Call Me Lumpy: My Leave It to Beaver Days and Other Wild Hollywood Life (8 page)

BOOK: Call Me Lumpy: My Leave It to Beaver Days and Other Wild Hollywood Life
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Actually, the No.1 demographic group for watching the show is women 18-to-35.
So it just shows "Beaver" is not just things happening to two brothers growing up in the '50s.
It's stuff everybody can relate to. It's things that happen to kids. It's gender-neutral. It's things that happen to two children growing up. And it's not two kids growing up in the '50s. It's not two kids growing up in the '80s or '90s or whatever 2000s there are.
Any drawbacks to the show:
Actually the biggest problem with the showif there is a problemis that a lot of people don't understand that it's situation comedy and all the problems are cleared up in 23 minutes.
And then they live their own life and go, "My life is the pits because this is going wrong and that's going wrong."
Well, it's television and it's comedy. It's not a documentary of those times.
I do a lot of personal appearances. People always say, "If my life could be like the Cleavers, it would be perfect."
I tell them, "No one's life was like that."
This is comedy. This is not real life.
But a lot of people in our society todayespecially homes where there are less than two parents, or are dysfunctionalthey tend to glum onto the TV and say, "This is the perfect life. If only my life had been like this."
The thing is, there's no family in America that has the "Leave It to Beaver" life. There's always things that go wrong that can't be fixed in 23 minutes. A lot of them go over a lifetime and what people have to learn to do is take those things that are wrong with their family and in some ways cope with them and rise above them.
And that's part of living.
Would he have changed being The Beav?
The way I always tell people is this: knowing what I know now, if when I went on the interview for "Leave It to Beaver," would I still go on it and still accept the job? Very definitely. As an actors, we're part of the golden age of television. We're part of one of the great shows. We'll go down as part of television history.
I got very lucky to be picked as The Beaver and be part of that phenomenon.
Well, we all got very lucky. Jerry, Kenny, Tony and I.
No question about that.
I can't imagine any of us would change the chance we had to be part of the Cleaver family. No way.
And, in fact, I don't think I could have put any of this any better than my
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buddies, Kenny and Jerry.
Especially the part about my being such a brilliant actor.
Just kidding.
But the "wholesome" thing?
Well, maybe for everyone else, that's the way their lives went off-camera.
I can't honestly say it was squeaky clean.
In fact, some of it was as far away from your average "Beaver" episode as the other side of the moon.
I probably was fortunate I was in the public limelight when the tabloids were a lot less active.
I told you I was always lucky. Right place. Right time.
Because it's probably for the best that all of my life wasn't known during my acting days.
Behind the Lumpy and Beaver and innocent Mayfield facade was a wild child inside me about to get out.
And the more I passed from being a child, the wilder he got.
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Chapter Two
Leonard, Sylvia and Scarface
We should have known something unusual was happening because my poor mother was trying to make it to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.
I was on the way with her, trying to wait to be born.
And not doing a very good job of it, I might add.
Sylviathat's my momis doing her best to wait for my dad, Leonard. But that also is proving a difficult thing to do.
Remember the movie, "1941," Spielberg's big bomb?
Honest to God, they really did have air-raid warnings in Los Angeles back in the early '40s. Because my old man was an air-raid warden. We're in the middle of World War II and Leonard and Sylvia live in Huntington Park at the time. Huntington Park is down in the southern part of Los Angeles, not far from Long Beach.
So Leonard is the air-raid warden for our block and Sylvia is so pregnant she's about to burst. And it takes awhile for Leonard to get home from air-raid-wardening and all like that. And things are moving right along for Sylvia by now, and there's no Hollywood Freeway. There's no Harbor Freeway. And to get to Cedars from Huntington must have taken an hour.
It's 15 minutes by freeway now. But it was an hour or more back then.
Anyhow, we're all on the way to Cedars, even if I don't exactly know it so far, and I start showing up.
So Leonard takes a sharp turn into Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital instead of Cedars and it turns out to be a pretty darn brilliant maneuver by pop.
I am born in the ambulance entrance of Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital.
I mean, I came sliding into first base before they could get me into the hospital, I was born in the wrong hospital.
Right then and there, I was mucking things up.
I popped right out and went, "I'm outta here. What's happenin'?"
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I can just imagine the ride before we all got there. Hollywood Presbyterian is only maybe a mile, mile-and-a-half from Cedars, but the five miles before they stopped at Hollywood, I'm sure my mom is going, "Len. Len. Something is happening here."
My old man was really funny. I can just hear him going, "Sylvia, shaddup. I'm goin' as fast as I can."
My mom told me he pulled right up into the parking lot at Hollywood Pres and ran up to the ambulance entrance. I never made it to the delivery room. I didn't make it to the reception desk either. I poked out in the car.
That was April 12, 1942.
And, you know what? I feel like I've always been right on time.
Part of the joy of my life, in my estimation, has been timing. It's just that I seemed to have been at the right place at the most perfect time.
Even if I didn't know it was the most perfect time in a lot of instances.
And so much of my perfect times in life begin with my parents. They were good people. I was so lucky. My whole life, you could call me "Lucky" instead of "Lumpy."
Because I have been.
I had the greatest childhood anyone could ever want.
The greatest adolescence.
I've lived like nobody ever lived and it all started with Sylvia and Leonard.
My father was the consummate male chauvinist pig. My father was the pre-eminent Archie Bunker and chauvinist pig all rolled up into one, with a heart of gold, and he was the biggest pussycat that ever lived.
That was my old man. I loved him dearly. He was a diamond in the rough. My dad used to walk around with a stogie, swore like a sailor. But he was the biggest, mushiest pushover you ever saw in your life.
We were strictly a middle-class family. My dad was a butcher. He had his own business, the Leonard Meat Co.
My mother was the Minnesota state typing champion when she was 18 and she was a knockout. My mother was flat-out gorgeous. She was queen of the Mardis Gras. Sylvia was so beautiful.
My mother went to work for Remington-Rand when she was 18. My mother had a job during the Depression, when my dad didn't for seven years. She supported the family as a secretary for Remington-Rand while my dad couldn't find a job.
They were "victims," if you called it that, of the Depression. But they refused to stay down. They always got back up. They always fought on. Moved forward. Prevailed. They couldn't be stopped with elephant guns.
My parents had a great romance.
My mother was from Northfield, Minn., about 100 miles north of
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Minneapolis. Northfield is where Jesse James had the great Minnesota raid. OK? The Daltons were killed there and Frank James was shot there.
Do you know who shot Frank James?
A 14-year-old deputy sheriff who was hiding behind a watering trough because they had no sidewalks. His name was Tom Anderson.
That was my grandfather. My mother's maiden name was Anderson. I am half-Norwegian. My mother was a heavy-duty Lutheran before converting to Judaism.
And it was Sylvia's father, Tom, who shot Frank James. Only he didn't know it was Frank James.
He was hiding behind the watering trough because he knew it was the James Gang. He was scared out of his gourd and he was aiming over the watering trough and he hit some guy in the leg.
The guy fell off the horse.
All these other guys come running out of everyplace with pitchforks and shovels and all that and started beating the living daylights out of the guys on the ground.
Jesse made it out of town.
But Frank didn't.
Frank spent 20 years in the Minnesota State Reformatory, courtesy of Grandpa Tom.
Fact. And the movies about Frank and Jesse are total baloney, because they have them riding all over the friggin' place doing different bank jobs. Meanwhile, Frank is hanging out back in the cooler, because Grandpa Tom put him there.
Even if Grandpa Tom didn't know what the hell he was doing at the time.
So what?
Andersons and Banks were always right on time.
They were always right on top of everything.
My dad was a great athlete in Minneapolis. He played high school football with a guy named Pudge Heffelfinger, whom you might have heard of, if you are a dyed-in-the-wool sports nut. Pudge was greater than Bronko Nagurski. Better than Red Grange. One of the first guys elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They were fond of calling him the greatest football player who ever lived that we don't know about.
Well, my old man was just as good. Leonard was the greatest athlete in the history of North High School in Minneapolis. My dad was an all-city tackle.
They didn't have numbers on their uniforms in those days.
He was known only by one nameVicious Bank.
Honest to God.
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I saw a class yearbook that said, "And here's Vicious Bank, all-city tackle."
He played both ways, 60 minutes a game. Nobody screwed with Leonard Bank.
From what I've been told by his brothers, he was the meanest, nastiest dude in Minneapolis. He was big for the time. Leonard was 6-feet, 190. He was fast and strong as a bull. He threw the shot and the javelin on the track team and was all-city in the shotput.
It was some ridiculously short distance he threw when you look back at it. The techniques were so different and I gave him static about it all the time.
I'd look in his yearbook and I'd go, "Dad, you're telling me that you were all-city?"
He goes, "Here, take a look."
Like I haven't already taken a look a few trillion times.
I'd read in there, "Vicious Bank, City Trackman of the Year, Minneapolis, 1919."
I remember it was 1919, because it was the same year as the Black Sox Scandal.
And I'd go, "Dad, how far'd you put the shot?"
He'd mumble something.
And I'd go, "Dad, I'm not even on the track team. The guy at our school puts the shot 55 or 56 feet. It says here you put it 48 feet. Dad, I can do 48 feet."
And he goes, "Screw you."
So anyway, this majorly athletic, studly, better-than-Pudge-Heffelfinger, football-track star from North High, the Jewish section of Minneapolis, meets this blonde beauty queen from Lutheran-as-anything Northfield, Minnesota.
And they fall in love.
My dad is managing a bowling alley at the time and he sees this great-lookin' chick walk in. And, being a Bank, he figures he will cruise over and sweep this beauty off her feet.
Being a Bank, he does.
So my dad marries my mother and they have to run off because my mother isn't Jewish and my dad had this real Orthodox family that said, "You're taking out a girl that's not Jewish?"
It was true. My mother had a Minnesota accent, like in the movie "Fargo." I got such a kick out of it. It's a great movie. And I remember my mother's family talking like that. I used to go, "They sure talk funny, Mom." And she'd go, "What are you talking aboot?"
My aunts and uncles used to talk this Fargo stuff and I'd laugh at them. Like them, I was totally blond growing up. My hair didn't darken until I was about 12. As a teenager, my hair went from blond to sandy to brown. Lumpy
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