A few months ago, the Daley Planet ran a piece entitled “The Unforgettable Eddie Haskell,” noting that the Cleavers were far from being the most interesting characters on “Leave it to Beaver.” Although the distinction of the most interesting character goes to Wally’s best friend Eddie, played by Ken Osmond. The “Leave it to Beaver” roll call of fascinating individuals does not end with Eddie Haskell, as Mayfield had a very deep bench. During its six season run, “Leave it to Beaver” introduced us to dozens of unique people, some who came and went quickly, and a few who stayed with the program through all or most of its duration. Although Ward and June were practically perfect parents, and Beaver and Wally were all-American boys, I think even they would have to admit that their lives would have been pretty dull without some of the names that I am about to submit as Mayfield’s unforgettable characters.
Fred Rutherford: Fred (Richard Deacon) had the duel distinction of being both Ward Cleaver’s office mate and Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford’s father. In both roles, Fred sees himself in competition with Ward, with is unfortunate, as Ward seems to be to have Fred beaten 15 ways from Sunday in both categories. Fred comes off as both a stuffed shirt, and a bit of a blow-hard, particularly when he insists on speaking in pure Madison Avenue lingo. Mr. Rutherford constantly brags about his son Lumpy, although everyone is quite aware that Lumpy is a poor student, and is clumsy enough to have earned his nickname. In the earlier seasons, Fred seems oblivious to his boy’s shortcomings, but in later episodes, Fred seems to have caught on to the truth, which, of course, did nothing to stop the bragging. My favorite Fred line was his explanation for Lumpy being held back in his sophomore year of high school…”no sense rushing the boy, just because he has potential.”
Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford: Lumpy (Frank Bank) was introduced during the first season as an older neighborhood bully, but eventually becomes a classmate of Wally and, next to Eddie, his most significant pal. In terms of friendship, Lumpy often seems closer to Eddie Haskell than to Wally, and sometimes displays some of Eddie’s negative traits, especially when it comes to picking on Beaver and his friends. But it should be noted that whenever Lumpy found himself in a mess, it was always Wally he turned to, possibly making Lumpy not as dumb as he seemed. Unlike Wally, Lumpy did not enjoy a close relationship with his dad, as he seemed fearful of Mr. Rutherford, whom he still called daddy. My favorite Lumpy moment was when he tried to pull rank over Wally after Wally made the football team. Although it was pointed out to Lumpy that he himself didn’t make the team, Lumpy shot back, explaining, “yeah, but four guys in my home-room did…four guys!”
Gus the Fireman: Beaver’s most reliable friend was not Larry, Whitey, Richard or Gilbert, but was instead an elderly gentleman who worked at Mayfield’s Auxiliary Fire Station # 7. Gus the Fireman (Burt Mustin) was both Beaver’s father confessor and his source for the kind of advice that only a well traveled adult could deliver. The great thing about was Gus was that he never talked down to Beaver, and he actually discouraged Beaver from idolizing him too much. “I might seem pretty smart to a young guy like you” Gus explained to Beaver…”but compared to other adults, I’d probably be the bottom of the barrel.” I never believed that for a minute.
Mrs. Margaret Mondello: While June Cleaver was depicted as the perfect mother, the same could never be said about Larry Mondello’s mom. Margaret Mondello (Madge Blake) seemed completely overwhelmed by the task of raising an eight year old boy, possibly because of two factors. First of all, Mrs. Mondello’s husband always seemed to be out of town whenever Larry would act up, and secondly, the woman appeared to be in her 60’s during her time on the show. I’m surprised no one ever seemed to realize that a Mayfield resident had apparently given birth in her mid-fifties, but I guess people minded there own business back then. Mrs. Mondello’s most memorable quote: “Things would be alright if my daughter could just find a husband. Then we’d always have a man around to give it to Larry when his father is out of town.”
Mrs. Cornelia Rayburn: Mrs. Rayburn (Doris Packer) was the longtime no nonsense principal of Mayfield’s Grant Avenue School, and frequently stepped in as Beaver’s teacher during his year in eighth grade. Mrs. Rayburn had obviously seen it all, and was seen given Miss Canfield valuable advice when the latter became flustered over Beaver’s failure to return with a response to the note she gave Beaver to bring home to his parents. It was in that episode that the raciest line in LITB history was delivered. Mrs. Rayburn, fooled into thinking that Ward was under the weather, sent him a card that read, “Dear Mr. Cleaver…Hope to see you back on your feet, Cornelia Rayburn.” Upon reading the card, an angry June asks Ward, “who is Cornelia Rayburn, and when has she seen you off your feet?”
Uncle Billy & Aunt Martha: William Cleaver (Edgar Buchanan), and June Cleaver’s Aunt Martha Bronson (Madge Kennedy) are the only two Cleaver relatives we ever meet or are even made aware of during Leave it to Beaver’s six seasons, and the two could not be more different. Aunt Martha is rather stodgy, and almost ruins Beaver’s social standing when, during an extended visit, she buys him fancy new clothes, the kind that almost would assure any kid a beating. Uncle Billy, on the other hand, is a loud and colorful fellow, filling Wally and Beaver with wild stories and outrageous promises, to the point where Ward becomes concerned that Beaver will become disenchanted if he learns the truth that Billy is all talk. Unfortunately, Beaver does find out while watching Uncle Billy get his hair trimmed at the hotel…Beaver notices the looks of disgust the barber and manicurist give each other while Billy talks their ears off. Happily, Uncle Billy redeems himself in a later episode when he deftly runs the Cleaver household while Ward and June take a short trip.
Harold “Duke” Hathaway: My all-time favorite. The Duke is only seen is two episodes, both during the third season, but his impact puts him right near the top of Mayfield’s who’s who. Hathaway was Mayfield High’s star athlete and big man on campus during Wally’s sophomore year, and is president of the school’s most prestigious club, the “Crusaders.” Like Eddie Haskell, Duke is overly polite around adults, but unlike Eddie, is not a suck-up, but instead, handles himself as an equal. Duke Hathaway almost seems out of place on “Leave it to Beaver,” as his mannerisms and self confidence make him better suited as a character in “The Great Gatsby.” Even June Cleaver swoons at the prospect of the Cleaver home being visited by a “swinger.” Duke’s personality is best summed up by the short conversation he and Ward conducted while waiting for Wally to come down stairs. Ward: “So Duke, do you think Mayfield will have a good basketball team next year?” Duke: “Oh, I don’t think so Mr. Cleaver…I’m graduating.”
Of course, I could go on (and on) and include such notables as Miss Landers, Mary Ellen Rogers, Tooey Brown, Judy Hensler and Benji Belamy, but I have to draw the line somewhere. In any case, Mayfield seems like a wonderful town, a place where anyone would love to live or visit. The only really problem would be finding it…at no point during its six seasons is it ever revealed in which state Mayfield is located.
Note: Two “Leave it to Beaver” regular cast members held down parts on other sit-coms during their time on “Beaver.” In addition to playing Fred Rutherford, Richard Deacon was seen as Mel Cooley on the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” Doris Packer, while playing Beaver’s principal, Mrs. Rayburn, was also Mrs. Clarice Osborn, the wealthy mother of Dobie’s main rival, Chatsworth Osborn Jr. (Steve Franken). Mrs. Osborn always referred to her late husband in the same manner…”he was a nasty man.”