Here, we catch up with Jerry Mathers, the 69-year-old star of the iconic series, to talk childhood fame, the time Bob Hope saved his life and his battle with Type 2 diabetes.
How did a mild-mannered kid from Iowa wind up starring in one of the longest-running shows in television history? It all came down to a chance encounter in a department store in Los Angeles.
On that fateful day in 1950, Jerry Mathers was just a toddler accompanying his mother on a routine shopping trip when a store clerk approached the pair.
"This lady asked my mother if I was her little boy and my mom immediately thought I'd touched something or torn the clothing," Mathers, 69, recalls. "Then the woman said, 'We noticed your son is very calm and it looks like he'd fit our clothes perfectly and we were wondering if he could be in a fashion show.'"
The Mathers clan, who'd recently left Jerry's native Iowa for his father's teaching career, were weary of strangers from "the big cities." But a paid gig when money was tough to come by was too much to pass up.
"[When the store clerk] said I would be paid and could keep the clothes I wore, my mom said, 'well, I think he could do that.'" Mathers laughs. "A lot of people assume my mom and dad were pushy stage parents and wanted me to become an actor, but no way!"
That modeling gig shortly translated into regular television appearances for the tot and, before his ninth birthday, he was already a veteran of more than 50 live TV shows and commercials before he even landed the iconic role of Beaver Cleaver.
That lengthy childhood resume comes with one downside, however. "Since TV was all live back then, there's no record of my early career," Mathers sighs. "I have all these things listed on my resume, but no proof of it on video."
But those early days aren't entirely lost. Back in the late-1980's, Mathers penned a memoir, And Jerry Mathers As The Beaver, which chronicled his early acting career and the famous people he worked with along the way. But so much has happened in the interim—including starting a family, his diabetes diagnosis and his 2007 Broadway appearance in the award-winning musical Hairspray—that Mathers is toying with the idea of writing a follow-up book.
But in the meantime, Mathers, now a married father-of-three with a toddler granddaughter, is on the lecture circuit, giving talks about his Type 2 diabetes diagnosis and making appearances at Leave It To Beaver conventions. "It always surprises me how many young people still watch it on reruns even though it's in black and white," he says.
Here, we catch up with Jerry Mathers at his home in Los Angeles to talk Hitchcock, diabetes and Leave It To Beaver.
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