In honor of sycophants, and sneaky little bastards everywhere
We’ll always be attracted to the Eddie Haskells of the world
In honor of sycophants, and sneaky little bastards everywhere
"Gee Mrs. Cleaver, your kitchen always looks so clean." Such an innocent and seemingly sweet line, delivered by actor…
“Gee Mrs. Cleaver, your kitchen always looks so clean.” Such an innocent and seemingly sweet line, delivered by actor Ken Osmond in the role he was born to play, Eddie Haskell, on the old 1950s and ’60s sitcom Leave it to Beaver. Osmond will be uttering this line no more. The actor passed away the other day at the age of 76 after a long illness. While Osmond is no longer with us, his beloved character Eddie Haskell will survive him, filling our heads with empty and manipulative flattery as he schemes behind our backs for whatever nefarious purpose he may be planning.
I was not old enough to enjoy the charms of Eddie Haskell firsthand as the program that featured him, Leave it to Beaver, ran from 1957 to 1963, ending on June 20th, 1963 to be exact, precisely one year before I entered this world, a world chock full of Eddie Haskell like characters. I did however get to familiarize myself with “The Beave,” and the rest of the gang including Wallace, Ward, June, and even Lumpy Rutherford through the magic of reruns. The theme song was iconic, as was the black & white film it was shot on. However it was the characters who you couldn’t help but identify with. There was of course June, Beaver’s mother, who cleaned the house in “heels and pearls,” (The name of my last album) Wally, Beaver’s older and more serious brother, and Beaver’s dad Ward, who came home from whatever he did in his office in his suit and tie, and would then feign relaxation by taking off his suit jacket and putting on a sweater. (Is there a garment out there that says “I’m so relaxed” quite like a button down cardigan?) Lest we forget, there was also Lumpy Rutherford, Beaver’s good buddy, and Wally’s aforementioned friend, the ubiquitous Eddie Haskell. Yes, they all cut quite the figures on our rather large Philco television set in our playroom in North Massapequa. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the late 1970s, and I’d come home from school, turn on the television, push the buttons on the big brown cable box to TBS, and enjoy the musings of the Beaver, as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, studying so I could be a productive member of society? However, none of these iconic characters made quite the indelible mark on my psyche quite like Eddie Haskell.
(After hearing that opening theme song, I was the one who felt like a weirdo for not wanting to drink a luke-warm glass of milk with my spaghetti. You Tube)
What was it that made the character of Eddie Haskell so memorable that 57 years after Leave it to Beaver last aired, people still talk about him as if they just hung out with him at the malt shop yesterday? Well, first we have to give a little credit to the actor who portrayed him, Ken Osmond. Osmond was probably one of the first actors to suffer from type-casting, having made his bones during what is often referred to as the “Golden Age” of television. Osmond’s acting credits include not only Leave it to Beaver, but the New Leave it to Beaver, which aired in the 1980s. Here’s a quick sample of that forgotten gem:
(Well, that might not have been it, but I know one thing, I sure do miss John Candy. You Tube)
It’s more than likely that when the history of acting is written, nobody is going to confuse Tom Osmond with Robert De Niro. However, Osmond did possess a certain flair for portraying the sassy Haskell. They say an actor’s meal ticket is his face, and Osmond, God rest his soul of course, had a face that begged to be slapped. He had the face of the kid who pulled your pants down in the gym locker-room. He had the face of the kid who hit you with a really wet and disgusting spitball in the cafeteria, or took a bite out of your Yodel. He had the face of the kid who got you in trouble in class by whispering something nasty about you, and then when you responded, the teacher would turn around and yell at you while “Eddie Haskell” was doing his work obediently. He had a face that possessed a stupid and maniacal smile that said, “Go ahead, you can fight me, you might even win, but if you lose, I’m going to humiliate you.”
It wasn’t just Osmond’s face though. It was the face combined with the name “Eddie.” Eddie is a name that affixes to a certain kind of individual. Eddie is like Todd or Russell. These three were always causing mischief and yet somehow getting away with it. They were always a little faster at running, a little better at climbing. They hustled on the ball field so even though they could be annoying, all was forgiven. They’re troublemakers, instigators, antagonists, agent provocateurs, or to put it more succinctly, they are royal pains in the ass. They are the Nelson Muntz’s of the world, always there to make you feel stupid by laughing at you or mocking you when you are at your most vulnerable, always showing up where you least wish them to be.
That’s the face. It’s almost handsome, but if you shave the head, there it is, “666.” the number of the pest. (New York Times)
The question to ask ourselves is why. Why do we, the Wally Cleavers of the world, the good and serious people who try to be productive and successful, spend our time with the assorted Eddie Haskells in our lives. Firstly, because they’re fun to hang around with. We enjoy the danger, the way they live on the edge and get away with the things that we’d like to get away with, but are fairly certain that we won’t. We live vicariously through them, and enjoy the danger and risks that they put themselves through, but from a safe distance. We can relish the roll of the dice knowing that we haven’t put any money down, unless they actually have convinced us to play along with them. Now all of a sudden we are no longer spectators, we are participants in the story that they are weaving, and nobody knows how the story will end, and that’s the fun of it all. This is why we will always have a place in our gang for an Eddie Haskell.
In fact one could argue it is the relatability of Tom Osmond’s Eddie Haskell that has most likely made him such a part of our heritage. Who didn’t know an Eddie Haskell type character growing up. Everybody had that friend who would come to your house, laugh at all of your father’s jokes, agree with your mother over what a doofus you were, and then when the parents were no longer within earshot, say or suggest, or do something that would have made your mother’s stockings roll down, and her curlers fall out. Sometimes we go to our 10th or 20th high school reunions and see our particular Eddie Haskell from our youth, and we find out that he is now a doctor or a lawyer, and we think to ourselves, “Wow, is this guy gonna go through life and get away with fooling everybody?”
Sometimes Eddie Haskell would get Wally or even his little brother in trouble and then Ward would have to be a little rough on the Beaver. (Getty Images)
In our modern society, the Eddie Haskell’s of the world would butter people up to their face, but then say nasty things on social media. That doesn’t take any skill. There are plenty of so-called “keyboard warriors” who lie in wait for a public figure to say something slightly politically incorrect and then they bury them, but would of course be rendered speechless if that same celebrity or public figure would happen upon their checkout line at Walmarts.
Eddie Haskell on the other hand was a combination of Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heep, and Bart Simpson. He unabashedly sucked up to those he needed a favor from, and exploited those he knew he could take advantage of. He was the Devil on our shoulder when we were faced with a moral quagmire as children. We need our Eddie Haskells to remind us we’re alive, and that sometimes it’s fun to break the rules. While you might call “Wally” when you need help with a flat tire, it was “Eddie Haskell” who you called when you wanted a little adventure or just a laugh. If that means you’re going to have to suffer a “wet Willy, or a “purple nurple,” or a “nippy twister,” or an occasional “pink belly,” then so be it.