Under the Beaver's Skin

Gee whiz, Wally: the Beav talks to Unreal about psoriasis! Plus, we see how the Lou stacks up to Beantown, try to understand the appeal of the Pet Building and administer a Harold Ramis quiz

May 19, 2004 at 4:00 am
Very few child actors are able to establish successful postpubescent screen careers, a plight that Jerry (Leave It to Beaver) Mathers has smartly tried not to defy, instead mounting a lucrative career as a real estate agent and psoriasis spokesman. The 55-year-old Mathers, who has suffered from the nagging skin disease since his college days at Berkeley, will appear at the Clayton Radisson (7750 Carondelet Avenue) on Saturday morning, May 22, to discuss his struggles with psoriasis.

But first he took time out via phone to subject himself to a more bothersome curse: an Unreal interrogation.

Unreal: Are you more likely to contract psoriasis if you live in a sweaty climate like ours in eastern Missouri?

Jerry Mathers: No, it's genetic. It's possible that that could irritate it. Being in a hot, sweaty climate may make you more stressed out. It's not contagious. It's basically a defect. If you see someone with terrible dandruff, do not be afraid of these people.

Did your own struggles with psoriasis discourage you from pursuing a serious acting career in the prime of your adulthood?

No, in some ways where my psoriasis is, is lucky. I first found out I had psoriasis in college, when I got kicked playing intramural soccer. I had what I thought was a rash on my butt. I'd never done laundry before, so I thought it was from not doing my laundry properly. My doctor said, 'What you have on your rump is psoriasis.'

The Beav, even during puberty, seemed pretty comfortable in his own skin. Is it accurate to surmise that Wally, not the Beav, would be more likely to be embarrassed by a wicked case of psoriasis, owing in no small part to Tony Dow's transparent self-consciousness?

Probably not. I think most people with psoriasis are, in a lot of ways, taken aback. Anybody who has psoriasis is affected both physically and emotionally.

Why did your band, Beaver and the Trappers, not attain the same level of fame as, say, the Monkees?

We were a garage band, so the Monkees had a lot more dollars behind them. We accomplished what we wanted to do. We were one of the hottest garage bands for proms and sock hops when I was in high school.

What's this about the rumors that you died in Vietnam? Is this sort of like the rumor that Paul Pfeiffer from The Wonder Years grew up to become Marilyn Manson?

Yeah, in fact, there was even one that said Ken Osmond grew up to be Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper did an interview with Rolling Stone that said he had a childhood like Eddie Haskell, so people thought he was Eddie Haskell.

Did Barbara Billingsley drink dry martinis like a drunken blowfish between takes? And did she have a salty sense of humor?

No, in fact, she was very conscious of her image. People wouldn't think this was a big thing now, but at that time most women smoked. In the middle of the first year of Leave It to Beaver, Barbara Billingsley quit smoking.

Psoriasis, much like HIV, involves T-cell malfunction. What do you think of the HIV epidemic sweeping across the porn industry? Do you sympathize with the adult acting community, or do you feel like if you lie down with leeches you're going to get sucked?

I sympathize with anyone who contracts a deadly disease. In some ways they know the risk when they go in. I feel sorry for anyone who, because of their line of work, risks death and ends up getting a death sentence.

Do you regret having starred as Sergeant Dun in the 1994 erotic thriller Sexual Malice -- or was this your attempt to shed your goody-goody image, à la Meg Ryan in In the Cut?

Actually, my brother, James, was the cameraman on it. It was his birthday, so the producers asked me to do a scene on his birthday. He's doing a documentary on Brian Wilson right now.

If Mario Van Peebles had been cast as the Beaver instead of Jerry Mathers, how might that have changed the character and the show's plot lines?

I'm so lame, I don't know who he is.

Beantown West

It was heartening to see the New York Times devote its weekly "What's Doing In" travel-section page to St. Louis two Sundays ago. But what's up with author Shirley Christian's proclamation that our proudly ramshackle burg is "the Boston of the Midwest"?

If the Gray Lady's travel editors are of a mind to be consistent, in coming weeks we can expect see Cleveland feted as "the San Francisco of the Erie Peninsula" and Birmingham held aloft as "the Seattle of the Sun Belt."

In fairness to Ms. Christian (and in keeping with a private promise we made just now to apply the scientific method to something -- anything -- at least once a month), Unreal put the Times scribe's theory to the test via a point-by-point comparison.

Check out Unreal's Boston v. St. Louis chart. (70kb)

Heavy Petting

As every St. Louis baseball fan knows, Busch Memorial Stadium is slated for demolition after the 2005 season. Architectural-preservation buffs are already mourning the demise of the 38-year-old Edward Durrell Stone-designed orifice, the last remaining major-league example of the Concrete Behemoth School of stadium architecture (see also Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh).

"What's going to be left of everything that was built in that particular time in history?" architect Tim Rowbottom asks rhetorically.

Well, maybe not so rhetorically.

About a block away from Busch, at Fourth and Spruce streets, stands the thirteen-story Pet Building, a 35-year-old structure that was recently provisionally accepted for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The honor's aim is to encourage preservation of some of our nation's oldest, most interesting buildings -- and also, apparently, big piles of concrete and glass.

"Frankly, it's a very complex building," Rowbottom says of the former headquarters of condensed-milk behemoth Pet Inc., which departed in 1995. "The concept of it is that you have clear-span office floors without any columns in between. It worked great as an office building. It's going to work great as a residential building as well. It's a fabulous building. It has seven or eight different types of concrete."

Carolyn Toft, executive director of the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to preserving historic concrete, shares Rowbottom's enthusiasm. In fact, it was Landmarks that nominated the building for the National Register.

"It's important in the history of Missouri architecture," Toft argues. "It's the best example in the state of New Brutalist architecture."

Unreal once slept through an entire semester of the History of Architecture, but we were pretty sure "New Brutalist" wasn't a reference to Donald Rumsfeld. In fact, St. Louis County Parks preservation historian Esley Hamilton tells us, it was "an esoteric area in the history of American architecture, which featured a lot of exposed concrete and massive forms." Designed by Alfred Aydelott, the Pet Building was directly inspired by some of the late work of the great Swiss architect and concrete lover, Le Corbusier, says Hamilton, who is also in favor of registering the Pet as historic.

If it makes the National Register, the building will be eligible for historic tax credits, should anyone care to spruce it up.

Not coincidentally, Balke Brown Associates has the property under contract and -- with the help of Rowbottom's architectural firm, the Lawrence Group -- aims to transform it into 100 luxury apartments. The firm stands to get a big discount off the $20 million or so in development costs -- maybe $7 million, confirms Don Land, the company's senior vice president of development.

Cool deal for Balke Brown. But it gets better.

It just so happens that the Pet Building sits due east of the vacant lot that will soon be transformed into the Cardinals' new ballpark. That's right: When Busch Memorial Stadium becomes part of that great big dust cloud in the sky and the St. Louis firm of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum erects its "retro" replacement next door, tenants of the Pet Building will have the yummiest view in downtown real estate!

A cynic would be quick to discern a certain irony here: The Pet Building, which is -- how to put this gently? -- uglier than the psoriasis-pocked butt of Jerry Mathers, will become a moneymaker for a big development firm, aided by publicly funded tax credits. Meanwhile, Busch Stadium, a veritable icon of St. Louis architecture, will be reduced to rubble.

Unreal, of course, is no cynic. The architectural-preservation game is a lot like Cardinals baseball: You win some, and you lose some.

Slam Dunk

Everybody's favorite former Washington University frat boy Harold Ramis -- co-writer of Animal House, co-writer and director of Caddyshack and Groundhog Day -- was honored with a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame this past weekend. Unfortunately, he was shooting an undoubtedly hi-larious movie somewhere and couldn't be here to mug for the cameras.

The duty fell to one Henry Schvey, chair of the Performing Arts Department at Wash. U. Unsure whether Schvey was an appropriate choice, Unreal quizzed him on his Ramis knowledge.

Unreal: Which Ramis movie did Brendan Fraser have a starring role in?

Henry Schvey: Oh, c'mon. Give me something difficult. Bedazzled.

I loved Mr. Mom, starring Michael Keaton. Did Ramis, by any chance, direct that?


Very good, but which Michael Keaton vehicle did he direct? I'll give you a hint: It was from 1996 and also starred Andie MacDowell.

God, you should have let me prepare for this. What was it?


Oh, of course.

Ramis had Analyze This, and then Analyze That. What will the sequel to Analyze That be called?

[Laughs] Who's on Third?

When Ramis was in a frat at Wash. U., did he ever dunk anybody's head in icewater?

I don't know. Why don't you call him?

In Caddyshack, what exactly did Bill Murray's character's sinsemilla consist of. Was it real?

I have no idea.

Was it hard to convince Beverly D'Angelo to do a nude scene in European Vacation?

[Laughs] He didn't direct European Vacation. I think he only did the first one. He knew when to get out.

Very, very good! You are Unreal-certified Grade-A worthy.