KEN OSMOND: AN APPRECIATION

KEN OSMOND, 1995 (photo credit: CBS VIA GETTY IMAGES/photo copyright: CBS PHOTO ARCHIVE)

I wanted to share a few thoughts about actor Ken Osmond who played Eddie Haskell on the classic TV sitcom LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, as well as its revival, THE NEW LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, in the 1980s. Kenneth Charles Osmond passed away on May 18, 2020; he was 76 years old. LEAVE IT TO BEAVER ran for si seasons, from 1957 to 1963, and is still widely distributed in reruns. The Eddie Haskell role was originally to be a one shot deal, but the producers of the show really liked Osmond’s portrayal and kept the character in the series. Eddie appeared in 96 of the series’ 235 episodes. He was shrewd, under handed and, even if he wasn’t up to something, he always LOOKED like he was up to something that was borderline legal. Eddie was everything that his best friend, Wally Cleaver (Tony Dow) wasn’t; Wally made good grades, was an athlete, popular with girls and well liked by everybody. Eddie was none of those things and, maybe that was the secret of their friendship. I think at times that Wally secretly wanted to have a little more of the bad boy in him.

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, circa 1958 (Hugh Beaumont, Barbara Billingsley, Ken Osmond, Tony Dow, Jerry Mathers) (publicity still)

Wally’s parents, June and Ward (Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont), always saw through Eddie’s saccharine politeness (“Gee Missus Cleaver, your hair looks real pretty today.”), but generally let things be; he was always welcome in their home and they never told Wally that he couldn’t hang out with Eddie. Another friend, the loutish twenty year old high school senior, Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford (wonderfully played by Frank Bank), sometimes accompanied the pair, falling in with Eddie on whatever scheme he had in mind. Likewise, Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver (played with kind of a dumbfounded simplicity by Jerry Mathers), had his share of friends who led him into mischief: Larry Mondello (Robert “Rusty” Stevens), who appeared in 68 early episodes and later, there was Richard Rickover, Gilbert Bates and Whitey Whitney (Rich Corell, Stephen Talbot and Stanley Fafara) to lead the gullible Beaver into some fairly far-fetched misadventures. But, it was Ken Osmond’s Eddie Haskell who was the gold standard for the bad boy character, played with an unctuous charm and a certain indefinable refinement that you really couldn’t help but like. We all knew (or was) an Eddie Haskell in grade or high school, so both kids and adults could easily relate to him and to the show. A few years back, TV GUIDE named Eddie as one of the most iconic characters in television history. It’s been said that Eddie was the role model for Bart Simpson.

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, circa 1958 (Tony Dow, Jerry Mathers, Ken Osmond) (publicity still)

When LEAVE IT TO BEAVER ended, Ken made guest appearances in other series in the mid-to-late ‘60s (THE MUNSTERS, PETTICOAT JUNCTION and LASSIE, to name a few) and a handful of TV movies, but, he was so typecast as Eddie Haskell, that his career never fully recovered; he ended up playing the character in …BEAVER reunion movies and series, as well as reprising the role in a couple of ‘90s series, PARKER LEWIS CAN’T LOSE and HI HONEY, I’M HOME. With a wife and a new baby on the way, Osmond became a Los Angeles motorcycle cop, serving from 1969 through 1988, when he was granted disability due to an injury suffered in the line of duty eight years earlier. He wrote a book in 2014 called EDDIE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AMERICA’S PREEMINENT BAD BOY, definitely a fun read. After 60 years, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and Eddie Haskell’s slimy machinations are still fun to watch. I wanted to thank Ken Osmond for giving me a lot of laughs and a great character to remember him by. In a favorite episode, June says to Ward, “Of all the boys around, Wally would have to pick Eddie Haskell as his best friend.” Ward replies, “Oh, I don’t know dear, we need someone to blame Wally’s faults on.” And that pretty much sums it up for me!

All six seasons of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER are available on DVD and Blu-Ray, either individually or as a “Complete Series” box set.


THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW: AN APPRECIATION

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke) (publicity photo)

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke) (publicity photo)

In a huge coincidence, I had rented a DVD box set of the old DICK VAN DYKE SHOW just a couple of days before Mary Tyler Moore passed away at age 80. The show was an Emmy Award winning, wonderful comedy that ran on the CBS television network for five seasons, from 1961-1966. A great star, a great ensemble cast, wonderful writing: It had it all and it made one young lady a huge star; just shy of her twenty-fifth birthday when the series debuted, Mary Tyler Moore had a flair for dancing, comedy and… yes, she was quite pretty and had a great smile. The chemistry between Moore and Van Dyke was exceptional.

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (Rose Marie, DIck Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam) (publicity still)

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (Rose Marie, DIck Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam) (publicity still)

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was written by Carl Reiner, a comedy genius who also played the egotistical TV star, Alan Brady, for whom Van Dyke’s character, Rob Petrie was the head writer. Rob was (not always so ably) assisted by Rose Marie (as writer Sally Rogers) and the wonderful Morey Amsterdam as Buddy Sorrell who could throw jokes and one-liners out as fast as anyone. One of the all time great character actors of the ‘sixties, Richard Deacon played the show’s set-upon producer, Mel Cooley. Deacon is also remembered for his role as perpetual irritant Fred Rutherford on another classic sit-com, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. Buddy didn’t care much for Mel and continually lambasted him with funny insults. And, of course, no one can deny that cheery, booming theme song is one of the greatest and most recognized in the history of television. The show, because of its writing and brilliant casting, still stands as a true classic, one of the funniest of any era. Yeah, it’s in “boring old” black and white and laced with mid-sixties nuclear-family-cum-hipster-chic fashion and interior design; still, it doesn’t come off as dated, because it dealt with everyday things in a humorous way that resonates as much today as it did 55 years ago.

MARY TYLER MOORE (Mary Richards' coming-of-age hat toss) (screen still)

MARY TYLER MOORE (Mary Richards’ coming-of-age hat toss) (screen still)

Of course, Mary Tyler Moore became America’s sweetheart as Laura Petrie. She went on to major TV stardom later with the groundbreaking MARY TYLER MOORE series, still considered a defining moment of female empowerment. As with THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, the series featured brilliant scripts and a memorable ensemble cast, with Moore’s Mary Richards, a frantic (a trait she shared with Laura) young woman striking a (sometimes unknowing) blow for equality in the male-dominated world of television news. The dancer-turned-actress married future NBC-TV executive Grant Tinker in 1962; the couple formed MTM Enterprises in 1969, producing Moore’s show (and a multitude of spin-offs: RHODA, PHYLLIS and LOU GRANT), as well as innovative television like HILL STREET BLUES, SAINT ELSEWHERE, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and, one of my personal favorites, WKRP IN CINCINNATI, among others. Watching these old VAN DYKE episodes was a lot of fun and a great walk down memory lane. Mary told an interviewer in later years that being on the show, surrounded by all those talented performers, was like being in a college for comedy. I couldn’t have said it better.


THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW: THE COMPLETE REMASTERED SERIES

(RLJ ENTERTAINMENT; 2015)

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Since its debut in October, 1961, Carl Reiner’s grand creation, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, has served as a benchmark for quality ensemble comedy… in my humble estimation, matched in quality only by the first two seasons of MASH in the five-and-a-half decades since. The rubbery-boned Van Dyke led the cast as Rob Petrie, the harried head writer for the Alan Brady Show (Brady was played by Reiner himself). Though the show served as a spoof of early television comedy writers, it was also very much a series about family and friends, with the irrepressible Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie, occasionally getting herself into some very “Lucy-like” situations, while Rob and Laura dealt out a Ward and June Cleaver type of love, wisdom and guidance to their son, Ritchie (played by Larry Mathews) and, quite often, to Rob’s co-writers, Sally Rogers and Buddy Sorrell, played by comedic geniuses Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam. Though he appeared in about half of the series’ episodes during its five-season run, a highlight was always Richard Deacon’s irascible Mel Cooley, the show’s producer and Brady’s brother-in-law; Deacon was a master at these types of smarmy, borderline sleazy characters… he also played Fred Rutherford (father of Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford) on another classic, LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.

Dick Van Dyke became one of television’s greatest fall guys, as evidenced by one of the greatest opening title sequences ever (introduced at the start of the second season), as well as the consummate straight man with his often bewildered, bemused reactions to the anarchy taking place around him; he also got to show off his Broadway and movie background as a song-and-dance man, either with Ms Moore or as part of the ensemble-within-the-ensemble cast of the Alan Brady Show. His flustered everyman served as template for set-upon husbands and fathers for decades, until the family situation comedy paradigm began to shift in the late ’90s. Even though it was obvious that the adorable Moore had comedic chops aplenty and generally played Laura as smart and confident, it would have been almost inconceivable that she would become head of the powerful MTM Enterprises later in her career; one of her most endearing catch phrases, the quavering, high-pitched lament, “Ohhh, Rob!,” is still recognized virtually the world over. The comedic timing and phrasing of former vaudeville pro Rose Marie, radio performer and writer Morey Amsterdam and veteran character actor Richard Deacon (whose character, Mel Cooley, was the butt of Amsterdam’s Buddy Sorrell’s one-line barbs) was impeccable. Whether the plot showed off the Petrie’s family life at home or Rob’s manic office job, you were guaranteed a quality script and incredible acting.

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, Richard Deacon) (publicity photo)

THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW (Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, Richard Deacon) (publicity photo)

Now, just in time for Christmas, RLJ Entertainment has released the entire series (158 episodes, clocking in at just under 66 hours of classic comedy), newly remastered from the original 35 millimeter negatives, in a twenty-five disc box set, filled with plenty of extras (including the original pilot, “Head of the Family”). The set is priced at just below two-hundred bucks (which is in line with the suggested forty dollar price tag for individual season sets), but I’ve seen it available for as low as a C-note, so do some shopping to find the best price and… treat yourself with a great Christmas present this year with THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW: THE COMPLETE REMASTERED SERIES… You will thank yourself for being so kind and thoughtful.