‘Leave It to Beaver’: Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow’s Real-Life Birth Orders Are Different from the Show

The 1950s comedy series Leave It to Beaver starred Tony Dow as older brother Wally Cleaver and Jerry Mathers as the younger Cleaver.

Told primarily through the younger sibling’s eyes, the show in just about every episode found Beaver seeking help from his wiser, older brother.

In real life however, as Mathers has pointed out, the dynamic was unnatural for both actors.

'Leave It to Beaver' actor Tony Dow stands behind co-star Jerry Mathers as he sits in a chair in the cockpit of an airplane
‘Leave It to Beaver’ actor Tony Dow stands behind co-star Jerry Mathers as he sits in a chair in the cockpit of an airplane | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives

Tony Dow was more of an athlete than actor at first

Before Dow became Wally Cleaver at age 12, he was first an accomplished athlete, as he told Fox News in 2019.

“I was a swimmer back then and a pretty good one,” he said. “I was a junior diving champion and held a national record at 9. I was working out at the Hollywood athletic club and there was a lifeguard there who was an actor. He told my mom, ‘I’m going to this interview for a show where they’re looking for a father and son. Can Tony go with me because we kind of look alike?’ He figured maybe that was the only way to get it.”

Dow was hired for the role in the show Johnny Wildlife about a wildlife photographer and his son.

His co-star Mathers told the Television Academy Foundation, “Tony Dow was an athlete. He was training to be an Olympic swimmer and diver. He had no ambitions to be an actor. If you look at him on a lot the shows, he’s got his shirt off; I mean he was muscular. He was a gymnast, he was a trampolinist. He was the perfect big brother.”

Tony Dow as Wally Cleaver and Jerry Mathers as Beaver Cleaver dressed in swimming trunks on 'Leave It to Beaver,'  1955
Tony Dow as Wally Cleaver and Jerry Mathers as Beaver Cleaver dressed in swimming trunks on ‘Leave It to Beaver,’ 1955 | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dow was the youngest in his real-life family and Mathers the oldest

Mathers noted on his website that for him to play a younger brother took acting chops on his part. The same goes for Dow in portraying an older sibling. Each was the exact opposite in real life.

“As most people know, Tony Dow was my big brother on Leave it to Beaver,” Mathers said. “Ironically, he was really “the Beaver” in his real life family because he only had an older brother and he was the youngest. I on the other hand was the eldest of my four siblings, so I actually was the “Wally” in my real family.”

“It was a juxtaposition because I was the oldest in my family,” Mathers said. “He was the youngest, his brother was a lot older than him. But I spent a lot of time with him.

Jerry Mathers as Beaver Cleaver and Tony Dow as Wally Cleaver in 'Leave It to Beaver'
Jerry Mathers and Tony Dow | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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The 2 actors remain close

Several of the show’s cast members have died in the years since the beloved family comedy went off the air. Cleaver dad Hugh Beaumont died in 1982; June Cleaver actor Barbara Billingsley in 2010; and Ken Osmond the actor who portrayed troublemaker Eddie Haskell, died in 2020.

Mathers and Dow haven’t allowed the years to distance them. The two men keep in touch and appeared on Today in 2017 to mark the show’s 60th anniversary.

As Mathers said, “We’re good friends. Anything goes on in our families, we know about it.” To which Dow interjected, “He’s still a squirt, though.”