Inside The Lifelong Friendship Between Leave It To Beaver Co-Stars Tony Dow And Jerry Mathers

The iconic show "Leave it to Beaver" cultivated a lifelong friendship between two of its co-stars: Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers.

Dow and Mathers had an on-screen relationship as brothers that felt real to viewers. In his role as the elder sibling, Dow's character Wally Cleaver was as protective of his younger brother Beaver as he was exasperated. In one episode, the brothers join forces to take on the neighborhood bully, Lumpy Rutherford (who would become one of Wally's friends in later episodes). In another, Beaver proceeds to lose the money he is given by his parents for a trip to the barbershop; older brother Wally comes to his rescue (sort of) by giving him what has to be the worst home haircut in the history of home haircuts.

"Leave it to Beaver" aired for 6 seasons, from 1957 to 1963 (per IMDb). In that time, we see Wally and Beaver grow from an awkward pre-teen and a precocious almost eight-year-old to a young man preparing to enter college and his younger brother who is about to enter high school. In the 236 episodes they shared on the screen, audiences saw the "brothers" grow up. 

As the series ended, Dow continued his acting career with television roles in "Dr. Kildare," "Mod Squad," and "Emergency!" and had a regular role in the soap opera, "Never Too Young" (via IMDb). Mathers virtually left Hollywood after the show's conclusion, making a handful of television appearances in shows like "My Three Sons" and "Batman," (per IMDb). Though "Leave it to Beaver" had run its course and the two young actors were going in different directions, that was only the beginning of a strong relationship that would span another 60 years.

Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers co-starred in dinner theater

Though the two didn't appear together again on screen for quite some time, Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers would still make joint public appearances at shopping malls and colleges during the 1960s and 70s. The Washington Post reports Mathers, after a stint in the military and graduating from the University of California at Berkely, landed a job as a loan officer at a bank. His schedule kept him from being able to act, a passion that he missed. 

But, in 1978, Mathers was able to peel off enough time to co-star with Dow in the production of "Boeing, Boeing." The show played in Kansas City, MO. 

Eighteen months later, Dow and Mathers returned to the stage together again. This time, the two co-starred in a stage production that was written specifically for them. "So Long, Stanley" was the brainchild of TV writers Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf, who responded to a newspaper ad placed by Dow and Mathers that requested a comedy script made for the two.

Dow told The Washington Post that the show sold out in Dallas, owing in part to "Leave it to Beaver" being played as a rerun in the 5:30 p.m. timeslot in that media market.

The duo made a joint appearance on an episode of Saturday Night Live in 1980

Jerry Mathers had enlisted in the United States Airforce in 1966, under a reserve unit. In his three years of military service, Mathers rose to the rank of sergeant. Though the actor never saw combat, a pervasive rumor began to circulate that Mathers had been killed in action in the Vietnam War in 1968. KQED reported that a Steven Mathers had been killed in the war, but that the Associated Press reported it as Jerry Mathers, aka "The Beaver." Tony Dow recalls how he'd seen Mathers giving Gene Kelly an Emmy Award the year before on live TV in 1967 and then a picture of him in the paper in military uniform, so the image of a military-Mathers was not hard to conjure.

The media outlets went into a frenzy at the "news," especially after actress Shelly Winters announced that Mathers had been killed in action on "The Tonight Show." When Dow heard that his former co-star had died, he even sent flowers to Mathers' family. Of course, Mathers wasn't dead. But, the mix-up did get Mathers and Dow an appearance on a 1980 episode of Saturday Night Live

On the "Weekend Update" segment, anchor Bill Murray airs an interview of Dow and Mathers making fun of the rumor, which some fans still believed. When Murray asks "Hey, Beav, we all heard you got killed in Vietnam, is it true?" Dow interjects by quipping " Hey, ya little squirt! What did you go telling everybody that for?"

Still the Beaver led to Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers reprising their roles as brothers

Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers had tried unsuccessfully to get networks to greenlight a version of "Leave it to Beaver" in which the boys were adults, raising their own families, as The Washington Post reports. Commenting on network brass passing on their ideas, Dow said in 1979 "The networks have no idea what drawing power we have."

But Dow and Mathers would eventually get their wish. In 1983, a reunion movie aired on CBS, bringing back the two actors, along with Barbara Billingsly (June Cleaver), Frank Bank (Lumpy Rutherford), Ken Osmond (Eddie Haskell), Richard Correll (Richard), Rusty Stevens (Larry Mondello), and other actors from the original series (per IMDb). Hugh Beaumont did not appear, as the actor died in 1982

The film was meant to be a pilot for a new series, but that prospect dimmed when CBS and then ABC and NBC passed on the idea. But, it was revived in 1984 by The Disney Channel, which launched it as a regular series. It was later picked up by TBS under the name "The New Leave it to Beaver." In it, an adult Wally and Beaver (along with June) are raising their own families, all while living next door to each other. The show ran for 102 episodes before being canceled in 1989. Along the way, it was nominated for and was the recipient of multiple Cable Ace Awards and Young Artist Awards (per IMDb). 

Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers continued to make appearances together through 2021

Between the "Leave it to Beaver" and "The New Leave it to Beaver," Dow and Mathers have appeared in a whopping 300+ TV episodes together. The bonding the two actors developed on set when they were children blossomed into a meaningful relationship as adults, and they continued even after the latter series was canceled in 1989. 

The duo remained close afterward, making occasional public appearances together. They, along with several other surviving cast members, were featured on a 2007 episode of "Good Morning, America" to commemorate the 50th anniversary of "Leave it to Beaver." 

Dow and Mathers continued to join forces on the smaller screen and appeared on a 2017 episode of "The Today Show," where they discussed the 60th anniversary of the show that started their lifelong friendship (per ABTC).

As recently as 2021, Dow and Mathers made a joint appearance at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, discussing favorite moments and behind-the-scenes antics on the set of the series. They also appeared together at the Chiller Theater Expo the same year.

Jerry Mathers took to Facebook to pen a tribute to Tony Dow

When Tony Dow's death was erroneously announced by his management team on July 26, 2022, Jerry Mathers almost immediately took to social media to convey the sorrow of losing a life-long friend, co-star, and collaborator. On Facebook, Mathers wrote "He was not only my brother on tv but in many ways in life as well. Tony leaves an empty place in my heart that won't be filled. He was always the kindest, most generous, gentle, loving, sincere, and humble man, that it was my honor and privilege to be able to share memories with for 65 years."

Mathers went on to state that though the "world may have lost a star today, but the heavens gained another." These words are a fitting tribute to a person who made an indelible mark on Mathers, both on and off the set.

Mathers and Dow are the only surviving members of the Cleaver family. He and Dow's onscreen parents, Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsly died in 1982 and 2010, respectively (per Deadline).