Eddie Haskell was the trouble-making friend of Wally Cleaver on the iconic “Leave it to Beaver.” Veteran child actor Ken Osmond was cast to play the role after a “cattle call” audition with hundreds of aspiring actors. More than 50 years after the series ended, Haskell is still one of the more popular characters to appear on the show, even with his conniving ways.
Osmond, who turned 71 years old in June, had little desire to tell his life story because he didn't feel his life was “extraordinary enough” until he was approached by local writer Christopher J. Lynch. They worked together to write “Eddie: The life and times of America's preeminent bad boy.” Osmond will be joined by co-star Tony Dow, who played Wally Cleaver, and Lynch for a panel discussion, question and answer session and book signing at Barnes & Nobel in Manhattan Beach Saturday, Oct. 18, from 7 to 9 p.m.
“There's a little Eddie in everybody and of course I have that much in me, but not any more than most people,” Osmond said.
Osmond, who was born in Glendale and raised in Hollywood, was 14 years old when he landed the role, but he had already been in the industry for nearly 10 years.
“My earliest memories, I was around the industry and it was a way of life,” said Osmond, whose father was a prop maker and built sets and his mother was a “stage mom.”
His first film role was in 1952's “Plymouth Adventure” starring Spencer Tracy, Gene Tierney and Van Johnson.
“At the time I didn’t realize Van Johnson and Spencer Tracy were such notable people, but looking back at it today, what a great thing to have in your past,” Osmond said.
From 1955 until he was cast in “Leave it to Beaver,” Osmond had small parts in numerous television series, from “The Loretta Young Show” to “Wagon Train.” When he was sent out to audition for this new show, he was one of the “mob of kids.” Osmond remembered that he was hired after three auditions for what was then a minor role.
“It was just another acting job and I did it the best I could and it just worked out,” Osmond said. “It was not supposed to be a recurring role when I did the first show, but apparently there was good feedback and the producers liked the character.”
Osmond said the entire cast, including the Cleaver parents played by Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont, and crew became close on the set. He also became life-long friends with Mathers, Dow and Frank Bank, who played the recurring character Lumpy.
“The producers hired a family and they did a great job at it,” Osmond said.
Osmond appeared on “Leave it to Beaver” until its last shows in 1963. But by that time he was 20 years old and spent the last two years of the show in the Army Reserves. A master sergeant allowed Osmond and other actors like Ken Berry an opportunity to tape their shows while making personal appearances for the Reserve.
But when “Leave it to Beaver” ended, he was typecast.
“In the industry that’s an absolute death sentence,” Osmond 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 life and a salary.”
Osmond hung up the acting shoes in 1969. Because he was married and had bills to pay, he joined the L.A.P.D. in 1970. After becoming a motorcycle officer, few recognized the former child star when he grew a mustache. Osmond retired from the police department in 1988, eight years after being shot by a suspected car thief. Two bullets reportedly hit his bulletproof vest and he was protected from the third bullet by his belt buckle.
“I still occasionally have lingering problems, but nothing I can’t live with,” Osmond said.
But during those 18 years at the police department, where he also worked vice and narcotics, Osmond didn't completely disappear from the public eye, thanks to some bizarre rumors, including that he became rock star Alice Cooper or X-rated film star John Holmes.
Osmond returned as the character that made him famous when he reprised the role of Eddie Haskell in the TV film “Still the Beaver” in 1983. That was such a hit, “The New Leave it to Beaver” debuted on The Disney Channel in 1984 and ran for four seasons. Osmond returned as Eddie Haskell again in the 1997 feature film “Leave it to Beaver.”
Telling his story
Lynch, who has written three novels, was born a day before “Leave it to Beaver” premiered on CBS on Oct. 4, 1957. Nearly 56 years later, he heard that Bank had died.
“I noticed it trended for three days on Yahoo,” said Lynch about Bank's death. “I read the story about his life and I saw that he had written a biography. I thought, 'Who else on the show has written a biography?' I found out that Jerry Mathers had written one and Frank Bank had, but Tony Dow and Ken Osmond, neither of them had written a biography. Of all the characters on the show, Eddie Haskell is the most recognizable character to this day. Obama will accuse the Republicans of acting like Eddie Haskell. Bart Simpson was created as the son of Eddie Haskell. It's still this ubiquitous term.”
But it did take some convincing. Lynch sent Osmond a copy of his last novel, “One Eyed Jack,” and a letter expressing his interest in writing his life story.
“It was a Hail Mary pass,” Lynch said.
Osmond read the book, liked it and called Lynch to “have a beer” and talk.
“The next thing I know I'm drinking with Eddie Haskell,” said Lynch, who also helped Osmond self-publish his book, “Above and Beyond,” a collection of short stories that supports veterans. “I told him, 'I’m going to write this so that you are even entertained by reading your own life story' and he says he has been ... one of his sons said, 'There were parts where I laughed and parts where I cried.' I thought if I could elicit some of that emotion (it would be) a great thing.”
Many interviews were conducted for the book, but Lynch was also aided by Dow, who had kept shooting schedules and scripts from the original show. This helped him with specific dates and times in Osmond's life.
“There were a lot of times where I had to really try to pull it out of him, maybe get some confirmation from somebody else like Tony,” Lynch said. “If you think about it ... the show ended over 50 years ago. He would be asked about it all the time, but maybe not as probing as I would ask the questions … (I) really wanted to get into the details.”
Lynch said the role of Eddie Haskell has been an “overarching shadow that has defined him for good and bad.”
Osmond will be signing his book on Saturday, Oct. 18, from 7 to 9 p.m. The Barnes & Noble is located at 1800 Rosecrans Ave., building B in Manhattan Beach. There will also be an “Eddie” trivia contest with prizes including a special T-shirt.
Osmond said after five decades he is still “proud of being associated” with “Leave it to Beaver.”
“It's 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.”
For more information, visit store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/event/4738197.