Forever tagged as the unctuous, trouble-making truant Eddie Haskell on the quintessential 50s family show Leave It to Beaver (1957), actor Ken Osmond did not manage much of a career after the stereotype. So inextricably typed was he that he gave up on any semblance of a career within a short time after the series’ cancellation. Unlike so many other tragic child stars who did not survive the transition into adulthood, Osmond’s life remained quite balanced. It did not careen out of control or disintegrate into alcohol and drugs.
Ken was born on June 3, 1943 in Glendale, California, and started appearing on film and TV prior to his sitcom success thanks to a typically insistent stage mother. Taking up athletic skills such as fencing and martial arts as well as diction classes, Ken and his brother Dayton Osmond made their film debuts as child extras in the Mayflower pilgrim tale Plymouth Adventure (1952) starring Spencer Tracy. Other minor tyke film roles came for Osmond with So Big (1953), Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955) and Everything But the Truth (1956). He went on to appear in the popular shows of the day including “Circus Boy,” “Annie Oakley” and “Lassie.” Both public and studio schooled, Ken nabbed the key role of Eddie Haskell at age 14. With his tight, curly blond locks, ugly sneer and intimidating stance, he became an instant sensation on the show, delightfully smudging up the squeaky-clean Cleaver name on occasion with his nasty antics. As the two-faced buddy of teenager Wally Cleaver, Eddie was forever brown-nosing the Cleaver parents (“You look lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver!”) while showing his true colors bullying poor Beaver (nicknaming him “squirt”) or goading Wally on to break some family rule or curfew. A certifiable radar for trouble, he was the resident scene-stealer for six seasons until the show’s demise in 1963, when things went downhill quickly. In retrospect, a spinoff show starring the Eddie Haskell character could have been something to consider; however, Osmond as a 20-year-old juvenile delinquent (his age when the show ended) might have been hard to swallow.
Osmond struggled badly in its aftermath. After a hitch in the Army, he grabbed a few TV remnants that came his way on such lightweight comedy shows as “The Munsters” and “Petticoat Junction.” Following a minor role in the youth-oriented flick C’mon, Let’s Live a Little (1967) starring pop singers Bobby Vee and Jackie DeShannon, Osmond pretty much called it quits. He subsequently made a very un-Eddie-like career choice by joining the Los Angeles Police Department. He grew a mustache to help secure his anonymity. A long-time member of its vice squad, he was wounded three times during the line of duty, eventually retired and earned a medical disability pension from the police force.
In the 1980s, Ken came back to TV with a reunion mini-movie and then a cable-revived version of “Leave It to Beaver” entitled The New Leave It to Beaver (1983), which featured Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow, Frank Bank and Jerry Mathers from the original 1950s cast. The series revolved around the boys all married now, having kids and faced with grown-up problems. Ken’s real-life offspring Christian Osmond and Eric Osmond played his impish sons on the series, Eddie Jr. and Freddie. A full-length film version of Leave It to Beaver (1997) had Osmond turning back once again to the show, this time as the father of his infamous role. Ken still makes personal appearances occasionally at film festivals, collectors’ shows and nostalgia conventions. Married to wife Sandy since 1970, he has kept fairly prosperous handling rental properties in the Los Angeles area. His brother Dayton later became a special effects supervisor for the TV show “Babylon 5.”
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