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Growing up Beaver: One-on-one with actor Jerry Mathers

“You know, working isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be. 

I wonder why older people do it so much” 

— Beaver Cleaver

This is an example of the endearing words said by Jerry “The Beaver” Mathers, who has become an American icon and someone who once spent time in Encinitas.

Back in the 1980s he said he was doing some marketing/PR for a friend in the North County area and was fortunate to rent a place off Neptune Avenue.

“I loved the area and met a lot of people and made many friends while I was staying there,” he recalled during a recent phone conversation. “I used to go into Caldwell’s Antiques to look at all the great items and collectibles Fred had.”


Jerry Mathers says he lived for a time in the 1980s on Neptune Avenue in Encinitas.  Courtesy
photo

Mathers, now 70, said Encinitas was a wonderful place to “enjoy the ocean, relax and take in the surroundings.”

“I was demonstrating to clients for a friend how this new printer at the time was able to take a photo and print it out on a huge canvas,” he recalled. “It was way before its time and lots of artists and photographers could have their work printed on it; it was like a gigantic picture.”

And while he enjoyed doing marketing and a bit of PR for his friend’s printing company and traveling around the country, Mathers will always enjoy being “The Beaver,” the character that made him famous.

Early life

Born on June 2, 1948, in Sioux City, Iowa, his television and show business career began at the tender age of 2 when he did a Pet Condensed Milk commercial with Ed Wynn on the “Colgate Comedy Hour.” 

He continued to work on many of the early 1950s live television shows and in 1954, he made his movie debut co-starring with Linda Darnell in “This Is My Love.” He then signed for the 1955 film, “The Trouble with Harry,” starring John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine in what was her very first film role. 

The budding young actor next appeared in two Bob Hope movies, “The Seven Little Foys” and “That Certain Feeling.” Two movies with Alan Ladd followed, “The Deep Six” and “Men of the Fighting Lady.” 

It was in 1957, however, with the debut of the series “Leave It To Beaver,” that Mathers entered the hearts and homes of America. 

An immediate success, the show gained national attention and ran for six seasons, totaling 234 episodes. 

When it celebrated its 50th anniversary on Oct. 4, 2007, the show became the longest running scripted show in television history. 

In 2017, the show celebrated its 60th anniversary. Currently shown on TV and in countries throughout the world, “Leave It To Beaver” has made Mathers an American icon. 

“I never got tired of being ‘The Beaver’ because just to be remembered is awesome,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of stuff from working with Hitchcock and a lot more, but this series is the longest running series on TV and has never been off the air since 1957. It plays all over the world; did you know I speak Japanese and all these different languages? So, it’s been a boon to me. It’s nice to have people say to me ‘you look a little older, but you look like that boy on TV … I had a good time doing it and have a lot of good memories.”

Growing up Beaver

Mathers said he had a blast when he was a young boy working in Hollywood and agreed “Beaver” was a wholesome show unlike much of the TV shows today.

“There are some good shows on now but for most part it’s a whole different world from when I was doing ‘Beaver,’” he said. “It was actually written as an adult show which came as a surprise to the writers and producers since we had such a wide audience. Kids, and older adults watched; it became a multi-generational TV show. It was also made as a situational comedy. 

“I liked the crew and they were all my friends, we had a good time,” he continued. “Everyone in the cast was very friendly and there wasn’t one person we didn’t like. Even Eddie Haskell, who went on to be an LAPD police officer.”

Family life

Growing up Mathers said he had a good family life and was the oldest. 

“I also had parents that were good for raising an actor,” he said. “When I was doing ‘Beaver,’ my dad was a teacher, vice principal, and a principal of one of the largest schools in the L.A. Unified School District. He went on to be a superintendent and was dealing with the best of kids and the worst of kids.”

Because of his dad’s jobs he would have the opportunity to get away and be a real kid, far from studio life at times.

“I’d go on weekends to football games where I got some socialization with other kids because of my dad,” he recalled. “People got to know me; I was a regular because he was a principal, etc. It was a fun escape for me.”

His mom was a housewife, but during the first few years of “Beaver” she would be with him at the studio while he did the show until his siblings came along. 

Mathers said he was privately tutored by “some of the best teachers around thanks to my dad; they came to the studio where I would be taught in a canvas-like tent complete with desk and chalk board.”

“I had a great education,” he said. “I wasn’t good at math, but I was good at English and literature.”

Forward

Mathers went on to do much more than “Beaver,” too. For example, his television movie, “Still the Beaver,” was one of the top 10 movies of the week for 1982 which led to the development of a new series entitled “The New Leave It To Beaver.” He successfully completed filming 108 episodes which were syndicated and aired in all major domestic and foreign markets. As well as starring in the series, Mathers also directed multiple episodes. 

“I loved doing ‘Beaver’ and will never forget those times; it was a great way to grow up,” he said. “I also enjoyed working with Hitchcock and Bob Hope, too. I’d to sit on Hitchcock’s lap and learn lines from him. People think he was so scary, but he was very friendly, very professional. A good friend, he’d always wave while driving by in a big limo with a chauffeur.

“Rock Hudson, Doris Day were all there on the back-studio lot on days I was there; everyone would wave.”

Health scare

In the mid-‘90s Mathers was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He took preventative action, lost 55 pounds and is currently one of the leading lecturers on living with and dealing with diabetes. He has partnered with diverse organizations to bring awareness of this epidemic among children and adults to the forefront. 

Mathers was invited to share his experience with diabetes on “Larry King Live” numerous times and has spoken to the Congressional Caucus on diabetes at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. 

“I got very lucky and had a good friend who was a doctor, and in the late 1980s I was doing ‘New Leave It To Beaver’ and also had bought a catering company. I’d eat a lot of food, got overweight and she kept telling me I can’t keep doing it,” he recalled. “I thought otherwise. I had a physical exam and she said my diabetes was way out of control. 

“I started losing weight, dieting, exercising, and now I am pre-diabetic,” he said. “I thought to myself that lot of people were overweight and wanted to help others. I found a lot people wanted to know about my acting career, but it helped bring a crowd in at colleges and I used the platform to talk about diabetes, and still do it when I can.”

Present day

When his schedule permits, Mathers — who is an FCC licensed broadcaster — guest hosts on radio programs from coast to coast and is fully trained in terrestrial and satellite broadcasting. 

He lives with his wife, Teresa, in the L.A. area in a planned community, and always enjoys meeting his fans and reminiscing when he makes personal appearances at trade shows and health conferences, colleges, on cruise ships, at corporate events, baseball games, museums, parades and other events around the country. 

Mathers is always happy to talk with his fans, take photos and sign a personalized autograph. The complete 234 episodes of “Leave It To Beaver” plus many extras, was released in a six set DVD package by Shout Factory in June 2010. 

Now a grandfather, he joked and said his grandkids are “all just as spunky as ‘The Beaver’ was.”

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