Regular readers of this site may be asking if this is now a daily obituary blog. No, but the death of Roger Ebert, Annette Funicello, Johnny Esaw, Jonathan Winters and now Frank Bank in the span of one week sure makes it seem that way.
Sadly, Boomers are in for a steady parade of death notices as even the child stars of shows from the ’50s and ’60s age into their seventies and beyond.
One such actor was Frank Bank, who passed away Saturday one day after his 71st birthday. Bank, a native Californian, played Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford on Leave it to Beaver (1957 – 63).
Lumpy was a bit of an ox, the kind of kid the Cleavers tolerated but always kept an eye on. Richard Deacon (The Dick Van Dyke Show) played his stuffy dad. Lumpy was a bully (or, as Beav would call him, a “creep”), and credit Bank for making him memorable if not entirely sympathetic.
At least Lump had a licence; several episodes showed Lumpy driving the other kids around, often in a car that dated back to the ’40s. Despite the hassles of shooting around the short schedules of younger actors, the series ran six, full, 39-episode seasons.
|Bank and Osmond at a 1998 Hollywood autograph show|
I met Bank, along with Beaver co-star Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell), fifteen years ago at one of the Hollywood Shows where former stars meets fans and sign autographs. There were several former child stars at that particular Hollywood Show, as I recall–Jon Provost, who was on Lassie, Johnny Crawford, a former Mouseketeer who was on The Rifleman, Erin Murphy, who played Tabitha on Bewitched, Jonny Whitaker, Jody on Family Affair, the actors who played Spin and Marty on The Mickey Mouse Club, David Stollery and Tim Considine, Jay North and Gloria Henry, Dennis and Alice from Dennis the Menace and Paul Petersen from The Donna Reed Show.
Not all of them had happy memories of their days as child actors. North, in particular, described it as a bruising experience. Petersen had heard so many horror stories he went on to create a group that advocated on behalf of minors in Hollywood.
Bank and Osmond, on the other hand, both started acting at an early age and had fond memories of their time of Leave it to Beaver. Neither seemed to have any scars from their years on the series, which was shot on the Universal lot.
“They were searching for scum and they came up with us,” is how Bank recalled the typical cattle call which brought them both to the series.
Their memories of Hugh Beaumont, who died in 1982 and played patriarch Ward Cleaver, were all positive. Osmond pointed out Beaumont was an ordained minister in real life. He directed many episodes in the series’ last two seasons.
Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver, was “incredible, like my second mother,” said Bank.
“We stayed pretty close,” Bank added. “We really are sort of a family. It’s something that sounds corny or hokey, but, for 40 years,” he said, pointing to Osmond, “this is the cross that I’ve had to bear.”
Their memories of Beaumont was not shared by costar Tony Dow (Wally), who I met on another occasion. Dow suggested Beaumont was a bit of a tyrant who was not fond of kids. I’ve never read this anywhere else, and to this day I’m not sure if Dow was pulling my leg.
Both Bank and Osmond appeared with Dow and Jerry Mathers (Beaver) in the ’80s in re-boots of the series, the TV-movie Still the Beaver and The New Leave it to Beaver (1984-89). Twenty-odd years later, the characters had families of their own, with Osmond’s actual sons playing Haskell’s two boys. Bank and Osmond also had cameos in the 1997 Leave it to Beaver feature film.
Bank went on to a career as a bond broker (a good move for a guy named Bank) and wrote an autobiography titled, Call Me Lumpy. He said the good vibes on the set extended to the crew. “You meet a lot of nice people,” he said. “There was no jealousy, there was no bickering, we were an honest to God family.”