Great writers share what they know. That doesn’t mean writing based on pure imagination doesn’t sell well. Harry Potter and his wizard world created by J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer’s blood-sucking saga of teenage angst in the Twilight series have made millions of fans and dollars.
But two advertising copywriters from the 1950s, Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, learned the power of writing about what was real to them. Connelly had seven kids and Mosher two when they channeled their everyday white middle class American family existence to create scripts for the TV series “Leave it to Beaver.”
In the suburbs of Mayfield, Theodore (“Beaver”), Wally, Ward and June Cleaver lived out 30-minute episodes of their lives for nearly five years as America watched. Those 234 episodes have become a time capsule that nearly competes with Andy Griffith and Mayberry for lasting appeal.
There was one striking difference. All of the episodes on “Leave it to Beaver” were from a child’s point of view – rare for television.
Connelly and Mosher achieved realism by following their own children around with a pen and pad, recording the conversations those kids had among themselves.
It explains the true ring of the dialogue between Wally and his kid brother, the Beaver. Many critics of the show say it provided an unrealistic picture of normal American life. Ward never came home from the golf course one beer over the line and June never, and I mean never, wore a frayed “house dress” or a ratty sweatshirt around the Cleaver home.
The husband and wife never snipped or yelled at each other. As parents, the Cleavers always talked things out in a rational, reasoned manner. It’s my guess that Connelly and Mosher didn’t want to expose all the realities of a middle class household. They fudged on the facts. But as I watched portions of a 24-hour “Leave it to Beaver” marathon over the Thanksgiving holiday, realities were exposed – directly and indirectly.
The Cleaver boys were exceptionally good children. Beaver was a goofy child prone to silly beliefs and the power of suggestion from less virtuous friends, but he had a powerful conscience. Wally was incredibly patient and accepting – even of someone as insincere and grating as Eddie Haskell.
Both children respected their parents – and as incredible as it may seem – the parents reciprocated. But the boundaries were clear.
In one episode I watched, Wally explained to his mother why he had more inside information about the actions and thoughts of his younger brother.
“It’s kind of like those prison movies,” Wally told her. “When you spend 12 years in the same cellblock, you know things about each other the guards don’t know.”
Stunned by the analogy, June asked Ward if he ever thought of his parents as wardens of a prison. “If I did, I would have been too afraid to tell them,” he replied.
And maybe that is why punishment seemed subdued between parents and children in this television show. It was trying to capture a movement in American parenting where educated adults did less yelling and hitting and more listening and lecturing. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” was giving way to psychology.
Another feature of the show was its ability to expose the weaknesses of an adult world. One episode featured Beaver as a junior high student with a weekend job as a golf caddy. It demonstrated how painful it was for him to watch the adult, whose clubs he was carrying, cheat. When he found out a $500 bet was involved, Beaver made a brave move and confronted the adult afterward. “Your son is in my class,” Beaver told him. “What would you do if he cheated?”
The shamed adult threw his next golf match on the same $500 bet to even the score.The next day Beaver and a buddy who was also caddying decided to give up their jobs. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to spend too much time around adults,” they concluded.
Moral lessons were a theme in the show, but a keen eye noticed something else. Although they were solid middle class, the Cleaver homes – they moved once – were modest. They had a single-car garage because the Cleavers only owned one car. Mom was at home because dad made enough money to allow her the luxury of dedicating time to the children, meals and housekeeping.
The Cleavers never went on exotic vacations – only trips to the lake where they rented a cabin.
And toward the end of the series, Wally was getting ready to go to college at “State.”
Middle class status seemed to be a lot more about stability, understanding, mutual respect and time together as a family than money.
It’s a lasting moral lesson for America.
(Source: By Michael H. O’Donnell for pocatelloshops.com)Go to page 1