Given the opportunity, what would you ask a television icon? I had the chance to ponder that very question after winning a twitter contest sponsored by Jerry Mathers (@TheJerryMathers), the actor best known for his starring role in the 1950′s-60′s sitcom, Leave it to Beaver. I received a retweet of my winning entry and a phone call. (I tweeted: “‘All human wisdom is summed up in two words, wait and hope.’ – Alexander Dumas. Waiting and hoping for a call from @TheJerry Mathers.”)
I’ve done a lot of interviews over the past twenty years so I’m not completely thrown by talking to “celebs,” but I have to admit I got kind of nervous! I asked friends for suggestions about what to ask him, but in the end – after much thought – I realized that he has had to have been asked every question under the sun! Leave it to Beaver has been part of our collective consciousness for more than fifty years. That’s astounding. I decided to let the conversation flow and simply enjoy the time spent talking with him. I wasn’t disappointed!
Given that we connected via twitter, we discussed social media a bit. Interestingly enough, he is on a board of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences (the group that hands out Emmy Awards) that is deciding if awards should be given for online programming (e.g., Days of Our Lives, the long-running soap opera, is now seen only online). I think most industry-types realize that traditional outlets are losing steam as people are finding streaming content more flexible and customizable. I could tell by his remarks that he has done his homework – he was savvy regarding monetization and how online shows most likely need to have sponsors ala their television counterparts to be profitable.
We discussed my winning entry. It was a quote someone had sent to me that I liked, so I adapted it for the contest. Mr. Mathers mentioned that he likes to pass along inspirational quotes, too.
I made sure to thank him for the many years of enjoyment his work has brought to me and my family. I’m sure he hears that a lot, but how often do you get to personally thank a television legend? It meant a lot to me to be able to do that.
Some residents of my hometown, California, PA, may recall that Mr. Mathers was the Grand Marshal of California University of Pennsylvania’s (CALU) homecoming parade 20-25 years ago. I doubt that he remembered the parade, but I told him a little story about it. As his car approached where I was standing, I pointed my camera. He saw me and tapped the driver on the shoulder, asking him to stop so that I could get a photo (he was riding in a convertible). I did, then I said, “Thank you.” He replied, “No, thank you.” It was such a kind thing to do, and made an impression on me (as soon as I find the photo I will post it here). Mr. Mathers told me that if it weren’t for fans he wouldn’t get to do parades – and perhaps someday he will be in a parade here again because sometimes he gets asked back. (Come on, my friends who work at CALU – make it happen!)
Mr. Mathers talked a bit about how people see him in the context of the show – they meet him now and expect him to talk and act like an eight- or nine-year-old Beaver, and how some people are unable to separate the actor from the character. I guess that’s a given, considering how long the show has been in reruns. He seemed good-natured about it. I don’t know if I would be!
In closing, Mr. Mathers told me that he was “in a good place and that life is very good,” and asked if I had anything that I wanted to ask. I told him what I wrote at the beginning of this post, that chatting a bit with him was my only expectation — and it had been great. He was so very nice, telling me that if I thought of anything to ask later to tweet him, and to have any of my friends do the same (he does answer twitter questions, and is very accessible).
A few closing thoughts…what an absolute blast, to talk with Jerry Mathers. He was gracious and kind, and I won’t ever forget it. I am very fortunate to write a little TV show here in Pittsburgh. I dare to hope that some of our work might someday be as memorable and resonate with people like Leave it to Beaver has. LITB was an ideal, where even “bad guys” like Eddie Haskell might surprise you and do the right thing sometimes. To all of my childhood friends from the old neighborhood (including Larry Wallach, whom we joyfully nicknamed “Mondello” which morphed into “Chello” which has stuck his entire life): Thanks for the wonderful times in our own little Mayfield back in the day. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was almost always fun!