing so no one would follow me. People recognize me a little bit."

He doesn't mind being famous for a role he played when he was a kid.

"I worked with Hitchcock before 'Leave It To Beaver.' I started working as an actor at 2 years old with Ed Wynn, doing commercials. The greatest gift anybody can have is to be famous and known for just one part. Any actor would do anything to do that. I hit one of the pinnacles of my career as 13 so life has only been good. It's a blessing.'"