‘Leave it to Beaver’: One Star Dispelled Notion That Show Was Successful in 1950s, 1960s Due to Lack of ‘Cynicism’

by Matthew Wilson

Many people reflect on the 1950s and 60s as being a more innocent, simpler time thanks in part to sitcoms like “Leave It to Beaver.” But series star Jerry Mathers insisted that wasn’t true.

In an interview with Closer Weekly in 2019, Mathers reflected on the time period in which the show aired. The series star said the 1950s and 1960s were by no means innocent or simple. That apple pie slice of life mostly only existed in entertainment. The country was recovering from one world war and in the midst of the Korean War as well.

In fact, people may have felt a little more cynical than they do nowadays, or at least back in 2019 when Mathers conducted the interview.

“But the world was just as cynical back then if not more,” Mathers told the outlet. “Because even though it was made in ‘57, we were coming out of World War II and then the Korean War. It was a fairly tough time for a lot of people. It wasn’t the Depression by any means, but those were times when, if you had a job, you were very lucky; and people were happy to be in the United States.”

Jerry Mathers on Show’s Humor

So why was “Leave It to Beaver” popular then? Mathers credits the show’s success and popularity for embracing reality. The show’s comedic value was based on real-life versus a heightened sense of reality, which became popular in sitcoms in the decades that followed. Sure, the show had idealistic and optimistic aspirations. But the situations were based in reality and real-life situations.

“The episodes work, I think because all of the stories are from real life,” Mathers said. “If you watch sitcoms today, it’s a lot of what I call ‘joke shows’ where people have set up, setup, joke. And a lot of them really don’t have a lot of substance. The writers were more interested in getting a chuckle rather than a laugh. Because they didn’t want people to miss other parts of it. There aren’t really those big laughs in real life, so they wanted it to be more like life. And if there was something that was funny, it was humorous, but it wasn’t fall-on-the-floor and start laughing funny.”

Mathers believed the show connected with audiences of the era because it had heart. In the years that followed, audiences would return to “Leave It to Beaver” for a nostalgic look at the past.