Tony Dow, Wally Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver, dies aged 77 | American television

Tony Dow, who as Wally Cleaver on the sitcom Leave It to Beaver helped create the popular and enduring image of the American teenager of the 1950s and 60s, died on Wednesday. He was 77 years old.

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, but Dow was in hospice care and announced in May that he had been diagnosed with prostate and gallbladder cancer.

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

A post on Dow’s Facebook page on Tuesday prematurely announced that he had died, but his wife and management team later took down the post and explained that it was announced in error.

Dow’s Wally was an often bored but essentially loving big brother who constantly bailed out the main character, Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, played by Jerry Mathers, on the show who was synonymous with the sometimes hokey and wholesome image of the 1950s American family. .

Dow was born and raised in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles — his mother was a stunt double who performed as a stunt double for silent film star Clara Bow — but his parents didn’t push him into show business.

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

family poses
Clockwise from left: Tony Dow, Hugh Beaumont, Jerry Mathers and Barbara Billingsley in a promotional photo for Leave It to Beaver. Photography: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Dow would play the role for six seasons and over 200 episodes from 1957 to 1963 in prime time on CBS and ABC, then for over 100 episodes in the 1980s on a series of syndicated sequels.

In the show, Wally, sometimes at the center of the plot himself, navigated the worlds of middle school and high school – his two-faced best friend Eddie Haskell by his side – with just a little more wisdom than his little brother. The show’s storylines suggested that Wally was destined for great things – he mentions wanting to become an aerospace engineer – and he tended to find himself in moral dilemmas that stemmed from his essential goodness.

Dow’s favorite episode was the 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 to the desert, although they have what they feel is urgent business at home.

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

After the trip, at the end of the episode, Ward discovers the boys on top of a hill with binoculars, thinking they are enjoying nature.

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

The show was still popular when it went off the air, but naturally ran 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 main cast. Beaumont died in 1982. Barbara Billingsley, who played Wally and Beaver’s mother, June Cleaver, died in 2010. Ken Osmond, who played Haskell, died in 2020.

Dow would guest star in other television 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 his acting career to serve three years in the United States National Guard in the late 1960s.

From 1983 to 1989, amid a cultural craze for nostalgic television, Dow reprized the role of Wally in The New Leave it to Beaver.

He began writing and directing episodes of this series and worked as a television director throughout the 1990s on shows such as The New Lassie, Babylon 5, Harry and the Henderson and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. .

At a time when such revelations were rare, Dow went public with his clinical depression in the 1980s and made self-help videos about accepting and managing the condition.

Along with later appearances at pop culture conventions, often alongside Mather, Dow worked as an artist, gaining a strong reputation as a sculptor.

One of his bronze pieces was accepted in 2008 at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, a 150-year-old art exhibition held annually at the Louvre.

Dow told The Associated Press in 2012 that his openings had attracted as many people eager to rub shoulders with the beaver’s big brother as they did to see his art.

“I think it’s hard, especially with Wally’s image, to be taken seriously for pretty much anything other than that,” he said with a chuckle and a nod.

Dow is survived by his wife of 42 years, Lauren; his son, Christophe; his daughter-in-law, Melissa; and his brother Dio.

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