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Column: Of all Tony Dow’s TV roles, I miss Wally Cleaver most of all
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

When I came along, “Leave it to Beaver” was already in reruns. If you don’t know the show, it was a weekly visit with the Cleaver family of Mayfield. The family consisted of parents Ward and June Cleaver and their two boys, Wally and Theodore, the latter was known to everyone as “the Beaver.”

Tony Dow, who played teenage Wally on the series, died Wednesday, July 27, at the age of 77 after a tough bout with cancer. 

Over the years, the Cleavers became the standard for the perfect family. Some people were serious about their take on the Cleavers, others saw them as the perfect family with a wink.

June Cleaver was an over-the-top perfect mom. I don’t recall an episode without June in a perfect dress, every hair in place and a pair of heels on her feet. There was a rare episode where the family went out to eat, but most involved June cooking a beautiful meal and every place setting of china expertly arranged. 

The post-dinner event usually involved June washing the dishes while Ward would dry them. The discussion usually centered on some activity by one of the sons. 

Ward worked “downtown” and was an all-business kind of guy. The actor, Hugh Beaumont, was a Presbyterian minister by training, but found himself entering the acting field. He would often have a talk with one of the boys. In their discussion of the fatherly consultation, the boys usually responded to the other with a sincere “Gee, Wally” or “Gee, Beave.” 

A few years ago, I was invited by a public relations firm to interview Jerry Mathers, who played the Beaver. When he came down the escalator, it was like the boy actor had been summoned to the stage. Folks looked at the escalator and knew exactly who it was. 

“Beaver was always the innocent one,” said Mathers. “Sometimes.”

Wally might say or do something to get him in trouble, but the show always ended with a lesson for the Beaver. 

Dow, a teenage actor, was often a bit of a troublemaker for Beaver. He also had some troubles of his own with his haphazard friends, Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford and the mischievous Eddie Haskell. Eddie was a con man of sorts, always paying glowing compliments to June Cleaver. Of course, she always saw right through his approach. 

Tony Dow went on to play single roles in a number of shows, including “Emergency” and “Adam 12.” He worked for all of his life in television. 

In the 1980s, the remaining cast came together for a remake of Beaver and Wally in their adult lives. The show, “Still the Beaver,” lasted a couple years. 

The shows were heartwarming, funny and a bit corny. It’s been many years since Dow came into our homes as Wally. It is interesting to think the Beaver, a little kid in the early years of the show, is now the patriarch. 

It was a good show, and I wish we had more like it.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly.