HomeAmerican Entertainment‘Leave It to Beaver’s Tony Dow Once Recalled His ‘Strange’ Path to Becoming a Child Star

‘Leave It to Beaver’s Tony Dow Once Recalled His ‘Strange’ Path to Becoming a Child Star

by Taylor Cunningham
Tony Dow
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As all Hollywood stars know, it isn’t easy to break into the industry. Almost all of the big names worked low-paying gigs and suffered constant letdowns before they finally won the big roles that turned them into household names. But Leave it to Beaver actor Tony Dow had a much different experience.

Dow, who passed away in 2022, unwittingly walked into the role of Wally Cleaver, Beaver’s all-American older brother, when he was 12 years old. At the time, being a small-screen celebrity had never even crossed his mind. Instead, he was focused on becoming an Olympic swimmer, and he was already training to try out for the 1972 games. And his Olympic aspirations were what brought him to audition for his now-infamous classic TV character.

“I used to give diving exhibitions from when I was five,” he said in a 1983 interview with The Daily Advocate. “I worked out every day at a particular pool, and one of the lifeguards there was an actor.”

That lifeguard was a struggling actor, and he wanted to try out for the part of a father. He asked Dow if he would go to the audition with him as his son, and he did. The lifeguard didn’t land the role, but Tony Dow did.

Tony Dow Thought Wally Cleaver was ‘a Little Bland’

When the young Dow earned the spot, he thought it would be a fun opportunity. But his mother was more realistic about the situation and explained that being a child star was not all it was cracked up to be.

“She told me how much work it would be and how it would mean I couldn’t go to my regular school anymore,” he recalled. “She told me all the pros and cons. And I remember I said, ‘It sounds like fun. I’ll do it.'”

“It’s strange that what was probably the most important decision of my life was made so lightly,” he pointed out.

Tony Dow never did become an Olympic athlete. Working on the set of his hit series took away the time he needed to train for that goal. But the actor didn’t seem heartbroken about the lost opportunity.

As he grew older, he did try his hand at several other passions, such as sculpting and painting. But he enjoyed acting, so he kept that as his main career. And he shared that he didn’t do it for fame or money like most people, he did it because he truly enjoyed the craft.

“I still love acting,” he shared at the time. “I want to continue as an actor. I’d prefer to do something besides the Cleaver grown-up series. Wally Cleaver is OK, but he is a little bland.”