The Life And Career Of Tony Dow:

By Emanuel Eisen | Saturday, 30 July 2022 05:15
Views 1.1K

Tony Dow, who as Wally Cleaver on the sitcom “Leave It to Beaver” helped create the popular and lasting photo of the American teenager of the 1950s and 60s, died Wednesday. He was 77.

Frank Bilotta, who represented Dow in his work as a sculptor, confirmed his death in an email to The Associated Press.

No cause was given, yet Dow had been in hospice care and announced in May that he had been diagnosed with prostate and gall bladder cancer.

“Although this is a very sad day, I have comfort and peace that he is in a better place,” Dow's son Christopher announced in a post on his father's official Facebook page. “He was the best Dad anyone could ask for. He was my coach, my mentor, my voice of reason, my best friend, my best man in my wedding, and my hero.”

A post on Dow's Facebook page on Tuesday prematurely reported that he had died, yet his wife and management team later took down the post and clarified that it was declared in error.

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Dow's Wally was an often annoyed yet essentially loving big brother who was constantly bailing out the title character, Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, played by Jerry Mathers, on the show that was synonymous with the sometimes hokey, wholesome image of the 1950s American family.

Dow was born and raised in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles — his mother was a stuntwoman who acted as a double for silent film star Clara Bow — yet his parents did not push him into show business.

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He had done only a little stage acting and occurred in a pair of pilots. After attending an open casting call, he landed his career-defining role as Wally.

Dow would play the part for six seasons and over 200 episodes from 1957 to 1963 on primetime on CBS and ABC, then for more than 100 episodes in the 1980s on a syndicated sequel series.

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On the show, Wally, sometimes the center of the plot himself, navigated the worlds of junior high and high school — his two-faced best friend Eddie Haskell at his side — with only a little more wisdom than his little brother. The show’s plotlines proposed Wally was bound for great things — he explained he wants to become an aerospace engineer — and he tended to find himself in moral dilemmas that stemmed from his essential goodness.

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Dow’s favorite episode was one in which the always-ready-to-teach father, Ward Cleaver, played by Hugh Beaumont, wants his boys to know what his childhood was like. He takes them into the wilderness, despite their having what they felt was pressing business at home.

“The boys didn’t want to go because ‘Zombies From Outer Space’ was playing in the theater,” Dow announced in a 2018 interview with Sidewalks Entertainment at Silicon Valley Comic-Con.

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After the trip, at the end of the episode, Ward discovers the boys on a hilltop with binoculars, thinking they’re taking in some nature.

“They were watching Zombies from Outer Space at the drive-in,” Dow announced with a laugh.

The show was nonetheless popular when it went off the air, yet it had naturally run its course with Wally about to go to college and Beaver bound for high school.

Dow’s death leaves Mathers and Rusty Stevens, who played Beaver’s friend Larry Mondello, as the only surviving members of the show’s core cast. Beaumont died in 1982. Barbara Billingsley, who played mother June Cleaver, died in 2010. Ken Osmond, who played Haskell, died in 2020.

Dow would appear as a guest star on other TV series throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, including “My Three Sons,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Adam-12,” “Emergency,” “Square Pegs” and “Knight Rider.”

He took a break from acting to serve three years in the U.S. National Guard in the late 1960s.

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