April 09, 2012
The Fourth is a big family day in Pacific Palisades, and Jerry Mathers, a member of one of Golden Age of television’s most famous families, Theodore Cleaver on ‘Leave It to Beaver’, is the perfect choice for grand marshal of the parade.
‘I’m honored,’ Mathers said, noting that his wife Teresa will ride with him in the parade. ‘It’s an honor to be part of the celebration, to honor veterans and the people who have sacrificed their life for this country.’
Although he has never been in the Pacific Palisades parade before, his ‘mom’ from that show, Barbara Billingsley, who lived in Santa Monica Canyon, served as the grand marshal in 2003. (Also staring in the TV series were Hugh Beaumont as Ward Cleaver and Tony Dow as Wally Cleaver.)
Mathers has participated in numerous parades around the country, and was even taught the correct way to wave. ‘Pretending to screw and unscrew a light bulb, and then switching hands every five minutes,’ is the advice that was given him when he rode in the Hollywood Christmas Parade as a child star in the late 1950s.
Although he’s sought for numerous parades on the Fourth, he generally turns them down, but Pacific Palisades was the perfect location.
‘My mom throws a huge Fourth of July party in Tarzana, with about 100 people, we read part of the Constitution, everyone brings something for a potluck, there’s fireworks in the evening,’ Mathers said. ‘So I generally don’t go far from home on the Fourth.’
‘Leave It To Beaver,’ which debuted in 1957 and ran until 1963, can still be viewed in reruns. It has been seen in more than 80 countries and in 40 languages.
‘The first episode of the show we did was banned by the censors,’ Mathers said, explaining the story line. ‘Our parents said we couldn’t get a pet because they would end up taking care of it. We sent away for an alligator from an ad in a comic book, which you could do at that time. We were going to take care of it and show our parents we were mature enough.’ Once the boys got the alligator, they thought the safest place to hide it was in a toilet tank.
‘Toilets could not be shown on television,’ Mathers said. ‘The producer had to negotiate with the censors to get the show on the air.’
Mathers explains the show’s enduring popularity: ‘The entire family can watch it.’ He comments that he was lucky because when his children (Noah, Mercedes and Gretchen) were little, cable network was just becoming big, and there used to be more standards about what was shown. Now it’s more difficult for parents to police television programs.
‘Kids take their cues from shows and some of them [shows] give bad information,’ said Mathers, who admits he now watches mostly financial networks and news programming.
When ‘Leave It to Beaver’ taped its last episode in 1963, Mathers had offers for other television shows.
Instead, he opted for a different direction. ‘I had a personal tutor from first though eighth grade and I wanted to go to a regular school so I could play sports,’ said Mathers, whose dad Norman was principal at Granada High School at the time. He got his wish, attending Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks and playing football and running track.
‘During summers, I picked up acting jobs on ‘Lassie,’ ‘My Three Sons’ and ‘Batman,” said Mathers, who had also played the son of Shirley MacLaine in a Hitchcock movie, ‘The Trouble With Harry’ and the son of Bob Hope and Eva Marie Saint in ‘That Certain Feeling.’
When he graduated from high school in 1967, the country was embroiled in the Vietnam War, so Mathers enlisted in the Air Force National Guard. He then enrolled at UC Berkeley and graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1974.
‘I planned to go to law school, but was hired by Security Pacific bank [now part of Bank of America],’ Mathers said. After working with mortgages and loans at the bank, he switched to real estate and became familiar with Pacific Palisades and Beverly Hills, even living in Topanga Canyon for a while. (He currently resides in Santa Clarita.)
In 1983, Mathers stared in a made-for-TV movie, ‘Still the Beaver,’ which became a weekly cable series, ‘Still the Beaver’ (1985-1989). In 2007, he made his Broadway debut as Wilbur Turnblad in the musical ‘Hairspray.’
In the late 1990s, he had his own successful catering company, ‘Cleaver’s Catering,’ but being around all the great food, Mathers gained 55 pounds. Eventually a doctor friend convinced him to come in for a physical and he found out that he had full-onset diabetes.
Mathers started eating smaller portions and began exercising, eventually losing all of the weight he gained. He currently is pre-diabetic, which means he doesn’t need medication, and he has appeared in front of the Congressional Caucus in Washington, D.C. and other venues discussing the importance of early diagnosis, diet, exercise and treatment.