Still Leaving it to Beaver

Posted on November 14, 2008 at 8:00 am

The Washington Post has a poignant tribute to Leave It to Beaver from a man who found his favorite childhood show unexpectedly comforting when he was struggling with serious illness.

“Leave It to Beaver” rejuvenates me. I need its gentle tone and mild-manneredness, its absence of deep drama and complicated characters, and its simple, predictable, formulaic story lines, in which nothing seems to have lasting consequence. And I need Beaver’s innocence, his youthful ability to trust and believe completely, his state of confused wonderment (“Gee whiz, Dad, has it always been hard on kids being kids?”), and his wholly natural, small-boy approach to life. When my cancer refuses to slow down for sentiment, “Beaver” helps me feel embraced by life, not tossed around by it….

It’s easy to lose one’s perspective in the suffocating web of cancer. I don’t know if watching “Leave It to Beaver” is pathetic or liberating. But for now, I’ve put my faith in the idea that these stories from my childhood — realistic or not — possess the kind of redemptive power referred to by William Maxwell. “Stories,” he wrote, “can save us.” Such is the reality; such is the hope.

Appreciation for one of “Beaver’s” stars comes from an even more surprising place. The Louvre, with one of the world’s great art collections, the place that houses the Mona Lisa, will show a sculpture from Tony Dow, who played Beaver’s older brother, Wally.

“Of course, I’m really proud of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ and my directing career in television,” said Dow. “Those are great accomplishments. I’m really proud of them, but this is interesting because I don’t think they know anything about that at the Louvre.”

Still, I suspect Dow and his fellow castmates will be most fondly remembered for their 1950’s television show. It does hold up remarkably well, not just for the way it evokes a more innocent time, but because it evokes the worldview of a child. Sweet but not sugary, it is a family classic.

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