Monday, June 28, 2010
Beaver, Wally, Darrell, and Me
There was a terrific review in yesterday's New York Times of a new DVD set of all the episodes of the television masterpiece "Leave It to Beaver." (Don't think it was a masterpiece? Read the review.)
When I was a kid--I was the prototypical 1950s baby boomer brat tuned in to the Golden Age of Television--what I liked about "Leave It to Beaver" was the calm, quiet, mild suburban lifestyle it depicted. I grew up on a farm, so it seemed pretty exotic to me. Compared to anyone's real-life family, I suppose, the Cleavers led idyllic lives. When they did something wrong or neglectful--it was never very wrong or neglectful--punishment was met out to Beaver and his older brother Wally in low-volume, measured cadences by their dad Ward, while Mrs. Cleaver baked something in the kitchen wearing a mid-calf house dress. I don't know about your family, but it wasn't always like that at my house.
I think I also responded to the relationship between Beaver and Wally, who, while they often had their differences, seemed to genuinely like each other. I recall life with my own older brother, Darrell, as being considerably more voluble. He was six years older than me, so I occasionally received what no doubt was a deserved bit of corporal punishment for being a wisemouth.
At any rate, one of the pictures that ran with the Times's review was the promo shot (above) of Jerry Mathers (the Beaver) and Tony Dow (Wally). When I saw it, I thought of this picture of Darrell and me, taken, probably, around 1960 or so.
Family photos, which can be as deceiving as any other photo--and perhaps more so--can also perform a corrective function. This picture reminded me that at least for the minute or so my mother had us posed us in our back yard, Darrell and I did actually have a Wally-and-Beaver kind of life. Not all the falsities of television sitcoms were entirely false. We played football and baseball together, and he sometimes took me fishing. I am lucky enough to be able to say that it was an idyllic life. The picture represents a version of reality--but a version as valid as any other.
I always thought that that one tragedy of TV was how real families aspired to live like sitcom families--an impossible task. But shows like "Beaver" reflected a kind of real life, one that existed both as a dream and a reality. That's what made it so powerful an experience for a kid like me.