Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: The first toilet ever seen on a network television program appeared on Leave It to Beaver.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2005]
Origins: Another of the many ubiquitous trivia items that circulate on the Internet is the amazing but true "fact" (or so we're told) that the first network television program to show a toilet was the gentle family sitcom Leave It to Beaver, which originally ran from 1957 to 1963. We older folks (i.e., those of us who grew up during the
Thus this bit of Leave It to Beaver trivia brings several questions to mind: Why was it that well into the 1970s the networks were so circumspect about letting viewers glimpse an actual toilet if one had already been shown on Leave It to Beaver, a series that had aired way back in the 1950s? Didn't an FCC restriction actually prevent networks from including toilets in programs back then? How did Leave It to
The answer is that Leave It to Beaver didn't really show a toilet in any episode, although there is a kernel of truth to the claim that it did. The intended debut episode of Leave It to Beaver (entitled "Captain Jack") was shelved for a week over censorship problems back in 1957, and a different episode was run in its place instead. The difficulty with "Captain Jack" was that the plot of the episode had Wally and the Beaver ordering a "genuine Florida alligator" for $2.50 from an ad in their Robot Men of Mars comic book and being disappointed at receiving not a full-grown saurian but an eight-inch baby gator. Determined to keep their purchase anyway, the boys visited the proprietor of the eponymous Captain Jack's Alligator Farm, who gave them some pointers on the proper care and feeding of an alligator. Wally and Beaver couldn't keep their reptilian pet (now christened Captain Jack) in their bedroom for fear their parents would find out it, so they hid him in the bathroom. But merely keeping Captain Jack in the sink or the bathtub would have left him too vulnerable to discovery, so they concealed him by placing him inside the toilet tank (which Wally referred to as Captain Jack's "aquarium").
Therein lay the problem. In 1957 the networks were squeamish enough about displaying a bathroom on television, let alone an actual toilet, but the "Captain Jack" episode as filmed required showing both. CBS refused to approve the episode in its original form, but it couldn't reasonably be redone with the bathroom scenes omitted since there was nowhere else in the house the boys could plausibly hide an alligator. After several rounds of wrangling between the network and the production company, a compromise was reached: The episode could include shots of a toilet tank, but not the toilet itself. So, in one very brief scene, we see the boys feeding their baby alligator in the middle of the bathroom floor, then Wally walks over to the toilet tank, puts Captain Jack back inside it, and places the lid back on the tank. The toilet itself is never seen, only the top portion of the tank:
Was Leave It to Beaver the first TV series to show a toilet? Not quite. It can lay claim to being the first series to show a toilet tank, however.
Last updated: 5 June 2007
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