I’d meant to write this appreciation of television icon Ken Osmond much earlier; Ken – who is remembered by television aficionados as wise-guy Eddie Haskell on the classic sitcom Leave It to Beaver – passed away on Monday, May 18, 2020 at the un-Eddie like age of 76. I’d heard the news early enough on the day to properly sit down and bat out a few salient words about what this genial man had meant to the world at large in general and myself specifically. Yet I didn’t. I missed my window to remember the man in a business where it is generally frowned upon to not write on a subject deemed topical and of the moment, lest I find myself scooping the nostalgia loop over at Reminisce or ReMIND Magazine. This usually dictates that I spend much of my freelance writing time haunting the trade beat of The Hollywood Reporter or sussing out any possible leads for subjects that can be turned into appropriate click-bait material. My own hemming and hawing, I realize now, could very well have been a plot baked into an episode of Leave It to Beaver with Ken as the lynchpin that would ultimately set all matters to right. “Look Sam,” Eddie Haskell intoned in an early episode of Beaver, “if you can make the other guy feel like a goon first, then you don’t feel like so much of a goon.” As illogical as that statement is, it makes complete logical sense to me, enough so that this article is the end result.
What little that I now know about Ken prior to his star-making turn on Leave It to Beaver I’ve only just gleaned through a few of the obits for the gentleman that appeared immediately upon his death. For example, I now know that Ken kicked off his career as a child actor at the tender age of 9 when he landed a speaking part in an obscure Sterling Hayden film, So Big. Other projects quickly followed both in film and in the still-nascent field of television: Good Morning, Miss Dove, Lassie, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Wagon Train are just a few notables on the resume for this towheaded youth who looked like he had landed in Hollywood after an extended stay on an all-American farm somewhere in the Midwest south of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and east about three or four daydreams away as the crow flies from Bedford Falls. But most importantly…Most importantly I know that Ken Osmond was the loving husband to wife Sandra and a proud father of two sons, Eric and Christian. If I could summon my Zoltar Speaks machine I’d lay pretty good odds on Ken proclaiming this loving family as his proudest achievement.
Ken Osmond parlayed his Squeaky Clean meets Something Slightly Askew features for the 1957-1963 Leave It to Beaver and from there he entered into the axiom of pop culture, forever enshrined as the smart-aleck best friend to screen brothers Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers (A.K.A. Wally and Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver).
For scientists many years hence who sift through the future rubble of our once towering television archives to interpret the DNA of such fictional characters as Ferris Bueller, Wayne Arnold and Zack Morris, they need look no further than the original leader of that particular motley pack than Ken Osmond’s delightfully nonconformist Eddie Haskell who took particular delight in tormenting the Beaver and never tired of trying to lead poor Wally astray. A world full of kids destined to grow up to be lawyers, teachers, plumbers, writers and mashers (hey, they can’t all be success stories…) avidly watched the exploits of the Cleaver clan and learned not only valuable life lessons (thank you, Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley by way of uber-writing talent Joe Connelly) but also learned via the devices of Eddie and his gadfly Lumpy Rutherford – actor par excellence, Frank Bank – that there was a certain amount of joie de vivre to be found in the subversive antics of breaking curfew, “fixing” report cards and throwing the 1963 equivalent of a beer bash while mom and dad are away; you know, the sort of things that actually make our high school years not only memorable, but bearable.
So it is my theory being put forth today in this way-too belated appreciation that Ken Osmond made smarmy and insincerity strangely attractive. How did the man who was Eddie Haskell accomplish such a feat, you may ask? Ken achieved this singular milestone not by being smarmy himself or even insincere. Rather, he breathed life into Eddie and made his real qualities outshine the braggadocio on the surface. We didn’t like Eddie because he was sneaky or underhanded but because at the end of the day he always had a heart of gold. Like us, he was figuring life’s lessons out as he went along and making mistakes along the way. The Cleavers understood that and loved him for the good intentions gone astray. So too did we, his primetime family. Rest in peace, Ken Osmond; save some squab for those following behind you.