‘Leave It to Beaver’: How the Late Tony Dow Landed the Role of Wally on a Lark

by Craig Garrett

Tony Dow made a mark on classic tv as Wally on Leave It to Beaver, but he came by the part totally by chance. Leave It to Beaver was more than simply about the Beaver. Sure, the youngest Cleaver has his name in the title, but Wally, the older brother, was just as essential. Thanks to his performance as Wally, teenage Tony Dow became an overnight sensation. Heaps of fan letters poured in on a regular basis. Many from adoring female fans. He was one of the first major teen idols on television.

Tony Dow’s career was closely linked with his association with Beaver. He played Wally from 1977 to 1963 in the original run. He took up the mantle once more for the tv reunion movie, Still the Beaver in 1983. That was so popular with fans that an entire sequel series, The New Leave It to Beaver was produced. That show also debuted in 1983 and ran until 1989. It’s easy to see that the role touched generations of viewers. However, it almost never came to be.

Tony Dow had no intention to try out for the role of Wally in Leave it to Beaver. He was just along for the ride. The Detroit Free Press wrote in 1959, that an “actor friend of his parents” was heading to an audition to read for Ward Cleaver. He asked Mr. and Mrs. Dow if their son wanted to go with him to audition for the father and son roles in a new television show. “The actor didn’t come close to getting the role of Ward Cleaver,” The Detroit Free Press wrote, “but Tony’s appearance ended the producer’s search for Beaver’s older brother.” Around 270 other boys had auditioned for the role of Wally before he was cast.

Tony Dow remembered by his onscreen brother

Christopher Dow, the actor’s son, confirmed in a Facebook post that his father died on Wednesday morning. He was 77 years old. No cause of death was disclosed. However, Tony Dow was previously diagnosed with liver cancer. This was after a premature report of his death the day before.

Leave It to Beaver star Jerry Mathers, who played the title character and Tony Dow’s onscreen brother, expressed his condolences. He shared a touching message in a Facebook post on Wednesday. Mathers said Dow was “the kindest, most generous, gentle, loving, sincere, and humble man,” that he had known for over six decades.  

“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 wrote of his onscreen brother. “The world may have lost a star today, but the heavens gained another.”