Video: When Eden Was in Suburbia

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Beaver twitted the values of his parents without actually undermining them. In the secular Cleaver household, cleanliness was a substitute for godliness, yet Beaver only washed up to his wrists because hidden dirt didn't matter. Despite the show's recurring theme of honesty, Beaver's behavior routinely triggered layers of good-natured deceit. Ward secretly helped Beaver with his homework; June stealthily took over his paper route; Beaver kept mum.

The minor characters were as memorable as the major ones. Beaver's sidekick Larry Mondello looked and acted like a pint-size W.C. Fields. Wally's chum Lumpy Rutherford was just that. And of course there was the incomparable Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond). If Mayfield was Eden, Eddie was the serpent slyly tempting Beaver to bite the apple of mischief. A leering skull dressed in a cardigan sweater, Eddie was smarmy to his elders and sneering to his peers. "Hey, Wally, if your gunky brother comes with us, I'm gonna Oh, hello, Mrs. Cleaver, I was just telling Wallace how pleasant it would be for Theodore to accompany us to the movies." In his high-pitched whine, Beaver supplied the bittersweet moral: "You know, Wally, I guess even creeps like Eddie got to have friends."

After Beaver went off the air, lurid rumors circulated concerning the show's characters. It was as if Beaver fans, disillusioned by the late '60s, wrote their own contemporary psychic postscripts to the show. Beaver was said to have been killed in Viet Nam. Wally was reputed to have married either Barbara Billingsley or Raquel Welch. Eddie Haskell was rumored to be either Porn Star John Holmes (whom he resembles) or the wraithlike Alice Cooper. The collective unconscious of '60s America, resenting and yet longing for the simple verities of Mayfield, attempted to corrupt the suburban paradise.

But, in fact, Beaver was at the time a student of philosophy at Berkeley, and is now a disc jockey and journeyman actor. Ken Osmond joined the Los Angeles police department in 1970 and sued the distributors of Holmes' films to clear up the confusion. Dow is a writer, sometime actor and the father of a son (it was his TV stand-in who was married to Raquel Welch). Mathers is currently negotiating with a network to update the past in a two-hour TV movie version of Leave It to Beaver, starring the original cast (minus the late Hugh Beaumont), with Beaver playing Father Cleaver, and a new generation of pesky children.

The show's characters are not the only ones who still seem to live in the shadow of Beaver, perpetually imprisoned in their adolescent roles. Millions of viewers who grew up with Beaver find their early memories eerily intermingling with the televised home movies of the Cleaver family. One night at dinner, Beaver told his parents that his teacher, the young and confectionery Miss Landers, was so old that she remembered a time even before there was television. Asked Beaver plaintively:

"What did people do before there was television, Mom?" —By Richard Stengel

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