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Leave It To Beaver's Tony Dow Played Wally Cleaver More Than You Thought

By today's television standards, "Leave It to Beaver" is a simplistic, conventional look at mid-century Americana. In 1957 — the year it debuted on CBS — it was groundbreaking. Created during the first Golden Age of Television, the classic sitcom aired for six seasons, from the late 1950s until 1963. The series follows the trials and tribulations of Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver (Jerry Mathers), who grows up from age eight to 14 right in front of the audience's eyes. While other shows may have similarly explored the suburban nuclear family, "Leave It to Beaver" did so from the point of view of a curious, hijinks-prone boy.

There would be no "Leave It to Beaver" without Wally Cleaver, played by the late, great Tony Dow, who passed away on Tuesday, July 26, at the age of 77. Indeed, the show's title comes from Wally himself. Unable to pronounce Theodore's name, the eldest Cleaver brother settles on "Beaver" as a nickname. As Wally, Dow exemplified the good-natured, all-American teen who excelled at sports and tried to understand teenage girls.

Dow would become best known for his role on "Leave It to Beaver," and it may surprise fans to know he reprised the character more than once in his onscreen career. 

Dow played Wally Cleaver in TV movies and spin-offs

Tony Dow joined "Leave It to Beaver" at the age of 12 and appeared in over 200 episodes during the CBS series' six-year run (via IMDb). Intriguingly, the series finale in 1963 wasn't the end for Wally Cleaver. In 1983, Dow reprised his role for the made-for-TV reunion movie "Still the Beaver," which reunited Dow, Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver, Jerry Mathers as Beaver, and Ken Osmond as Eddie Haskell.

The movie led to the fully-realized "Still the Beaver" series that aired for one season on The Disney Channel. In 1986, WTBS picked up the series and rebranded it as "The New Leave It to Beaver." The sitcom aired until 1989. The '80s incarnation of Wally Cleaver sees him married to high school sweetheart Mary Ellen (Janice Kent), working as a lawyer, and raising children next door to his mother, June. Dow also found time to play Wally outside of the confines of "Leave It to Beaver." In 1987, he trotted out his Wally performance on a Season 10 episode of "The Love Boat." He also made fun of his squeaky-clean image as a parodied version of Wally in the 1977 comedy "The Kentucky Fried Movie" (via IMDb).

Later, Dow would comment on the trappings of child fame. "It's sad to be famous at 12 years old ... and then you grow up and become a real person and nothing's happened for you," he told CBS Sunday Morning in January 2022. He continued, "Then at 40, I realized how great the show was, how appreciative I should be for being in that show."