They are blessed and cursed with eternal childhood in the mind of America. Grandmothers rush up to them to plant kisses on their cheeks. Middle-aged women approach them with "You boys are so cute." And audiences whip out the Instamatics to photograph Wally and Beaver Cleaver.
Jerry Mathers (The Beav) and Tony Dow (Wally) are back together. In fact, they never really split up. Appearing in a comedy called "So Long Stanley" on dinner-theater stages for the past seven months in Midwest and Sunbelt cities, they are using their fame from seven years of television's "Leave It to Beaver" to draw sellout crowds.
As the curtain goes up, one almost hopes to hear Dow in an adolescent voice say "Hey ya little squirt, whatcha up to ?" And the response from a squeaky 10-year old, head-in-hands: "Gee, Wally, I'm in a mess of trouble." s
The lines have changed, but the tone is about the same. Dow, now 34 years old, divorced and the father of a 6-year-old son, has graduated from playing the middle-class teen-ager who is just disocering women to a new role as a macho swinger.
Mathers, 31 and going through a divorce, must once again lean on Dow to help him out of his predicament, in which he plays a suicidal loser suffering from a "rejection-hysteria" (his pet parakeet is gay and M(TABLE)$ "People have a tough time accepting me in a role with psychological problems," Mathers says. Dow adds that audiences identify so strongly with the Cleaver characters of the late '50s and '60s that "if Jerry and I played enemies, people coming to the show would have to much trouble identifying. It has to end with the people being happy." (COLUMN)Apparently the audiences are happy: In Columbus they were shelling out $14 apiece to see the play (with the lines like "I used to work at the Pizza Hut, but I just wasn't making the dough") and eat a buffet dinner. The show is now playing in Harrison, Ohio (about 20 miles from Cincinnati) and will soon open for six weeks in Indianapolis before moving to both coasts next year. (COLUMN)The character of Beaver has followed Mathers around for the last 22 years and he doesn't seem to mind in the least. "It did really good things for us," he says. (COLUMN)He's got a husky build now but still resembles the child who had to cope with characters like Eddie Haskell, Lumpy, Larry and Judy. Although he has lived a public life, Mathers is somewhat introverted, almost aloof in private. He expends the most energy when playing with his traveling companion, Domino, a Doberman puppy. He talks most openly about his "other" profession as a real-estate salesman. (COLUMN)Dow seems less comfortable with the prospect of a lifetime as Wally Cleaver."It's a pain in the a-- when people yell out "Hey Wally' when I'm walking down the street. Like any actor, I want them to call me by my name." Dow has retained the athletic boyish looks he displayed as an adolescent. He plays backgammon in his dressing room between acts; off the set, there are tennis, golf and racquet ball. (COLUMN)While the reruns of "Leave It to Beaver" throughout the U.S. and as far away as Australia and Pakistan do not bring them any residuals, they do keep the actor's names before the public. Dow says, "I've done about 30 starring roles in TV commercials and plays since 'Leave It to Beaver,' but I doubt many things will be as memorable as the Beaver show." (COLUMN)Mathers was 8 years old when he tried out for the part of Theodore Cleaver; Dow was 12.More than 4,000 children auditioned for the roles. The warmhearted family sitcom moved among three major networks from 1957 and ended in 1963 when it went after the lucrative rerun market. Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont) is now retired and living in Los Angeles; June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) also is retired and living in Malibu; and Eddie Haskell, the neighborhood antagonist (Ken Osmond), is now a policeman in Los Angeles. (COLUMN)Mathers, following the show, went to high school in the San Fernando Valley, where he also became the lead singer in a rock group named "Beaver and the Trappers." (COLUMN)He joined the Air Force during the height of the Vietnam war in 1967, in order to avoid being drafted, and served as a general's aid. "I couldn't fly because of my bad eyes," says Mathers of his astigmatism and color-blindness. By 1970 Mathers was out of the military and studying philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. He became a bank loan officer in L.A. following graduation in 1974 but found the job left him with no spare time to do acting or other appearances. Mathers then got involved in commercial and residential real-estate sales, which he has pursued for the past 2 1/2 years. (COLUMN)Dow was 18 years old when the Beaver show was retired. He then enrolled at UCLA where he studied art and painting and majored in psychology. "I switched my major to TV and film and did some acting," he says. (COLUMN)In 1964 and 1965 Dow appeared in a television series titled "Never Too Young," and later was recruited by the National Guard. "I was supposed to be on a 10-day notice, but they didn't activate me until 2 1/2 years later," he says, complaining that this made it nearly impossible to sign any acting contracts.(COLUMN)He got out of the military the same year Mathers did and then lived in a boat in San Pedro, where he painted and sculpted by commission, "until I got bugged with it." Dow then ran a "super graphics" painting company and for four years operated a construction firm. That career ended, however, when "I woke up at 1 a.m. one day and got bugged with it," Dow says. (COLUMN)During the '60s and '70s Mathers and Dow kept in touch with each other, making appearences at shopping malls and universities to answer the public's questions about the fate of the Cleaver boys. They also discussed the possibility of resurrecting the "Leave It to Beaver" show with a modern-day version in which Wally and The Beav played adults raising a new generation of Cleavers. The networks didn't buy it. (COLUMN)"The networks have no idea what drawing power we have," Dow says. (COLUMN)The pair returned to the stage together about 18 months ago in Kansas City, where they starred in "Boeing, Boeing." Then came "So Long Stanley," written specifically for Mathers and Dow after they placed a newspaper ad for a new comedy script. TV writers Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf responded, and the rest is history. (COLUMN)"Our drawing power has not been particularly strong in Columbus," Dow says, "but in Dallas, where the Beaver show comes on TV at 5:30, the play was sold out every night." (END TABLE) CAPTION: (TABLE) Picture 1, Tony Dow, 34; Picture 2, and Jerry Mathers, 31: For seven years, brothers on TV's "Leave It to Beaver." (END TABLE)