Oct 6, 2015

Tony Dow/Wally Cleaver

I was born too late to catch the first generation of Boomer sitcoms -- Ozzie and Harriet, Father Knows Best, Donna Reed, Leave It to Beaver -- and the teen idols they created -- Ricky Nelson, Billy Gray, Paul Peterson, Tony Dow.  But the gay kids who were old enough had a hunkfest, especially with Tony Dow of Beaver (1957-63).  Hired at age 12 to play older brother Wally and offer sage advice to the rapscalion Beaver (Jerry Mathers),

Tony blossomed into a dreamboat by around the third season, and while network censorship kept him under wraps, wearing nothing more revealing than a sleeveless t-shirt, the teen magazines were privy to dozens of shirtless pinups.

And dozens and dozens.  They just keep coming, all through the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Tony was already a Junior Olympics diver when hired, and his muscles grew bigger every year.

Wally didn't do a lot of male bonding; most of the homoromantic subtext comes from Beaver and his friend Gilbert.

After Beaver, Tony  -- or rather, his biceps -- landed a starring role on the teen soap Never Too Young (1965-66).  After so many years of censorship, Tony must have been surprised to discover that his character was to be shirtless or semi-nude in every scene, even at a fancy dinner party. Tommy Rettig of Lassie played his buddy JoJo.

A rather fascinating career followed, as actor, writer, and director.  Tony was active in the hippie counterculture and appeared in the underground classic,  Kentucky Fried Move (1977).  He reprised his role of Wally in Still the Beaver (1985-89).  He parodied Wally  innumerable times.  He is also an accomplished sculptor, with a piece on exhibit in the Louvre in 2008.

See also: Beefcake Dads of 1950s Sitcoms