You Can’t Go Home Again, warned the novelist Thomas Wolfe in 1940, but apparently no one told the group of actors assembled at the old Cleaver house in a Universal Studios back lot last month. The occasion was the taping of the CBS special Still the Beaver (due this spring), which reunites Leave It to Beaver’s original cast for the first time since the sitcom vanished from prime-time TV in 1963 after a healthy six-year run (it still thrives in syndication in 190 markets). The sequel was scripted by Nick Abdo, 32, and Brian Levant, 30 (Beaver’s original creator-writers were the late Bob Mosher and the now retired Joe Connelly). Still the Beaver picks up the Beaver saga 20 years later in Mayfield, injecting a hard dose of 1980s reality into the once idyllic suburb where the Beaver grew up. Deserted by his wife, Beav (Jerry Mathers) is forced to raise his two sons alone, while brother Wally, a successful attorney, copes with impotence. Since Hugh Beaumont, who played Beaver’s benevolent father, Ward, died last year at 72, Mrs. Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) is now a widow.
Except for the sadness over Beaumont’s death, the mood among the Beaver cast members was one of contented homecoming. Especially enthusiastic was Jerry Mathers, 34, a star once again—if only temporarily—after two long decades of obscurity. “It’s nice to see all these people I haven’t seen for years,” he grinned. Fourteen when the show ended in 1963, Mathers went on to graduate from Berkeley with a philosophy degree, served six years in the Air National Guard (during which time the greatly exaggerated rumor spread, via the wire services, that he had been killed in Vietnam), and then dabbled in real estate and banking before being lured back to show business. Success was limited. He mixed bit TV parts with dinner theater—including an 18-month tour with Tony Dow in a farce called So Long, Stanley in 1979-80—before finding regular work as a rock ‘n’ roll deejay in Anaheim. He lives 75 miles north in Los Angeles’ Santa Clara Valley with second wife Rhonda and three children, 10 years to 8 months. But for the now paunchy Mathers, the biggest satisfaction has long come from his regular appearances as the Beaver in shopping centers, car shows and on college campuses. “It’s fun that someone is even interested enough to ask me the same question for the millionth time,” Jerry explains.
Tony Dow, who played clean-cut jock Wally Cleaver on the series, doesn’t share Mathers’ enthusiasm for nostalgia. “I’ve tried to avoid doing it in recent years,” says Dow, 37, who, unlike Mathers, has spent the past two decades attempting to escape the shadow of his TV persona. After Beaver stopped production, Dow guest-starred in a succession of TV series throughout the ’60s and had a steady role in the ABC teen soaper Never Too Young. But the parts tapered off by the early ’70s, and with the exception of a recurring role for a few months on General Hospital and a recent guest shot on Square Pegs, the good parts have seldom materialized for Dow, who lives in Venice with his second wife, Lauren, and has a 9-year-old son from his first marriage. “Even if I play a murderer,” Dow says bitterly, “there will always be people who say, ‘Gee, you were exactly like Wally.’ ”
Ken Osmond, who played Wally’s connivingly obsequious buddy Eddie Haskell, did not linger long after Leave It to Beaver before deciding to get out of show business. Osmond first launched a helicopter business in Bur-bank, but the enterprise was grounded permanently when he crashed his chopper in 1966. After a series of odd jobs, Ken married in 1969 (he now has two sons, ages 8 and 11, the older of whom, Eric, will appear as Eddie Haskell Jr. in Still the Beaver) and joined the Los Angeles Police Department a year later. Shot three times while on patrol in 1980, Osmond was saved by his bulletproof vest and his belt buckle and received enough publicity to squelch rumors that he was moonlighting as a porn star (spurred by an X-rat-ed movie poster that claimed to feature “Eddie Haskell, star of Leave It to Beaver”). Osmond has endured a lifetime of ribbing, and so have Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow. Still the Beaver is not likely to mitigate that, but the ever-cheerful Mathers still likes being recognized. “Any time you get work,” he grins, “you’re very happy about it.”