Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Call Waiting

By Chris Davis

OCTOBER 19, 1998:  That goofy Beaver stood me up.

There I was, at my desk, high-tech recording gear set to capture not only Jerry Mathers’ famous adenoidal whine but also every sound emanating from his LA domicile. If the Beaver was entertaining a bevy of call girls, I wanted to know about it.

I waited patiently for a couple of hours, worrying that the Beav might get confused by the time difference between LA and Memphis. I started to get mad. I could just see Mathers’ squinty little face, tooling through the streets of Burbank in the Beavermobile, slipping out a cell-phone and placing a call to his old friend Fireman Gus. “Hey, Gus,” I imagined him saying, “I’m afraid of that guy from The Memphis Flyer. I hear he can be mean. Do you think he will give me the business?” Gus, of course, says nothing because character actor Burt Mustin died way back in the ’70s.

I started jotting down last-minute questions for him. Have you ever been asked to play a serial killer? How can I become a member of the Hugh Beaumont cardigan club? Would you call that thing on Tony Dow’s head a fro? What was going through his producers’ minds when they gave episodes such unsavory titles as “Lonesome Beaver”? Does Mathers empathize with future washed-up child stars Steve Urkle from Family Matters and Saved by the Bell’s doomed Screech? Had he ever dreamed of butchering Shelley Fabares with a chainsaw? She not only trumped Mathers by making the leap from child star on The Donna Reed Show to full-fledged adult fame on the hit sitcom, Coach, her preposterous singing career produced the hit song “Johnny Angel.” But then not too many folks know about the Beaver’s heartbreaking attempt to be a jukebox hero. No kitsch-head’s home is complete without a copy of Jerry singing the soulful Spanish Harlem redux, “Don’t Cha Cry,” backed by the catchy twister “Wind-Up-Toy” – “Wind-up-toy, wind-up-toy, when ya’ gunna’ treat me like a real live boy?” Yes, I had to ask him about that and about his successful fat-shedding stint with Jenny Craig. What prompted him to loose the extra pounds? Had he gotten his head stuck in a fence again? Did he share his weight-loss secrets with former co-characters Larry Mondello and Lumpy Rutherford? While on the subject of Larry and Lumpy, which one grew up to be Meatloaf? If Eddie Haskell killed himself because he was a gay motorcycle cop, then how is it that he appeared on all those episodes of Still the Beaver?

There were so many questions, and so little time. If he did indeed call, and there was only time to ask one thing, what would it be? “Is Leave It to Beaver damaging to young people because it portrays an unrealistic view of family life?” No, too serious. “Did you ever see Barbara Billingsly naked?” Too racy. “Have you ever looked up “Still the Beaver on the internet?” – heh heh heh.” Too Beavis and Butt-Head.

Alas, the Beav never called. So here I am on press day without an interview. A scramble to piece together a story, however, produced the answer to my most important question: “Why is it that everyone thought that you died in Vietnam?”

Everyone born since the invention of the playground is surely familiar with the urban legend concerning Leave It to Beaver star Jerry Mathers’ tragic death in Vietnam. In a recent AOL interview, Mathers shed some light on this disturbingly pervasive myth: “I had given out an Emmy to Gene Kelly in uniform because I was in the Air Force at the time. People saw me in uniform. They tell me that the bureau chiefs of AP and UPI were scanning casualty lists for their wire services. Someone saw the same name or a similar name, pulled my obituary file, and ran it. Shelley Winters read it in the paper, went on The Tonight Show, announced it, and sang “Bring the Boys” back home.” (What I wouldn’t give to see Shelly in a fit of drunken self-righteousness bellowing, “They got the Beaver, end this madness before we lose Whitey and Gilbert, too.”)

Well, there is the answer to one question. To get the rest, I’ll just have to go see Mathers when he introduces the Pink Palace’s new IMAX feature, Beavers. I wonder if 40 years of being the Beaver has given him special insight to the secret of those industrious little rodents. I’ll add that question to my little list.

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