Beaver had FF#1
I’m a little late in reporting this, but a 1985 episode of the syndicated series “Still the Beaver” (a.k.a. “The New Leave it to Beaver”) contains a significant cultural revelation: that back in the day, the character Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver (played by Jerry Mathers) once owned a copy of Fantastic Four #1 (1961).
Aficionados of the original sitcom classic “Leave it to Beaver” know that Beaver and his big brother, Wally (Tony Dow), were voracious readers of comic books. Sometimes the comic books seen on the show were somewhat recognizable (though I can’t remember ever seeing a superhero title). Since the series was set in the then-contemporary period from 1957 to 1963, it’s conceivable that Fantastic Four #1 — historic as the big bang of the Marvel Universe — was owned and read by the boys.
Adding to this meta freakiness is the fact that at the time, Beaver and Wally starred in their own comic book. Six issues based on the TV show were released by Dell Publishing. Issue #1191 (above center) was published in 1961, so it’s conceivable that it was on the newsstands and pharmacy shelves right next to FF #1. (But not in the alternate universe of Mayfield, of course. This would have confused Larry Mondello to no end.)
Above is Jack “King” Kirby‘s magnificent cover for Fantastic Four #1, inked by Dick Ayers and colored by Stan Goldberg. The story within, in which the quartet faces off against the Mole Man (and each other), was written by Stan “the Man” Lee. The success of FF #1 led to Marvel Comics’ superhero renaissance which begot Thor, Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Ant Man, the Wasp, the Avengers, and the revival of Golden Age heroes Captain America and Sub-Mariner. ‘Nuff said!
In the “Still the Beaver” episode titled “Wow” (airdate: Oct. 16, 1985), Beaver’s son Ollie (John Snee, above) and Wally’s daughter Kelly (Kaleena Kiff) find a copy of Fantastic Four #1 in the attic — this, after they were told that they could keep whatever they find. Freddie Haskell (Eric Osmond), a chip off the old block, recognizes its value but tries to buy it for a lousy buck. Freddie finally cracks, declaring the book “the single-most valuable comic book of the entire Silver Age!” (This kid knows his stuff. He even has an edition of the “Overstreet Guide” on hand.)
The kids advertise Fantastic Four #1 in a trade publication. But when June (Barbara Billingsley) asks Wally to help her flip Kelly’s mattress, they find the comic book. Wally reminds June that she threw away all of Beaver’s old comic books — this was a thing in the olden days — and “he’s never really gotten over it.” Once Wally strolls out of the room, June does the unthinkable.
A speculator answers the ad and offers $3,000 for the edition. (I remember when FF #1 went for $3,000. I shudder to think of the asking price today.) June confesses that she put the book in recycling, and the whole gang — grownups and kids alike — high-tails it to the recycling center.
Oh, I forgot to mention that it’s Halloween, so they’re all in costume. Above, note Lumpy Rutherford (Frank Bank) as Fidel Castro, Wally as Stan Laurel, June as a 1920s flapper, and Beaver as Santa Claus.
They find the book, but the kids decide not to sell. Instead, Beaver puts it in a safe deposit box for the kids’ “future.” But not before pulling Fantastic Four #1 out and reliving his childhood first (above).
“Still the Beaver”/”The New Leave it to Beaver” was filled with meta moments. One happens in the “Wow” episode as Eddie (Ken Osmond), Wally and Lumpy are seen watching an episode of “The Munsters.” This has three levels of “in” jokes.
Level #1: On the original series, the “Munsters” house was down the street from the Cleavers. You sometimes saw it in the background (above left), and Beaver’s pal Richard Rickover (Richard Correll) once broke some windows on the house. When a cop caught him in the act, Richard gave his name as … Theodore Cleaver! Level #2: The creators-producers of “Leave it to Beaver,” Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, also created “The Munsters.” Level #3: Osmond was once on “The Munsters,” in the 1966 episode “Herman’s Sorority Caper” (above right).
Here’s the “Wow” episode, courtesy of Scott Hettrick, who has faithfully posted his VHS recordings of episodes in all their ’80s glory. Thank you, sir.
The episodes are silly (and often lame) … the ’80s redux of the “Beaver” theme song makes you want to cut your hair in a mullet and put on acid-wash jeans … but it’s great to see the old gang back in action … and callbacks to the old show fly fast and furiously. A case-in-point follows.
Judy Hensler returns!
Jeri Weil, who played pig-tailed sourpuss Judy Hensler, hadn’t been on TV since she left the original series. She agreed to do this hilarious cameo on the ’80s series. Beaver and Judy, at each others’ throats again!