Jerry Mathers Talks ‘Beaver,’ His Infamous Audition & How His Dog Saved His Life
After the show’s run, Jerry finished school and then served in the California Air National Guard. In the years after, he continued to make television appearances on shows like The Love Boat and Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, as well as playing the grownup version of the Beaver in The New Leave It to Beaver (1983-89). In 1997 Jerry was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, lost 55 lbs. on the advice of his doctor and became the first male spokesperson for Jenny Craig.
The now 74-year-old is still one of the most beloved child actors who regularly makes himself accessible to his fans on social media, as well as, touring the country and sharing his memories.
What Makes Him Most Proud of Playing Beaver
When we talked to Jerry last spring, he told us what made him most proud about his role and the show’s lasting longevity, as it still airs on MeTV.
“What makes me most proud is the longevity of it,” Mathers says. “Most shows that were on and they quit making, they just disappeared. Usually with a series, you do 39 shows a year, but with Leave it to Beaver, we did 39, and it just kept going and going and people really liked it. It’s amazing to have done something as a child that people are still watching and coming up to me and say, ‘Oh, you were so good.’ And I say, ‘Well, thank you very much.’ But it’s been on since 1957, and it’s never been off the air. And it’s not only in this country — it plays all over the world. Now in Japan, it’s funny to watch it because not only do I speak it, but it’s a little girl’s voice.”
In the Japanese version of the show Jerry tells us his character is called “Happy Boy and His Family.”
“When people think, ‘Oh, it was just in United States.’ It played all over the world. I would get things from Japan and all over Europe. And a lot of times fans would say, ‘Excuse my broken English in my letter, but I really like the show and whatever.’ It kind of brought American culture to a lot of places that didn’t really know much about America.”
“Leave it to Beaver was a little boy growing up in the ’50s and ’60s. And kids are still doing the same things. People say, ‘Oh, but that was the 50s,’ but kids still do all the same things. It’s a show that kids and parents can relate to.”
On-the Set Fun and What He Really Wanted to Be Doing
When it came to playing the Beaver, we asked Jerry if his off-screen personality mirrored any of the same things as Beaver.
“Well, I got in a lot less trouble,” he laughs. “But then again, I had a lot of people watching me all the time. Because when I was due doing the show, there were about 60 men and probably eight or nine women on the show these were lighting people and all the different things that they have to do to make a series. Between takes, when I wasn’t doing things, they would come out and we’d play — throw footballs, throw baseballs. It was like an extended family. There was a whole bunch of people, and they wanted me not to say, ‘I don’t want to be here anymore.’”
His Infamous Audition
Although working as a child actor was fun at times, Jerry was very honest on his original audition for Leave It to Beaver.
“I came dressed in a Cub Scout uniform, so that should have been a big clue. I had my very first Cub Scout meeting, and I walked in, and I had seen them probably three or four times, maybe even more than that. I don’t really remember, but they had seen me a certain way. And this time they said, ‘Jerry, what’s the matter here? Don’t you want to be here?’ I said, ‘No.’ They went, ‘You don’t want to be here?’ And I said ‘No, I’ve got a Cub Scout meeting.’ And they said I could go. And my mom, who had been taking me for quite a few weeks — we didn’t know that I’d already been picked to be the Beaver, but what they were doing was getting other fathers and mothers and Wallys so that we could have the whole family. So I walked in and about probably five minutes later, I walked out, and my mom went, ‘What happened?’ And I said, ‘Well, they asked me if I wanted to be here. I said, no. So he said I could go home.’ She said, ‘What?’ But they really liked that. They wanted a kid that didn’t want to be an actor, that would rather go to a Cub Scout meeting.”
Ironically, Jerry went to very few Cub Scout meetings as his schedule required him to work five days a week usually from 8am to 5pm or 9am to 6pm.
“We had to go to school for three hours a day, and it could be chopped up, because we’d go out and if they’d shoot the original, the long shot, and then we’d do closeups. You were jumping in and out of school all the time, and you’d come back 20 minutes later and you study for maybe another 40 minutes, and then you have to do another scene or whatever,” Jerry explains. Even their birthdays were celebrated on set.
“They did have big parties on the set because they wanted everybody to be happy. We had some of the best crew, they wanted people who had children so everybody was used to working with kids. So it was really fun. And the good part for me is a child can only work from 8:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 6:00, but sometimes Barbara and Hugh and people who were older might be there until 8, 9 or sometimes 10, 11 at night if they had to go back to shoot their closeups and two shots, where we would leave right on the dot. The teacher, as a matter of fact, who was also our welfare worker, would walk right onto the set, right at like 5pm or 6pm, and if they were in the middle of a scene, she’d walk right in and take us off. She said, ‘That’s it. Their time’s up.’”
And when he headed home he loved spending time with his dog. His German Shepherd actually saved his life.
How Jerry Mathers Dog Saved His Life
“We had a forced-air heater that blew up, and we had a hallway, and all the bedrooms were behind the forced-air heater. And the dog, who slept by the front door, ran through the fire and woke up my dad. And we all had to come out through the windows. Now the house, by the time the fire department got there, was burning a little bit, but it was a big fire, it didn’t get into the whole house. But if not for that dog, I wouldn’t be here today.
“My dad was going, ‘Go away, go away.’ Couldn’t figure out why the dog was jumping up on the bed and licking him. And all of a sudden he started to smell something and realized and looked out the hallway and looked out and saw where the forced air heater was. The door had been blown open, and basically there was flames coming out of it because of the gas.”