How does Leave It to Beaver look through a modern lens? Ask Stephen Talbot, one of several child actors from the family comedy that was all about mischievous boys.
Talbot played Gilbert on 57 episodes of Leave It to Beaver. His place on the show? He was one of Beaver’s good friends, with his role likened to Eddie Haskell lite. He joined the show two years into its six-season run. And like everyone else affiliated with the series, he stays forever a kid as the show lives on in reruns. It’s one of classic TV’s all-time best shows.
He left acting and went into journalism. It’s basically how most of his family made a living. So since he’s paid to observe and report on real life, he accurately can do the same for Leave It to Beaver.
“What was different about that show, if it had one big distinction, in addition to Eddie Haskell, is that it was a sitcom about American families told from the perspective of kids,” Talbot told the site BestClassicBands.com. “It was the first one where kids were the center.
“So for baby boomers, that’s like the most narcissistic show. It’s like, ‘oh, that’s us; that’s how we act.’ It was written by somewhat older people, and every now and then there’d be phrases in the dialogue where I’d go, “Hey, no one talks like that anymore,” although the writers were obviously really talented.”
As Leave It to Beaver Ended, Wally Graduated High School
Leave It to Beaver stayed on the air from 1957-63. The network ended it at a natural spot. Big brother Wally was graduating from high school and moving on to college. And the Beav was about to be a freshman in high school. The type of misadventures probably would need to change. So the show ended.
Talbot offered more perspective on the show. He’s 73 now, looking back on what he did, what the show did 60 years ago.
“So part of me thinks what the series did at its best was to reflect what it was like for white, suburban kids in America, in the late ’50s and early ‘60s, to be kind of loose in the streets,” he said. “We all rode bikes and after school, my mother didn’t care where I was, as long as she didn’t hear I got into trouble and as long as I was home for dinner.”
It sounds idyllic, given today’s crowds and chaos. But there was turmoil in the late 1950s and early 60s. Leave It to Beaver never brought turmoil into the Cleaver home. It was all about life in the suburbs.
“In that sense, Beaver, as a series, got that right,” Talbot said. “What it didn’t get right, and maybe it was asking too much of any series to do this, it didn’t reflect America as a whole. That used to trouble me a lot about the show. It got one aspect of America right, but it didn’t get the big picture right.
“I mean, we were doing this in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis, when the whole world could have been blown to smithereens. That was not ever a theme in the show.”