During my 20-plus years of working in the radio business, I met and interviewed many celebrities. Virtually all of them were promoting something (a new movie, record, book, or something else they were trying to sell), which is why they were spending time with me.
We weren’t hanging out because we were best buds or because they thought I was interesting. I had an audience and they needed to reach them to further their career.
Almost all of the celebrities I met were very appreciative of the opportunity and were genuinely nice people.
The nicest was Jerry Mathers.
Yes, “The Beaver.”
More on him in a moment.
Whenever you see a celebrity interview in the newspaper or on TV or hear them on the radio, it’s because they’ve got something on which they want you to spend your money. They may chat about their love life or what it was like to be part of a TV series they used to star in 30 years ago, but generally, they’re pushing something. It’s rare that they do interviews just for the heck of it.
Most of the singers, actors, comedians, authors, and other famous folk I encountered understood the importance of the media and the importance of being personable and endearing.
However, you’d be surprised at the number of celebrities I met who seemed almost bothered by that process.
During my time with those celebrities, it was apparent that they wanted to be anywhere else other than where they were.
But, those were the exceptions.
Back to Jerry Mathers. The ironic thing is that I didn’t meet him until after I left the broadcasting business. In 2002, the health care company for which I was working at the time hired Mr. Mathers to come to town to speak about something he was battling — diabetes.
Today, diabetes and the many health problems that it causes are discussed frequently. But, in 2002, that wasn’t the case. So, it took someone fairly well known to draw a crowd to hear about a medical condition.
Beaver Cleaver was the perfect guy. Here’s why:
At one point in his career, Jerry (I’ll call him Jerry instead of Mr. Mathers, because he asked me to) bought a catering company.
The caterers who worked for Jerry primarily served the film community.
They would be on the sets where TV shows and movies were made, and they’d prepare great, rich food — anything the actors, directors, and others wanted.
Well, what do you think would happen to you if you had a personal chef that would make you anything you wanted?
That’s exactly what happened to Jerry.
His weight ballooned and one day when he didn’t feel well he went to see his doctor.
He told me that his sugar registered 600. Normal sugar is 100 or less.
Jerry said his doctor was amazed he was still conscious.
The Beav made a decision that he said saved his life. He committed to changing his eating habits.
He also committed to sharing his story so that others would understand the seriousness of diabetes.
This is where I came into the picture and the two of us wound up spending two October days together.
When a celebrity is hired for an appearance, there are several pieces that are put into place before their arrival and during their stay. In addition to making sure that a driver and a nice car (typically a limo) are waiting at the airport, a liaison is assigned so that everything goes smoothly.
My boss at the time asked me to serve as Jerry’s liaison, which I was happy to do. My job was to make sure that if he needed anything, I took care of it.
The first thing he said to me after I met him at the airport gate and led him to the car was, “Gee, I hate that you guys spent money on a limo for me. A regular car would have been just fine.”
Read that sentence again in your head in Beaver Cleaver’s voice, and that’s exactly how it sounded.
I knew then that he was a genuinely nice guy.
The rest of his stay was filled with his humility, graciousness, and appreciation. I took him by the venue so that he could see where he’d be entering and exiting, and where we would set up for him to sign autographs.
Not every celebrity will agree to signing autographs, but he was more than happy to do it.
“How many people are we expecting tonight?” he asked me.
“Capacity is 800,” I answered.
Since it was free and open to the public, reservations weren’t required. So, I had no idea if 50 people would show up or if it would be 500. I gave him the most positive answer that I could, hoping that we’d have a crowd.
Boy, did we ever.
Way more than 800 people showed up. Folks were standing against the walls and in the back.
Jerry Mathers gave a speech about his diabetes diagnosis and the importance of following his doctor’s orders, including changing his lifestyle. His message wasn’t preachy, it was passionate.
After his presentation, he stayed for over two hours to take photos and sign autographs. He took time with every single person to talk to them and make them feel that he appreciated their attendance.
When he finished signing autographs, I asked if he wanted to go get dinner. He hadn’t eaten since lunch. He asked if there was anywhere that served lamb. I took him to the one restaurant in town that offered lamb as an entrée.
Even though at the time he was 50 years older than he had been when he appeared in “Leave It To Beaver,” he still was easily recognizable. Everyone in the restaurant knew who he was.
From the waitress, to the bartender, to the other patrons, people approached our table to tell him how much they loved him and his show. Even though the man was exhausted and starving, he was gracious, kind, and smiled with appreciation for every single person who interrupted his meal.
I was amazed.
As I mentioned, I’ve worked with lots of celebrities, but never with anyone else who came close to Jerry Mathers’ professionalism and sincere gratefulness for his fans. Like most celebrities, he did have something to sell, but it wasn’t to make a buck, it was to help others. He was there to help people understand the seriousness of diabetes.
When I dropped him off at the airport, I thanked him for the message he was sharing. He thanked me for helping him share it.
As he boarded the plane, it occurred to me that the reason that he was so likeable on Leave It To Beaver is because he wasn’t acting. Jerry Mathers really is that nice of a guy.