R.I.P. Tony Dow, Wally Cleaver on classic sitcom ''Leave It to Beaver"

The former teen idol passed a day after his death was mistakenly reported

The Everett Collection

For a generation of kids, the Cleaver family was an icon of warm domesticity. Leave It to Beaver allowed audiences to spend time weekly with mom June, dad Ward, younger brother Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver, and of course, older brother Wally. 

Wally was a good all-American boy, athletic and popular with girls, but still got into mishaps with best friends Eddie and Lumpy as he navigated adolescence. Viewers got good, hearty laughs as he tangled with double dates, pranked his friends, and even bought into ridiculous fad hairstyles.

For Tony Dow, who played Wally, the role propelled him to teen stardom overnight. Hundreds of fan letters poured in weekly, often in pink stationery, sometimes scented. He was one of the first true teen idols of television.

However, Dow didn't even plan on auditioning for the role. In fact, it was a coincidence that led to the breakout role of a lifetime. According to a 1959 article in the Detroit Free Press, an "actor friend of his parents" was heading to an audition to read for Ward Cleaver. He asked Mr. and Mrs. Dow if their son wanted to accompany him to audition for the father and son roles of a new TV sitcom. "The actor didn't come close to getting the role of Ward Cleaver," the paper wrote (the actor was never named), "but Tony's appearance ended the producer's search for Beaver's older brother."

When Leave It to Beaver ended after six years, Dow continued to pick up roles on shows like My Three Sons, Adam-12, Knight Rider, and The Mod Squad. He also chose to study journalism and filmmaking, wanting to do more than be in front of the camera - he wanted to be behind it.

In 1983, the cast of Leave It to Beaver reunited for a reunion movie about the Cleavers called The New Leave It to Beaver or Still The Beaver. The success of the movie led to a TV show that would run until 1989. The series would also give Dow his first chance to work behind the camera as he would go on to write and direct several episodes.

He continued to helm episodes of TV shows, including Harry and the Hendersons, Swamp Thing, and Coach. He served as the special effects supervisor for Babylon 5 and in 1996 he provided visual effects for the Fox TV movie Doctor Who.

Later in life, he would explore his passion for sculpting. One of his sculptures was on display in the backyard of his onscreen mother, Barbara Billingsley. In 2008, he was chosen as one of three sculptors to show at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts exhibition, in the Carrousel du Louvre, in Paris, France.

His last onscreen appearance would be in the 2003 David Spade movie Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, where he appears in the "We Are the World"-style parody song "Child Stars on Your Television". In a tongue-in-cheek line showing Dow's good humor about his child star roots, he sings "but misbehave and we'll bust your head", which Ernest Lee Thomas (Raj from What's Happening!!) replies to with "Gee, Wally, was it something they said?"

Dow was 77 years old.

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306 Comments

FloridaTopCat 11 months ago
Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers were both on an episode of Dick Van Dyke's "Diagnosis Murder"; the episode was named "Trash TV", in 1999, Playing TV Execs on the show!
GOOSEYGOOSE9 11 months ago
My favorites are Eddie and lumpy I seen the episodes with lumpy
forthekids 19 months ago
He also hosted and narrated a local tv tribute to three local kids tv hosts/performers..who were popular in The Southern California viewing area"Chuck The Birthday Clown"(Charles Runyon),"Engineer Bill"(Stulla)and "Sheriff John(Rovick) on KABC TV Ch.7. in the 1980's.
forthekids 19 months ago
Tony was also on an episode of"The New Mike Hammer Show".
eddiecantorfan 23 months ago
The world is A VERY SAD PLACE
WITHOUT TONY DOW !!
rikkirat 24 months ago
TV’s BEST big brother! RIP Tony Dow. Thanks for being an ideal role model for big brothers everywhere.
Irishjulie 24 months ago
Curious question: for any of you who were Wally's age when the show was originally aired, what is a country club dance and were these weekly high school events? Thanks
longvc Irishjulie 19 months ago
I was not Wally's age, but I did come from a town like his. We had a country club where people with more money could do things that just normal people could not do. They had a swimming pool, a large golf course, dances for all ages of people, and a very nice dining room. And, no, it was not connected with the local high school. You had to be a member of the country club itself.
PulsarStargrave 24 months ago
I'm into the 3rd hour of the TONY DOW TRIBUTE marathon of Leave It To Beaver and I'm enjoying the heck out of it! I had almost forgotten how many of my favorite episodes were "Wally centered"! TONY DOW was a riot on that show, especially in tandem with Ken "Eddie Haskell" Osmond!

REST WELL, TONY AND THANK YOU, SO MUCH!
Rick PulsarStargrave 24 months ago
Came to post something similar. Great episode choices, and it's amazing how 60+ year old scripts still seem so relevant in terms of family dynamics. That was a great show.
billtabor61 24 months ago
Rest in peace tony, you will always be missed 😢.
Matsui 24 months ago
We are all invited to a party! This Sunday July 31st 2022 starting at 12:00pm Pacific Time on MeTV. 10 Episodes of "Leave It To Beaver", all of them focusing on Wally Cleaver. A Celebration of Tony Down´s Life. I am going to this party.
kennedi07 24 months ago
Use to watch all the rerun until metv was taken off of Comcast so disappointed with them Rest in Peace Wally
hyppymom 24 months ago
Tony Dow will be missed. Even by the kids just being introduced to the show via syndication. Both Wally and LITB transcend the ages. When my granddaughter was a young girl about 15 or so, I got her hooked on the Beav. I walked in once while she was exclaiming to a friend on the phone about this really cute guy with a great body on TV. I turned to see who it was and there was Wally Cleaver in jeans and a t-shirt!!! Had to laugh. In my day I felt the same way!!!
litleangel 24 months ago
One of my favorite shows. I'm 61 & still watch. I will miss my friend wally.
I spent my childhood living with the cleaver's. Help me be the man I am today. Respectful & trustworthy, man of my word. My handshake is our contract.. The dogs🐕 & I will see you again in heaven chasing cats.🐱😉
Gitch64 24 months ago
The older brother that we all wanted but didn’t. Sadly
Coldnorth Gitch64 21 months ago
Isn’t that the truth
Grizz 24 months ago
The point of mentioning reruns is because he was in a alot of those shows.
Grizz 24 months ago
Going to miss him I met Tony a few times... I worked for MTS "Tower Records" and he was in looking at some CD's the 1st time he had them tucked under his arm and his jacket was semi covering them. I knew who he was and he wasn't stealing them but I walked up to him from behind and quietly said... Gee wally your going to pay for those aren't you. I thought it was funny he just half smiled and said thanks for watching. This was 1987 during the second run of leave it to beaver. I saw him again at the beach and again at Tower Records great guy very friendly but I never called him Wally again. I grew up on reuns of emergency, Adam 12 etc. Gonna miss you.
My prayers for you and your family.
Michael Grizz 24 months ago
He didn't get his CDs from a CD club?
oneofthesedays1 Grizz 24 months ago
It appears even a nice guy like Tony Dow can get tired of fans hanging on to only one of his many accomplishments. Still, it was a great joke, maybe just the wrong moment.

R.I.P Mr. Dow, as for many, you were a big part of learning how to treat people when I was growing up.
DS62 24 months ago
Even as a kid, I loved his down to earth, philosophical approach. He beat out 270 other actors for the part and hadn't even given any thought to being an actor. It's like he was born to be Wally. His sculpture is also beautiful and a lovely legacy besides the show. R.I.P. Tony.
frenchman71 24 months ago
Of all the "Wally tribute episodes" they air they should air the one where Ward and June think Wally's joining the merchant marines.
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