At one time, young girls would develop crushes on their friends’ fathers; did young boys crush on their friends’ moms? This wasn’t a Freudian thing. These were innocent crushes—your friends’ parents always seemed cooler, nicer, and more attractive than yours, basically because you didn’t have to live with them. When “all” your friends were doing something you weren’t allowed to do, wasn’t it because their parents were neater (i.e., more permissive) than yours and let them?
With certain families making weekly appearances in our living rooms (via television), many of those crushes were aimed at the really cool dads we saw on shows like Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, and Leave It to Beaver. Robert Young was Jim Anderson, an agent for General Insurance; Carl Betz was the incredibly sexy (if you were eight years old and didn’t actually know what “sexy” meant) Dr. Alex Stone; and Hugh Beaumont spent 234 episodes in front of and behind the camera as both the ultimate American dream dad, Ward Cleaver, and writer and director of one of America’s most beloved situation comedies.
No one knows how Ward Cleaver supported the rest of the Cleavers because viewers were never told what job he held; some speculate he was an accountant, others that he was an executive involved in construction or possibly architecture. We, the audience, knew what his real job was, anyway—being the best of all possible dads.
In response to an article I wrote on the maddeningly sexy Soupy Sales, fellow writer Joanne Huspek wrote, “I wish you would do a piece on my dead crush, Hugh Beaumont. You remember him, the dad in Leave it to Beaver? …my husband resembles him, tall, brushed back newly receding scalp, nice ties and bad golf clothes. Mmm… I get all warm and fuzzy just thinking about him/them.”
One wonders who Joanne was really crushing on? Was it the Hugh Beaumont of such classic films as The Cowboy and the Blonde, Mexican Spitfire’s Blessed Event, Blonde from Brooklyn, Mr. Winkle Goes to War, and Blonde for a Day? Or was it the comforting, always wise and loving Ward Cleaver, husband of blonde June Cleaver?
Hugh Beaumont wasn’t all that different from Ward Cleaver, although he was even more laid back than that popular patriarch. With a reputation for being unassuming, he followed up his television career far from the limelight. In the late 1960s he embarked on his second career, Christmas-tree farming in Minnesota. He wasn’t always fond of being Ward Cleaver, a role he felt typecast him despite the three dozen or so films he had made before being cast in Leave It to Beaver. After Ward, few people could think of Beaumont as hard-boiled private detective Mike Shayne, although he had made five movies in that role. Being the wisest, nicest, kindest, smartest dad in the neighborhood does have its drawbacks.
Hugh Beaumont, as Ward Cleaver, gave children a fantasy dad about whom to daydream; he was that wonderful combination of firm and loving. Unlike some of our dads, he never went ballistic when we got into some childish mischief (I never knew anyone who broke the neighbor’s window with a baseball, did you? Somehow, I’m positive my dad wouldn’t have taken it as well as Ward Cleaver would.).
Was Hugh Beaumont sexy? Not really, at least not as Ward Cleaver. He was something that was just as good though, warm and comfortable. He was attractive and intelligent, and seemed like the kind of guy who’d make a great coffee break companion or best friend.
One of the surprises in Beaumont’s résumé is that he was a Methodist lay minister who had his Masters degree in Theology. In fact, he first met Jerry Mathers (the Beaver) in a religious film they made together.
Beaumont retired from Christmas-tree farming following a stroke in 1972; in 1982, at the age of 73, he died in Germany while visiting his son.
Hugh Beaumont’s life and death were not particularly dramatic, at least not as far as Hollywood stories go (and Hollywood stories go pretty far! [now I’m channeling Groucho]), but he is remembered as a respected actor who inspired many a crush (and perhaps future choice in mate?) among young baby-boomers.
Thank HUGH for providing so many of us with our first father-figure crush.