Aired from 1957 to 1963, Leave It to the Beaver depicted an idyllic American family in the suburbs after the war, and became a cultural touchstone for the baby-boom generation. Hugh Beaumont was the always handsome and patient father, Ward Cleaver, and Barbara Billingsley played the glamorous and understanding mother, June, who wore high heels and always brought her boys into their family.
The adorable title character—the freckle-filled Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver—was starred by Jerry Mathers, who was eight when the show started. Mr. Dao, who was 12 years old, played the well-meaning and athletic eldest son, Wally, who was developing an interest in girls. Ken Osmond had a memorable and recurring role as Wally’s unfaithful friend Eddie, who was always accepting of adults.
The sitcom started on CBS but appeared in most of its show on ABC which took third place and did not have much success in the ratings. But thanks to its sweet, sarcastic sense of humor and attractive actors, it thrived in promotion far longer than the most popular family comedies of the era, including “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “Father Knows,” and “The Donna Reed Show,” the television researcher noted. Robert Thomson.
With his light brown hair, blue eyes and the athletic build of a championship diver – who he was before joining the show – Mr. Dow was promoted as a teen heartthrob and received more than 1,000 letters from fans a week at the sitcom’s climax. Years later, Mathers recalled, Mr. Dow looked a lot like his “cool” character: soft-spoken, gentle, and possessing the gymnastic skills he had shown by going up and down stairs on his hands.
When he discovered that the options for a former child actor were limited, Mr. Dow was making his living on the dinner theater circuit of the 1970s. One of the producers, ascending to Kansas City, Missouri, producing the swinging bachelor farce “Boeing, Boeing,” had an idea for a Mr. Dow and Mathers reunion. To their shock, they met packed and excited audiences for weeks.
The two actors toured in another movie, “So Long, Stanley!” For more than a year before Hollywood producers and other surviving members of the original “Leave It to Beaver” cast – Beaumont died in 1982 – hired them for CBS. TV reunion movie “Still the Beaver” (1983).
Wally was now a successful lawyer, Beaver was unemployed and divorced and trying to deal with his abusive sons, and June was still giving helpful home advice. The show broke ratings and produced two sitcoms, notably “The New Leave It to Beaver” on Ted Turner’s superstation, WTBS, from 1986 to 1989.
Many critics have likened watching the revival of “The Beaver” to entering a period of time. But Mr. Dow defended the enduring appeal of idealistic Cleavers amid a rapidly changing television culture.
“When I watch a show about drugs, it can be a fun story and I can participate in it, but it doesn’t have the same kind of definition as when Beaver took his father’s electric drill and punched a hole in his garage door,” Mr. Dow told the Houston Chronicle in 1988. From stories is what makes real life, and growing up from childhood to adulthood. People say the show is milk and cake, but I don’t agree. I think it’s the essence of growing up.”
Anthony Lee Dow was born in Hollywood on April 13, 1945, and grew up in the Van Nuys district of Los Angeles. His mother was once Mac Sennett the “Bathing Beauty” who became the physical double of silent film star Clara Bow and, for a while, a stuntwoman in the West. His father designed, built and remodeled homes.
Mr Dow said he grew up with no particular interest in show business, focusing instead on athletics. He was a trampoline player as well as a swimmer and junior Olympic diving champion and western nations. In 1956, when he was 11, a lifeguard, an older man with acting ambitions, asked him to audition with him on a family adventure TV show called Johnny Wildlife.
“He thought it would help me get the job since I was supposed to play his son,” Mr. Dow told the New York Daily News. “He didn’t get the role, but I did.” The pilot did not sell, and Mr. Dow soon returned to the world of swimming, until the following year, when the producers of Leave It to Beaver came in search of a new Wally.
The child actor from the Beaver pilot had an unfortunate growth spurt, and one of the producers of “Johnny Wildlife” recommended Mr. Dow as a replacement.
After the production of “Leave It to the Beaver” ended, Mr. Dow studied painting and psychology at UCLA, played guest dramatic and comedic roles on various television series, and appeared in a daytime raucous teen opera called “Never Too Young.” After he joined the National Guard in the mid-1960s, his career stalled.Not knowing when he might be required to come to active duty made it nearly impossible to make proxy commitments.
Referring to a popular detective show, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I did one ‘Adam-12’ — I guess because I was the only actor in town at the time with short hair.”
For years, he lived on a boat, made sculptures and lived off the income he mainly earned from running the construction business. Despite the “Leave It to the Beaver” livestream, Mr. Dow didn’t grow rich from the show. Due to the stipulation of the contract, he only received a residual payment of four years after the sitcom began to be promoted.
Beginning in his twenties, he said, he began a long, gradual descent into clinical depression. “I would say inheritance has more to do with it than acting,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “It was a disease of my mother’s side of the family. But ‘leave it to Beaver’ definitely had something to do with it. It certainly had something to do with raising one’s expectations and setting certain standards that one expected to continue in life.”
Attempts to return to acting only exacerbated his dark mood. He’s played killers, single parents, and lawmen on other shows, but his acting agents couldn’t get over their perception of him as a clean and earnest Wali. He said that few people openly talked about depression complicated his own struggle, and over the years, he was unable to find ways to manage what he called “a self-absorbed feeling of worthlessness and hopelessness.”
He was close to 40 before he began to stabilize, thanks to what he called a significant improvement in available drug treatments. In his frequent speeches on mental health, Mr. Dow noted that he was “one of the millions” of people suffering from depression. “If Wally Cleaver is depressed, anyone can feel depressed,” he said.
It also helped move away from acting to focus on other art forms. He had modest success as a sculptor, with his work appearing in international galleries and exhibitions. Beginning with “The New Leave It to Beaver” in 1988, Mr. Dow also began his career as a television director, his work included episodes of “Babylon 5” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”.
His first marriage to Carol Marlowe ended in divorce. In 1980, he married Lauren Schulkind, whom he met when she was working in an advertising company and looking for an “all-American man” to represent in an advertisement for McDonald’s. In addition to his wife, among the survivors is a son from his first marriage, Christopher; brother; and granddaughter.
In interviews, Mathers said that there was a great deal of Mr. Dao in Wali, that the character was not so much a performance as a reflection. He was, by all accounts, a low-key figure in a career full of bragging rights.
“I could never understand the reaction that I or Jerry might receive from people,” Mr. Dow told the Kansas City Star in 2003. Then I was on a plane once and walked past this guy, and he seemed really familiar to me. A flight attendant asked, “Who is this guy?” And she said, “Oh, this [Harlem Globetrotter] Medlarc Lemon. I found the biggest smile on my face.
“I suddenly realized what it was,” he continued. “I mean, I don’t know what it is — but it just happened to me. I just had that warm feeling and I smiled and thought, ‘You know, that’s really cool.'”