Apr 3, 2013

Jerry Mathers as the Beaver

Teenager boys in the 1950s were expected to be girl-crazy, but preteens were expected to find girls odious, to make their presumed pubescent "discovery" more dramatic.  Thus, teenage Wally (Tony Dow, left) of Leave it to Beaver (1957-63) was indefatigably girl-crazy, but preteen Beaver (Jerry Mathers, right) snarls:  "Go see a girl? I'd rather smell a skunk!"

The anxiety for his big brother and parents (Ward and June) is that Beaver might not "discover" girls, abandon the same-sex bonds of childhood for a girl-crazy adolescence.

Gender transgressions are the most problematic, as in "Beaver's Doll Buggy" (1956): Beaver needs some wheels for his soapbox car, and a girl donates her old doll buggy.  As he wheels it down the street, everyone assumes that he is playing with dolls. His peers laugh, and an adult recoils in homophobic panic: "The new generation has gone sissy!"  Eddie Hasell is too stunned to wisecrack, and Wally solemnly advises, "Guys always pick on someone who's different."



Though Jerry Mathers is 14 years old when the series ends, and physically adolescent, his body noticeably harder and tighter, his body noticeably deeper, Beaver never "discovers" girls. But he becomes increasingly adept at feigning interest.

In "The Mustache" (1963), June is perplexed because Beaver and his buddy Gilbert (Stephen Talbot) failed to go to the high school to watch Wally's basketball practice.  (She assumes without question that they would be interested in ogling high school boys).  Beaver says that they decided not to go when they realized that girls would be watching, too.

 Alarmed, June asks: "You mean you and Gilbert don't like girls?" Realizing that to not like girls at his age would be suspect, Beaver quickly backtracks: "We like girls fine, but not with sports."



"Don Juan Beaver" (1963) is a masterpiece of feigned girl-craziness.  With everyone agog over the upcoming Sadie Hawkins Dance, Beaver claims enthusiastic interest, and accepts invitations from two girls.  They discover his two-timing and dump him, leaving him alone in his room, dateless, on the night of the big dance.

We see him happily dancing the twist by himself.  Then he hears Ward coming, so he quickly switches the record player off and sits on the bed, looking dejected. Ward invites him downstairs to be with the family, but Beaver refuses, saying he would rather be alone.  Ward leaves, and Beaver jumps up and starts dancing again, grinning broadly.

It is a remarkable scene.  Why is Beaver so obviously happy?  Why does he want Ward to believe that he is miserable?  The deception makes no sense unless Beaver has cleverly achieved what he wanted all along: he has met the social mandate to display girl-craziness without having to actually date a girl.