Tony Lee Dow (April 13, 1945 – July 27, 2022) was an American film producer, director, sculptor, and television actor.
He is best known for his role in the television sitcom Leave It to Beaver, which ran in primetime from 1957 to 1963. Dow played Wally Cleaver, the older son of June (played by Barbara Billingsley) and Ward (played by Hugh Beaumont) Cleaver, and the older brother of Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver (played by Jerry Mathers).
Early life and career
Dow was born in Hollywood, California, to John Stevens Dow, Jr. (1908–1987), a designer and general contractor, and Muriel Virginia Dow (née Montrose) (May 27, 1906 – April 30, 2001), a stunt woman in early Westerns and Clara Bow’s movie double in Hollywood.
In his youth, Dow trained as a swimmer and was a Junior Olympics diving champion. He won the role of Wally Cleaver in Leave It to Beaver in a casting call with almost no acting experience.
Dow continued to perform on Leave It to Beaver for six years, until the series ended in 1963. After that, he appeared on other television shows, including My Three Sons, Dr. Kildare, The Greatest Show on Earth, Never Too Young, and on five episodes of Mr. Novak in three different roles.
Then, from 1965 to 1968, he served in the National Guard, interrupting his acting career.
On his return to acting, he was a guest star in the television series Adam-12, Love American Style, Knight Rider, Square Pegs, The Mod Squad, The Hardy Boys, and Emergency!
During the 1970s, Dow continued acting while working in the construction industry and studying journalism and filmmaking.
From 1983 to 1989, Dow reprised his role as Wally Cleaver in a reunion television movie and in a subsequent series The New Leave It to Beaver.
In 1987, he was honored by the Young Artist Foundation with its Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award for his role as Wally Cleaver.
Dow’s most recent screen appearance was in the 2003 film Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.
In April 2019, Dow was seen promoting the Leave It To Beaver television series and other classic television series on the MeTV television network.
Behind the camera
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In 1986, he wrote an episode of The New Leave It to Beaver. In 1989, he made his debut as a director with an episode of The New Lassie, followed by episodes of Get a Life, Harry and the Hendersons, Coach, Babylon 5, Crusade, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He served as the visual effects supervisor for Babylon 5. In 1996, he provided visual effects for the Fox television movie Doctor Who.
Dow married Lauren Shulkind in June 1980.
Dow (top) with his Leave It to Beaver co-stars (L–R): Hugh Beaumont, Barbara Billingsley and Jerry Mathers, circa 1959
In the 1990s, Dow revealed that he has suffered from clinical depression. He has since starred in self-help videos chronicling this battle, including the 1998 Beating the Blues.
Dow has become a sculptor, creating abstract bronze sculptures. He said about his work,
“The figures are abstract and not meant to represent reality but rather the truth of the interactions as I see and feel them. I find the wood in the hills of Topanga Canyon and each piece evolves from my subconscious. I produce limited editions of nine bronzes using the lost wax process from molds of the original burl sculpture.”
One of his bronze pieces was on display in the backyard garden of Barbara Billingsley, who played his mother on Leave It to Beaver.
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, in December 2008. He represented the United States delegation, which was composed of artists from the Karen Lynne Gallery. His abstract shown at the Louvre was titled “Unarmed Warrior”, a bronze figure of a woman holding a shield.
In May 2022, Dow was diagnosed with cancer. On July 26, 2022, after erroneous reports of his death, it was reported by his family that Dow was at his Topanga, California home, in his “last hours”, under hospice care.
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