‘Leave It to Beaver’ Star Tony Dow Reflects on Not Having Control as a Kid

by Liz Holland

“Leave It to Beaver” star Tony Dow has been in the spotlight for almost his entire life. When he landed the role of Wally Cleaver, he was a young boy who competitively swam for fun. He accompanied his coach once to an audition–his coach didn’t get the role. However, Tony got an offer. When his mother told him the news while they were out for a meal, the young actor to be didn’t totally know what he was getting himself into. “I took a bite of my hamburger and I took a sip of my malt, and I said: ‘OK.’ And there went my life!,” Dow recalls. 

In a recent interview with CBS News, Tony Dow looks back on how little control he had as a kid thrust into the spotlight. “From the time I was 11 or 12, I was being told what to do,” he said. “I was told on the set, I was told at home. I didn’t have control of my life.” It certainly wasn’t easy. In every aspect of life, Tony Dow was being “given his lines.” As a result of his childhood living in the public eye, Dow ended up facing a fierce battle with depression.

 The actor says he had no idea how much his role as Wally was going to define him. “But it did,” Dow told CBS.  “And I was gonna have to live with it for the rest of my life. I thought: ‘This isn’t fair. You know? I mean, 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 for you.”

Tony Dow Struggled With Stereotypes and Typecasts

Tony Dow’s role as Wally also affected his career. Once you portray a role in a show as iconic as “Leave It to Beaver,” it can be hard to break out of the box people put you in. In a 2019 chat with Fox News, Dow touches on this issue.  “People formulate an opinion about you and expect you to be a particular way. And when you’re not that way, they’re disappointed. They don’t quite understand it. That was an issue I was faced with.”

Dow was eventually able to break out of his typecast shell when he did “High School USA” with Michael J. Fox in the 1980s. He credits his family for their attempts to give him at least a somewhat normal childhood, and for helping him through his Hollywood struggles. 

“You’re no longer the cute little kid,” Dow says of growing up in show business. “You go through an awkward age and don’t get hired, so you quit… I wasn’t neglected by my family… I also started college and kept acting… Then I decided to stop and try other things, like directing, to keep things interesting. But my life was sort of consistently the same. So I didn’t have trouble with that transition. And I’m still keeping busy today.”