West News Wire: Tony Dow, who played Wally Cleaver on the sitcom “Leave It to Beaver,” passed away on Wednesday. He was a key contributor to the iconic and enduring image of the American teen of the 1950s and 1960s. He was 77.
Dow’s death was confirmed by Frank Bilotta, a sculptor who worked on his behalf, in an email to The Associated Press.
There was no explanation given, but Dow had been receiving hospice care and had revealed in May that he had been found to have gall bladder and prostate cancer.
Tuesday’s post on Dow’s Facebook page prematurely announced his passing; however, his wife and the management team swiftly removed the message and clarified that it was a mistake.
Dow’s Wally was an often annoyed but 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 — but his parents did not push him into show business.
He had done just a little stage acting and appeared 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 more than 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.
“Tony was not only my brother on TV, but in many ways in life as well. He leaves an empty place in my heart that won’t be filled,” Mathers said in a Facebook post Wednesday. “Tony was always the kindest, most generous, gentle, loving, sincere, and humble man, and it was my honor and privilege to be able to share memories together with him for 65 years.”
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 just a little more wisdom than his little brother. The show’s plotlines suggested Wally was bound 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 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 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 a hilltop with binoculars, thinking they’re taking in some 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 it had naturally run its course with Wally about to go to college and Beaver bound for high school.