"A kid like Eddie Haskell only comes along about once every hundred years"
-Wally Cleaver, 1958
"Nonsense. There's one on every block"
-Ken Osmond, 2014
Ken Osmond was born in Glendale, California on June 7, 1943. His father, Thurman, was a carpenter, and Ken described his mother, Pearl, as "a typical movie mother." Every day, after school, Pearl would drive her two sons, Ken and his older brother Dayton, to acting classes. Besides drama, the two boys were also took classes in dance, diction, dialects, martial arts, and equestrian riding.
At the age of nine, young Ken landed his first movie role, an uncredited bit in the Mayflower/Pilgrim film Plymouth Adventure starring Spencer Tracy in 1952. Other film roles shortly followed, including So Big (1953), Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955) and Everything But the Truth (1956).
TV roles came for Ken too, including guest shots on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Circus Boy (featuring a young pre-Monkees Micky Dolenz), Annie Oakley, and Lassie. In October of 1957, a new TV show made it's debut- the show was called Leave It To Beaver.
The first few episodes of Leave It To Beaver were pretty standard 1950s "family show" stuff, although as an interesting twist, Leave It To Beaver, unlike other family shows of the '50's, focused on life from the kids' point of view, as opposed to the parents.
After a few good, but bland and tame, episodes of Leave It To Beaver, in the episode "The New Neighbors," a new and very different teenage character made his debut on the show. This strange but fascinating teenager was to be probably the greatest "scene stealer" in the history of American television.
A friend of Beaver's older brother, Wally, in the show, Eddie Haskell was a snide, smarmy, loud-mouthed braggart in front of his fellow kids and teenagers, who put up a "sweet and courteous" front whenever an adult or parent was present.
In the original pilot for the show, then-called It's a Small World, Harry Shearer played the pre-Eddie Eddie, a character named Frankie Bennett. But Harry's character, unlike Ken's relatively harmless cowardly braggart, was dark and menacing. It is almost certain that had Harry Shearer continued playing the Eddie Haskell-type character on the later series, neither Eddie Haskell, nor the Leave It To Beaver series itself, would never have gained its present day iconic status. (Fortunately for Harry Shearer and all his fans, he was to find TV immortality himself, albeit many years later, as one of the main voices on The Simpsons).
Ken recalls his audition for the role of Eddie Haskell as "a huge cattle call" with several hundred young actors. Finally, the aspirants were winnowed down to thirty or so, then, on his third audition, Ken got the role.
Ken's Eddie Haskell character in "The New Neighbors" episode was originally planned as a one-off appearance. Ken filmed his part in his debut episode, no one made mention of his ever returning and he said goodbye to the rest of the Leave It To Beaver cast, thinking it was just another credit to pad his resume.
For "The New Neighbors" episode, Ken had three scenes as Eddie, about 25% of the episode's 24 minutes. But soon, Ken was called back to film a second episode- "The Clubhouse," where Eddie tries to keep Beaver (Jerry Mathers) out of his club by deliberately jacking up the club dues. By his third appearance on the show ("Voodoo Magic") Ken said he "was beginning to wonder something might really come of this."
In these early episodes, we see Ken slowly refining and perfecting the soon-to-be iconic Eddie Haskell character. In "Voodoo Magic," Eddie convinces Wally (Tony Dow) and the Beaver to see a movie about voodoo, even though their mom (Barbara Billingsly) has expressly forbidden it. Ken gives a truly hilarious performance in this episode, as Beaver uses a voodoo doll (which seems to be really working) to make Eddie sick and in great pain.
Ken recalled about this episode, "It was a fun show to make, I had a lot of lines, and I got to show off my Eddie talents for feigning illness." Ken was also perfecting his trademark Eddie Haskell laugh: "Heh heh heh," which he would use in every Eddie Haskell appearance.
By the end of season one, Eddie Haskell had been featured in 19 Leave It To Beaver episodes.
Ken soon fit right in and all the three teenage members of the cast, Tony Dow (Beaver's older brother Wally) and Frank Bank (who played Eddie's pal, Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford) became fast friends. The three pubescent teens spent many a lunch hour together, dining at the nearby Bob's Big Boy and checking out the pretty secretaries from nearby studios who they knew dined there, too.
The Eddie Haskell character had caught on in a big way and the fan mail started flowing in for Ken. Interestingly, but perhaps predictably, Ken received a large amount of fan mail from prisoners, actual inmates serving their terms behind bars.
Strangely, in season two of the show, 1958-59, Eddie Haskell only made three appearances. But by the show's third year, 1959-60, Ken made 25 episode appearances (Eddie Haskell was to be in 97 of the 235 Leave It To Beaver episodes in total).
Season four featured perhaps the most iconic episode of the show, "In the Soup," where Beaver falls into a giant cup of soup featured on a billboard. After his rescue by the fire department, Beaver is humiliated in front of a large crowd of onlookers, including, of course, the wisecracking heckler, Eddie Haskell.
The Eddie Haskell character had become so popular, there were actually a few "Eddie" episodes, including "Eddie's Double-Cross," "Eddie the Businessman," and "Eddie's Girl."
In the "Eddie's Girl" episode, Eddie brags to Wally about his beautiful girlfriend, but after introducing them, the girl (played by Carol Green) only has eyes for Wally. Ken recalled particularly loving the "Eddie's Girl" episode because it showed "a very human and vulnerable side to Eddie that I loved playing."
After season four of the show, in 1961, in which he was in 19 episodes, Ken enlisted in the Army Reserves and the usual haircut was required. In seasons five and six of Leave It To Beaver, we see Eddie Haskell's curly mop of hair switching over to a G.I. crewcut. Ken served his term in the Army Reserves and still filmed the show in his off time.
Finally, after the show's sixth season (1962-63) Leave It To Beaver was cancelled.
Because of the overwhelming popularity of Eddie Haskell, Ken, like so many series regulars before and since found himself typecast and had a hard time finding work in the industry. It was tough going for Ken, but he did manage to scare up small appearances in the TV shows Petticoat Junction, The Munsters and Adam-12. Ken wrangled a few movie roles too, in 1967's Let's Live a Little and in 1968's With Six You Get Egg Roll, Doris Day's big screen swan song.
After a few mainly fruitless years, Ken joined the LAPD and was actually shot on three occasions in the line of duty. Ken proudly served 18 years as a Los Angeles policeman.
In 1969, he married his girlfriend, Sandy Purdy. Still happily married, the couple has two sons, Eric and Christian. In the 1980's Ken and his sons co-starred in The New Adventures of Leave it to Beaver, a remake of the earlier series, but with the former child cast now playing adults and having adult problems.
Oddly, Ken was the victim of two bizarre urban legends in the 1980s, one that he was in reality singer Alice Cooper and another that he was actually porn star John C. Holmes. Fortunately -and mercifully- both rumors proved to be false.
Ken has made countless appearances all across the country and still is a regular at many autograph shows. Ken's Eddie Haskell character is known and loved all over the world. Eddie Haskell is now an indelible piece of Americana.