Inside the life of Tony Dow, who played Wally Cleaver on ‘Leave It to Beaver’

There is no longer a renowned older brother from television.

Tony Dow, well remembered for his role as Wally Cleaver in the venerable sitcom Leave It to Beaver, passed away at the age of 77 in 2022.

We were unaware of the struggle he battled for the majority of his life until he provided some further details shortly before his passing.

In many different ways, Tony Dow was a fantastic talent. He served as our fictional childhood friend, hero, and poster child for what it takes to be a good young person.

Born in Hollywood on April 13, 1945, Dow rose to fame at an early age after landing a role in Leave It to Beaver, one of the most popular and memorable sitcoms of the time.

Dow played Wally Cleaver, the All-American older brother of protagonist Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver (played by Jerry Mathers) and son of Ward and June Cleaver.
American actors Tony Dow, Hugh Beaumont, Barbara Billingsley and Jerry Mathers.

Leave It to Beaver, which is recognized as an upbeat, idealized representation of 1950s American life, was an influential element of the formative years of a whole generation.

In the show, Wally Cleaver, an honorable All-American kid, frequently interacts with typical teen issues like dating and giving advice to his younger, more trouble-prone brother, the Beaver.

That person was brought to life by Tony Dow. Wally became a well-known household name due to his charisma, personality, and good nature.

For the television show “Leave It to Beaver,” Tony Dow is seen as Wally leaning on Jerry Mathers as his brother Beaver in front of a red background.

“Wally is the perfect big brother,” Jerry Mathers said in a 2006 interview with the Television Academy Foundation.

“He’s the champion basketball player, football player. He does everything right. He’s a huge letterman. He gets A’s on all his papers. Everyone loves him.”

According to the Washington Post, Dow initially had no interest in acting and instead concentrated on sports. However, after a buddy invited him to go with him to an audition for the TV show Johnny Wildlife, Dow was eventually placed in the show.

A year later, in a “casting cattle call,” he was chosen for Leave it to Beaver, where he would play the role that would define him at the age of 13.

“It was a fun time, a good show and unique in that it looked at the world through a child’s point of view,” Dow told Boomer Magazine in 2014. “Jerry [Mathers] was amazing. That first year all the shows [storylines] were from [the writers’] kids’ experiences.”

Even though it didn’t receive high ratings, Leave It to Beaver has endured in syndication for years and is regarded as a classic TV show. From 1957 to 1963, it operated. Wally is preparing to start college when the series comes to a close.
Next to “Beaver”

Although Dow was never able to land another significant role, she consistently appeared in guest appearances on TV shows including Adam-12, Love American Style, The Mod Squad, and Emergency! He served in the US National Guard from 1965 to 1968.

He couldn’t escape the part that made him famous, like many former child stars, but Dow had no issue going back to Leave It to Beaver when the situation called for it. He played Wally Cleaver once more in the 1983 television movie Still the Beaver, which spawned the four-season revival series The New Leave It to Beaver.

While many reviewers viewed Beaver as a 1950s throwback, Dow defended the program’s emphasis on morally upright storytelling.

“When I see a show about drugs, it can be an interesting story and I can get involved, but it doesn’t have the same kind of identification as when Beaver took his father’s electric drill and made a hole in the garage door,” Mr. Dow told the Houston Chronicle in 1988. “Those kind of stories are what make up real life, and growing up from child to adulthood. People say the show is milk and cookies, but I disagree. I think it’s the essence of growing up.”

The rebirth of Beaver also marked Dow’s entry into the directing field. Following The New Leave it to Beaver, Dow went on to direct episodes of Coach, Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and other shows.

Besides his work as an actor and a director, Dow also liked to create abstract bronze sculptures.

“The figures are abstract and not meant to represent reality but rather the truth of the interactions as I see and feel them,” he said. “I find the wood in the hills of Topanga Canyon and each piece evolves from my subconscious.”

Dow married his second wife, Lauren Shulkind, in 1980, and they were together for 42 years until his passing.

Dow announced in May 2022 that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

”He is approaching this reality so bravely, but it is truly heartbreaking,” his wife Lauren Shulkind wrote in a Facebook post.

On July 27, Dow’s management shared an update on his Facebook account, confirming that the actor had died, following official confirmation by the actor’s family.

News of Dow’s passing was originally reported one day before he actually passed, the actor’s management team erroneously announced his death on his official Facebook page. However, Dow’s family then clarified that the actor was still alive but in his “last hours.”

”This is a difficult time,” his son Christopher Dow said in a statement. “Dad is at home, under hospice care, and in his last hours. My wife and I are by his side along with many friends that have visited. He has a fighting heart.”

The actor’s wife Lauren Dow told Eyewitness News that she had “inferred” that the actor had passed away to people close to her, but it was a “miscommunication.”

According to The Washington Post., Dow’s death was due to complications from liver cancer.

“We know that the world is collectively saddened by the loss of this incredible man,” their statement reads. “He gave so much to us all and was loved by so many. One fan said it best—’It is rare when there is a person who is so universally loved like Tony.’”

Not long before his passing, Dow opened up about another battle he had fought for a long time. The actor was just 12 years old when he landed the role on Leave It to Beaver and like many other child actors, his stardom came with a high price.

“I’d like to do some other stuff. I’d like to do some interesting stuff. You know, it’s sad to be famous at 12 years old or something, and then you grow up and become a real person, and nothing’s happening to you,” he confessed in an interview with CBS in 2022.

“Anger, if it’s untreated, anger turns to depression,” Dow added: “But depression isn’t something you can say ‘cheer up!’ about. You know, it’s a very powerful thing. And it’s had a lot of effect on my life.”

Dow first opened up about his sickness in the 1990s. He acknowledged that he had experienced clinical depression, which he defined as a “self-absorbing feeling of worthlessness, of hopelessness.” He fortunately sought out proper assistance, and he eventually worked as a spokesperson for the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association.

Even from his time on the show, I had no idea Tony Dow struggled with depression. I admire him for coming out about it and the effects it has on the body and psyche in that CBS interview.

Although Christopher, Tony’s only child, did not pursue a second acting career and led a private life, he played young Wally in flashback scenes on The New Leave It to Beaver.

Dow’s family paid tribute to the late actor in a statement.

“Words cannot express how much we will all feel his absence, but will cherish the memories he left to each and every one of us,” the statement from his account reads.

“Although this is a very sad day, I have comfort and peace that he is in a better place,” Christopher said. “He was the best Dad anyone could ask for. He was my coach, my mentor, my voice of reason, my best friend, my best man in my wedding, and my hero.”

“Tony was such a kind man,” Christopher’s wife said. “He had such a huge heart and I’ve never heard Tony say a bad or negative thing about anyone.”

One of the final cast members of Leave It to Beaver, Dow was still alive. Only Jerry Mathers, who is now 74, is still alive out of the main cast.

Eddie Haskell’s actor, Ken Osmond, passed away in 2020. Hugh Beaumont passed away in 1982 at the age of 72, while Barbara Billingsley died in 2010 at the age of 94.

Tony’s death cost us a priceless asset. He was a true American, and we will always remember and love him. Tony, RIP.

The legendary Tony Dow, who will always be remembered for his classic role in Leave it to Beaver, please rest in peace.

Your favorite Tony Dow recollections should be included with this story.