When I wrote for my college newspaper, I began covering hard news, though I longed to write features and entertainment stories. One of my first half-dozen articles was just that, a story about former “Leave It to Beaver” actor Ken Osmond doing a modest one-man show on campus.
Osmond played oily, two-faced teen Eddie Haskell on the popular television show. The actor, who could never parlay his wily Haskell image into further acting gigs, died yesterday at age 76.
I feel kind of bad sharing this, but the following is my very green, very irreverent review of Osmond’s appearance on my college campus so many years ago. The headline, which I didn’t write, reads: “Leave it to Eddie Haskell to empty the auditorium.”
Watching Ken Osmond, Eddie Haskell of TV’s “Leave It to Beaver,” Wednesday was reminiscent of those news clips of a beaten Richard Nixon kicking around the beach in giant Bermuda shorts — a fall from grace into the ranks of pitiful anonymity.
Osmond’s lecture-presentation attracted no more than 25 people, the type that go ga-ga over cult personalities even after their coolness has long diminished. At one point, Osmond felt obliged to apologize for the thin turnout. The whole scene made me feel kind of sad inside.
Just minutes before the Associated Students-sponsored show began, Osmond aimlessly paced around the vast, empty auditorium — hands in pockets, head down. I thought at any minute he might ask me for spare change.
Currently, Eddie, as everyone addressed Osmond, is a dead ringer for Jimmy Durante. Tan, wrinkled, and graying, Eddie donned faded 501s and, in a feeble attempt at nostalgia, a blue Mayfield High letter sweater. At about 5 feet 11 inches and 130 pounds, Osmond preserved his boyish, gee-whiz mannerisms that made him a cult commodity and even demonstrated some classic Eddie wisecracks to the group’s delight.
But that was about as good as it got.
In an obvious move to kill time, Eddie played a 20-minute video compilation of bloopers and behind-the-scenes clips from “The New Leave it to Beaver Show,” television’s windless attempt to breathe new life into the Beave’s popularity and the producer’s wallet. The series, which ran sporadically from 1984-89 on syndicated television, is on a humor level a notch below “Who’s the Boss?” The video reflected this pie-in-the-face brand of inanity.
The video showed Wally and a tubby Beaver — now adults — blowing their lines, then slapping each other on the back as they guffawed like madmen. Even June Cleaver got in on the laugh riot shenanigans as she goofed on camera then yelled, “Goddammit!”
The purpose of the clips were to show the audience that these characters whom we’ve grown up with are real people who can make real mistakes. Almost unbearably, Osmond even apologized for the video because of the audible laugh deficit during the presentation. There were more cringes than chuckles.
“I’ve been doing Eddie for 34 years,” Osmond said. “I can just turn him off and on at will. It’s almost schizophrenic.”
And so he demonstrated for an audience member. “Why, that’s a lovely jacket you’re wearing,” he said in Eddie’s shifty manner. Then, “Get outta here, Sam!”
But it just wasn’t the same.
Eddie unabashedly described his career move to the LA police force in 1980. “I did it strictly for financial reasons,” he confessed.
Eddie even admonished the crowd about the dangers of pursuing an acting career. “Don’t rely on it for a living. It’s the most unstable career you could ever imagine.”
This is particularly true for Osmond, since, as he said, he is irrevocably typecast as Eddie Haskell, precluding any more acting work. “I can’t complain,” he shrugged. “Eddie’s been very good to me.”
It got really depressing when Osmond discussed how some of the original members of the real Beaver show wound up. Whitey’s in Oregon, “into his art”; Hugh Beaumont, aka Ward Cleaver, is dead; Beaver’s beloved school teacher, Ms. Landers, was in a brutal car accident and later died of cancer. And the rest of the cast — stuck in perhaps a worse fate — are doing shoddy programs like “The New Leave it to Beaver Show.”