Here's to Mr. C and Mrs. CleaverForget about the future after the November elections. Try to imagine the future without Howard Cunningham and June Cleaver. Barbara Billingsley played June Cleaver in “Leave It to Beaver,’’ a lighthearted television sitcom that hit the air when I was in junior high and ran through my first year or two of college.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Forget about the future after the November elections. Try to imagine the future without Howard Cunningham and June Cleaver.
Barbara Billingsley played June Cleaver in “Leave It to Beaver,’’ a lighthearted television sitcom that hit the air when I was in junior high and ran through my first year or two of college. She and her husband, Ward, played by Hugh Beaumont, had weekly adventures raising their sons Wally and Beaver, or Theodore, as that rascal Eddie Haskell called the younger of the two Cleaver boys.
Billingsley died a few days ago, and the image that came to my mind when I read the news was of a dignified woman in a spiffy dress, with a string of pearls around her neck and a spanking-clean apron around her waist. She might have owned a pair of blue jeans in real life, but on TV, she wore dresses and jewelry — and she had dinner ready when Ward came home from a hard day at the office to help handle the latest escapade of Beaver Cleaver.
Tom Bosley played Howard Cunningham on “Happy Days,’’ a bit more upbeat sitcom that aired from the early 1970s through the early 1980s. The best years for me were the early shows, when Howard (Mr. C as he was known to the Fonz) and his spouse, Marion (played by Marion Ross), had son Richie and daughter Joanie at home. Bosley died a couple of days after Billingsley. He was sort of a working man’s Ward Cleaver, a bit more rumpled (from long days at the hardware store, one supposes) but every bit as wise in his handling of family crises.
Both shows, in their way, were distant spin-offs to “Father Knows Best,’’ in that they all portrayed the good old days — real or imagined — when families sat down to the evening meal together and a crisis usually involved a window broken by a baseball or a Baby Ruth bar swiped from the counter at the corner drug store. Before the week’s episode had ended, a guilt-ridden child had confessed to one parent or the other and had walked across the street to tell the neighbor he’d rake leaves for the next 10 years to pay for the window or make deliveries after school for the druggist to make up for taking the nickel candy bar.
Fathers got the best lines of dialogue with the children most weeks, but not until the crisis of the day had been thoroughly aired in a wonderfully polite conversation between the two parents. Ward Cleaver somehow always managed to find Wally or Beaver alone in the upstairs bedroom when it was time to talk things out, and Howard Cunningham was almost always wise enough to let Joanie or Richie — and sometimes even the Fonz — reach the proper decision after a soft-voiced bit of give-and-take about life’s choices.
None of the kids in either of the sitcoms ever sassed an adult — not their parents, not the neighbors, not the stranger on the street. The background music was classic 1950s ballads or rock ’n’ roll — the golden oldies back before they were old or gold. About the strongest language used by characters in those programs was when Wally Cleaver would say something like, “Aw, heck, no, Beav.’’
I was a sucker for those kinds of shows, and I haven’t really gotten over it. Given the choice between most of the current fare on television and a re-run of “Happy Days,’’ I’d be tempted to watch the old show, especially, as I said, if it was one of the early episodes when the Fonz was a bit of comic relief and the real action was all within the Cunningham family.
I suppose that’s because I liked to think things really were simpler in those days. Kids walked to school, went home for soup and sandwich lunches and played baseball in the vacant lot and kick-the-can in the street until dark.
I thought everybody had parents like Ward and June or Howard and Marion — or Henry and Marie Woster. I know now that was never true, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss Mrs. Cleaver and Mr. C.
Terry Woster’s columns are published Saturdays and Wednesdays in The Daily Republic.