At some point when Leave It to Beaver actor Jerry Mathers was in the National Guard in the 1960s, an ugly rumor began to swirl that he had been killed in action in Vietnam.
He still isn’t sure how it started but here’s how he found out about it.
Mathers started a musical group after leaving ‘Beaver’
Once Leave It to Beaver ended, the actor started a band of his own. Surprisingly, the musical group carried the same name as that of his now-famous television character that Mathers presented for many years.
“We started a band called Beaver and the Trappers,” he told the Television Academy Foundation in 2006. “But the funny part is in high school, I was known as the Beaver and I didn’t mind that people called me that.”
Being called Beaver through high school was fine with Mathers, but it didn’t happen because of the television show.
“[They didn’t call me Beaver] because of Leave It to Beaver,” he explained. “It’s because we used to play all the proms and sock hops. It was Beaver and the Trappers and I was the lead singer. So they knew me from this rock and roll group.”
He joined the National Guard in the 1960s
Mathers participated in the National Guard in his years after high school.
“I was in the National Guard for six years,” he said. “Basically, when I graduated from high school, it was 1967 and you had pretty much three choices: you could enlist; you could be drafted; or you could go to Canada. So I enlisted in the National Guard and I spent the next basically six years there.”
He explained that while he was enlisted, he worked toward his goal of earning a college degree.
“One of the things I had always wanted to do was go to college,” he said. “I had always set as one of my goals that I wanted to go to college. This was at a time when there were no deferments [in the military].
“After I finished my military commitment, I ended up going to University of California, Berkeley. I have a degree in philosophy from there. I put myself through school with the money I made from Leave It to Beaver.”
The rumor that circulated about Mathers
“You know, it’s a very, very strange rumor,” Mathers said in discussing the story that began to go around about his untimely death in Southeast Asia.
“It’s the kind of thing that when you magnify it over all these number of years, it’s hard to really figure out,” he mused. “What happened was that I didn’t really pay much attention to it at the time.
“I was in the National Guard when it came out.”
In 1967, Mathers, dressed in his military uniform, presented an Emmy along with fellow child actor Angela Cartwright to movie legend Gene Kelly for his work as producer on the animated film, Jack in the Beanstalk.
“Angela Cartwright was with me and I had my head shaved because I’d just come out of basic training,” he recalled. “I was in my military uniform, so everybody knew that I was in the service, I was a presenter.”
He recalled the moment he was told that a news item was circulating saying that he had died.
“All of a sudden, some people came up to me and showed me an obituary. It said, ‘Actor killed in Vietnam.’ Just kind of a little random note. ‘Jerry Mathers, star of Leave It to Beaver has died in Vietnam.’”
Since he wasn’t acting at the time, Mathers said, he had no manager or publicist to “quash” the rumor. He went on to say that his former show co-star Tony Dow, who portrayed his brother Wally Cleaver on the program, had heard the news as well.
“Tony Dow actually sent flowers to my parents’ home,” he said.
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