Leave It To Beaver- A Spoon Full of Sugar For The Cold War

 

Leave it To Beaver and Nuclear Blast

Mayfield is in mourning. Eddie Haskell has died.

A generation of baby boomers has lost yet another cultural icon with the passing of Ken Osmond who played that two-faced, smooth-talking suck-up in six seasons of Leave it To Beaver. Thanks to the endless loop of black and white reruns the rascally teenager became an indelible character in our lives.

Eddie Haskell often maligned as being a bully, was a three-dimensional character in a TV show with one-dimensional adults. He always included just the right dash of snark, adding a tang to this achingly saccharine show.

The Cleavers, the quintessential post-war nuclear family was the perfect balm for an age of nuclear anxiety distracting us from the chilly tensions of the cold war.

Leave it To Beaver Mayfield HS and Little Rock HS Students 1957

That fall of 1957 as Wally and Eddie walked the steps of Mayfield HS, Governor Faubus called in Arkansas National Guard to block the first class of Black students entry into the Central High in Little Rock. Later, President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to escort the Little Rock Nine into school.

In Mayfield, there was no cold war.

There were no fall out shelters, no Communists to worry about, and never ever any racial strife. As though in a cocoon the outside world never seeped into the wholesome day to day life of that family.  Politics and international issues that plagued the world were never brought up. The show that ran from 1957- 1963 at the height of the cold war was a placid escape. In the pages of Ward Cleaver’s newspaper that he read at breakfast with the family, there was no mention of Little Rock,  no Berlin, no Cuban Missile Crises.

 

Birmingham race riots and Leave it To Beaver

L) Birmingham erupted into chaos in 1963. A 17-year-old civil rights demonstrator being attacked by a police dog during protests ( Bill Hudson AP) (R) Eddie Haskell, Wally, and Beaver Cleaver

The wholesome show stood in sharp contrast to the nightly news which we watched that  began to show a very different picture of the world around us.

On the same familiar RCA TV that brought us pleasant fictional towns like Beaver Cleaver’s Mayfield, we began seeing real towns like Selma and Birmingham where real American teenagers were clubbed by police for sitting at a Birmingham Woolworths, and police attacked helpless schoolchildren with fire hoses.

 

Headline for Sputnik October 1957 and Opening of Leave it to Beaver

For a show so removed from issues, it is not lost on me that this sitcom debuted on one of the most anxious days of the Cold War.

History changed on October  4, 1957. Along with the debut of  Leave it to Beaver, the Soviet Union successfully launched the first satellite named Sputnik into orbit around the earth.

The importance of that event can’t be overestimated. Americans were shaken to the core.

Though no larger than a beachball and sending meaningless signals back to earth it nonetheless sent shockwaves, having a profound effect on the mindset of people and governments around the globe. Russian engineers wanted to make sure that people around the globe could both see and hear it so the shiny steel sphere broadcast a “beep-beep” pattern of signals that could be picked up by amateur radio operators around the world.

Americans were astonished coupled with fear.

All of a sudden there was an enemy satellite streaking across the sky over the U.S. At the time no one knew what it was capable of doing. What our leaders did know was that if the Soviet Union had rockets powerful enough to launch a satellite that had rockets powerful enough to launch a nuclear bomb on the U.S.  Military strategists worried that the success of the Sputnik program demonstrated the Soviet potential to launch intercontinental missiles.

To many Americans Sputnik I represented a dark future where Soviets reigned as the world’s dominant superpower. The very thought of Soviet technological supremacy sent off a chain reaction of panic, rising fear levels, and soaring defense spending. We would pay any price, bear any burden to fill any Missile gap.

The space race was on.

So was the missile race.

Jerry Mathers as the Beaver and Duck and Cover

Unlike Beaver Cleaver who we never once saw hiding under his school desk, the rest of the baby boomers began ducking and covering. Even snarky Eddie Haskell might be afraid.

 

 

 

6 comments

  1. Gee, Miss Edelstein. That was swell.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. airclowns

    Hi Sally and thank you for another thoughtful post. Eddie Haskell was my neighbor here in California and a very nice man. He was a straight talker, very unlike the Eddie Haskell character. Upon meeting him, he invited me to his favorite VFW hall and bought me a beer.
    I also recall the respite from the Cold War that we both grew up in, and at one point as an adult I hung a portrait of the Cleaver family in my hallway as a humorous commentary on my less-than-Cleaver upbringing. Many people went through my apartment at the time, without thinking twice, thinking it was actually my family. In many ways the Cleavers were my family, an uncomplicated contrast to a frightening real-world childhood as you point out. Keep it up!

    Like

    • Great Eddie Haskell story. And a beer to boot! From what I’ve always read Ken Osmond couldn’t have been further removed from the character he played. In fact I recall Jerry Mathers in an interview saying what an amazing actor Osmond was to create this believable character so unlike him.
      Contrary to what some might want to believe Leave it to Beaver was far from documentary and no one, not even the actors in Cleaver family had families like the Cleavers. Those of us who had less than ideal families could hold onto that safe and comforting image. I recall watching reruns of Father Knows Best as a teenager and finding comfort in that bland, safe predictable family. In an age of high anxiety it worked. So glad you enjoyed the piece.

      Like

  3. Amazing how an image can become reality for some people. The 1950s were a pretty hot and happening time, but if all you did was watch shows on TV, you’d think it was super neat and everything was pleasant.

    Reading this felt like watching Pleasantville all over again. When the outside world is allowed in, how is it gonna change for better or worse? Only in the vacuum of a TV show can the world look so simple.

    Like

    • All of the sitcoms, particularly the family sitcoms of that time period were as far removed from the reality of all the changes going on in the greater world.That’s the mythical world Trump talks about when he wants to Make America Great Again. This all-white place where women knew their place and the nuclear family was Mom Dad sis and brother.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: