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Ken Osmond, the Leave It to Beaver actor known for his convincing portrayal of the weaselly Eddie Haskell on two iterations of the classic TV comedy, has died, according to his son Eric. He was 76. No further details were given.
“He was an incredibly kind and wonderful father,” his son said Monday in a statement. “He had his family gathered around him when he passed. He was loved and will be very missed.”
Osmond was 14 in 1957 when he was hired for what was supposed to be a one-episode gig and went on to appear on 96 of the original series’ 234 installments over six seasons. When Leave It to Beaver returned with an updated version in 1983, he returned to acting, as well.
In between the two programs, Osmond spent 18 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. In 1980, a suspected car thief shot him three times, leaving him severely wounded and effectively ending his days on the job.
As the best friend of Wally Cleaver (Tony Dow), Eddie was well-mannered and the epitome of polite when interacting with the adults of the show, especially Barbara Billingsley’s character — “My, you look lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver” — but was mean to Wally’s younger brother, Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver (Jerry Mathers).
He stirred up trouble for the first of many times when he, Wally and Beaver spy the couple moving in next door to the Cleavers on the series’ fifth episode.
“Boy, are you going to have creepy neighbors,” he tells Wally in his first scene. “Just look at the stuff that came in: No dogs, no cats, no fishing poles, no kids, just a crummy canary.” Then, after Mrs. Donaldson (Phyllis Coates of Lois Lane fame) gives the Beaver a peck on the cheek as thanks for bringing her flowers as a welcoming gift, Eddie gets the poor kid worried: “Suppose her husband finds out?”
“The poster child for sneaky, rotten kids everywhere, he was the reference point for cautious mothers to warn their children about,” Mathers wrote of Haskell in the foreword to Osmond’s 2014 book, Eddie: The Life and Times of America’s Preeminent Bad Boy. “And everyone in America knew an Eddie Haskell at some point in his or her lives.”
Psychologists who recognize that some people reserve one personality for superiors and another for everyone else call that “Eddie Haskell Syndrome” or the “Eddie Haskell Effect.”
“One reason why workplace bullies may not be discovered is because they suck up to the authorities while bullying subordinates and peers behind their backs,” Ronald E. Riggio wrote for Psychology Today in 2011. “Just like Eddie Haskell from the old Leave it to Beaver show (who ingratiated himself to the parents while tormenting the Beaver), the bully pretends to be a model employee — but only when the boss is around.”
For the record, Mrs. Cleaver never trusted Eddie.
Kenneth Charles Osmond was born on June 7, 1943, in Glendale, California. “I had a typical stage mother as a child,” he said in a 2009 interview with the Los Angeles Daily News. “She had me dancing on stage before I was old enough to even have a memory of it.”
In his onscreen debut, Osmond played a child on the Mayflower in MGM’s Plymouth Adventure (1952), starring Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney and Van Johnson, then appeared on episodes of TV shows including Lassie, Fury and Annie Oakley.
He had three auditions before he was cast as Eddie. “It was not supposed to be a recurring role when I did the first show,” Osmond said in a 2014 interview, “but apparently there was good feedback and the producers liked the character.”
The kid-centric Leave It to Beaver, created by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher for Revue Studios, premiered on CBS on Oct. 4, 1957. After a year, it shifted to ABC for its final five seasons, wrapping up on June 6, 1963, with Wally apparently headed to college.
Afterward, the lanky Osmond appeared in guest spots on The Munsters and Petticoat Junction and in an uncredited role in With Six You Get Eggroll (1968) but found himself typecast.
“In the industry, that’s an absolute death sentence,” he said. “I would walk into a casting office and all they could see was Eddie. I couldn’t get work to save my soul. I had a few minor parts here and there, but nothing that’s going to sustain a life and a salary.”
Osmond worked as a helicopter pilot and studio propmaker before joining the LAPD, bulking up on milk shakes and bananas to make the minimum weight to qualify for the job. (He said he wore a mustache so people wouldn’t recognize him from TV.)
In 1980, he and his partner were on motorcycle patrol for drunken drivers when they came upon a stolen taxi driven by Albert Cunningham. Following a crash and a chase on foot, Cunningham shot Osmond; his bulletproof vest stopped two bullets, and a third was deflected by his belt buckle.
“I saw a flash of light and the next thing I knew, I was flat on my back on the sidewalk, 10 to 15 feet away,” Osmond testified during the penalty phase of Cunningham’s murder trial in 1988. “I was not able to move. I thought I was dying.” He said the shooting led to clinical depression.
Osmond regained his footing as Eddie on the 1983 CBS telefilm Still the Beaver, and that spawned The New Leave It to Beaver, which aired for four seasons (1984-89) on the Disney Channel and TBS. “As an adult, I could appreciate the industry so much more, he said. It was wonderful.”
His character, now a shady contractor, appeared on all 101 episodes of the new show, and his two boys were played by his real-life sons, Eric and Christian. “They’re great kids, never get in any trouble like Eddie did,” he said in 1989.
Osmond also played Haskell in the 1990s in the Universal feature adaptation of Leave It to Beaver and on the sitcoms Parker Lewis Can’t Lose and Hi Honey, I’m Home.
When Alice Cooper once said he was “Eddie Haskell as a child” — meaning that’s how he behaved — that got some to think that it was the rock star who had starred on Leave It to Beaver. That didn’t bother Osmond, but he was annoyed enough to sue when John Holmes billed himself as “Eddie Haskell” on a few X-rated films, triggering another urban myth.
The Holmes rumor “was a pain in my butt for 11 years,” he told TV Guide in 1988.
In 2011, Osmond received a settlement in a class-action suit in which he said SAG withheld millions of dollars in foreign royalties that belonged to actors.
In addition to his sons — Eric worked as a film editor with credits including The Wicker Man and Captain America: The First Avenger — survivors include his wife, Sandy, whom he married in 1969.
His years on Leave It to Beaver were “unique in so many ways,” Osmond said. “So much of the industry, you read about ex-child actors who got into dope, or he was arrested trying to rob a liquor store. You’ve never read anything about anyone associated with Leave It to Beaver in a negative light. We just had a real family.”
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