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
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.