Tony Dow, big brother Wally on ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ dies at 77
LOS ANGELES — Tony Dow, who as Wally Cleaver on the sitcom “Leave It to Beaver” helped create the popular and lasting image 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. No cause was given, but Dow had been in hospice care and announced in May that he had been diagnosed with prostate and gall bladder cancer.
A post on Dow’s Facebook page on Tuesday prematurely reported 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 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.