Tony Dow made his screen-side debut as Wally Cleaver in the ever-popular classic TV series Leave It to Beaver and became an overnight star. But he wasn’t convinced that the series was his best work.
The late actor joined the cast when he was 12, and it was entirely by happenstance. At the time, he was hoping to become an Olympic swimmer, and he was spending long days at an LA pool training for the 1972 games.
“I used to give diving exhibitions from when I was five,” he said during an interview with The Daily Advocate in 1983. “I worked out every day at a particular pool, and one of the lifeguards there was an actor.”
That lifeguard landed an audition for Ward Cleaver, and he needed someone to go with him and read lines as his son. So, he asked Tony Dow to come along. Dow obliged and scored a role. The lifeguard did not.
Dow had absolutely no training as an actor, nor did he understand the responsibilities of filming. But he happily agreed to take the job.
“It’s strange that what was probably the most important decision of my life was made so lightly,” he said.
Tony Dow Would ‘Cringe’ While Watching ‘Leave It to Beaver’
Dow never lived out his dream of becoming an olympian. Juggling a hit series and school shifted him away from training, and his love for acting eventually took over. Dow remained in Hollywood until 2016. But while he became a successful star, he didn’t think his skills were quite as refined during the early seasons of Leave It to Beaver.
“Some of the early ones, I cringe, because of my lack of acting ability,” he once told The Kansas City Star, per MeTV. “But that’s just one of the charms of the show.”
He also shared that watching himself at such a young age was a surreal experience. The black-and-white version of himself as a child felt “very odd” because he knew it was him, but he couldn’t remember the feeling of being in that time and place.
“It’s sort of like there’s a disconnect. I mean, I know it was me,” he continued. “I was on the show. But I can watch it and be divorced from it.”
Tony Dow filmed 234 episodes over the course of six seasons with Leave It to Beaver and learned his future passion and craft along the way. The path to a successful career was quite different from most people in the industry, but he always appreciated it.
And while he didn’t hold himself in high regard during the first few seasons, he was quick to praise his much younger onscreen brother, Jerry Mathers, for his early talents and professionalism.
“Jerry was an actor. He was unbelievably good,” he gushed. “Every line he read was perfect. He was amazing.”
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