Tony Dow Interview
(Producer, Director, Actor and Sculptor)
You probably remember seeing Tony Dow on TV shows like “My Three Sons”, “Dr. Kildare”, “Mr. Novak”, “Adam 12”, “The Mod Squad” and the list goes on and on.
He is probably best known for his portrayal of Wally Cleaver on “Leave it to Beaver”.
Did you know that Tony Dow is also a sculptor?
We spoke to Tony Dow about that and of course being an actor on the highly successful “Leave it to Beaver” show.
Q - Where’s the marketplace for your sculptures?
A - My art is in galleries, in Laguna Beach, Little Rock, Scottsdale and Tucson. And photos as well as ‘profiles’ of each piece and the processes they undergo are on my website: tonydowsculpture.com.
Q – It sounds like you are represented in some interesting places, Tony.
A - Laguna Beach is a fabulous art community. The gallery has just one other artist, the owner of the gallery. It’s turned out very well and I’ve sold some 50 pieces in the last few years. I do a lot of bronze work and having a mold made and the piece cast is expensive. It usually costs about $1500 to get the first piece out. They’re kind of expensive, so I have a pretty big investment in my inventory.
Q - Do people contact you and ask if this is something you can sculpt for them or do you do your own thing?
A – Yeah, I do my own thing, and as well, I do both. I get commissions from the galleries. Somebody will want a particular piece and I’ll do some sketches. Other times they’ll send me concepts they like and I will interpret that into my style and create it for them. I have maybe four different styles.
Q - How long does it take you to do one piece?
A - It depends on the piece. The bronzes are roughly 24 inches in height, made from burl wood that I find in the hills around our property, from the part of the tree between the trunk and the roots. It’s a very hard wood with a really fabulous grain to it. It’s quite beautiful. That’s how I began my whole sculpture career because I really loved the wood. An artist friend, an internationally well-known guy said, “you’ve got to have these things bronzed.” He took me to his foundry and turned me onto the process, which entails many stages. The pieces take me anywhere from 20 to 30 hours I suspect. Then, turning them into bronze takes another 10 hours at the foundry. I make changes on the wax so that each is a little bit different, making them unique. So, I’d say 40 hours…something like that. In another of my series, I can do one every three, four days. They’re mixed media, one of a kind and I dig putting them together. Then I do some wall pieces. They start out wanting to be a ten-hour project, but then by the time I go back and do my revisions and changes it always ends up being 20 to 25 hours, kind of time intensive.
Q - Are you sculpting day in, day out? You’re not doing anything else? You’re Tony Dow, the sculptor.
A - I sure wish that were the case. I go through periods where I’m pretty inspired and motivated to work between 6 to 10 hours a day. If I spend too much time I get exhausted. A lot of the equipment is heavy. It does take some energy. Plus,it’s been a tough business recently, because of the economy, although it’s springing back. BTW: I’m Tony Dow, the person.
Q - When your pieces are in the gallery, does the gallery let a potential buyer know what your past is?
A - I think they do. In the window of one of the galleries, they have a number of my pieces and I believe there’s an article that talks about actor turned sculptor, something like that. I am not capitalizing on my name to promote my art. For a long time I didn’t want my name to be associated with the art. I signed my artwork T. Dow instead of Tony Dow, but it’s un-escapable. I can’t really keep that a secret and I don’t think it’s an advantage. People who are going to buy sculpture selling for upwards of a couple thousand dollars want to know it’s an investment and it is going to appreciate.
Q - You’ve worked in the construction business. You studied journalism and filmmaking. You’re a director, a producer and a visual effects supervisor. You’ve worn a lot of different hats in your life. There’s also my earlier life, as an AAU swimmer and diver and years doing exhibition trampoline, but that’s another interview.
A - (Laughs).There’s also my earlier life, as an AAU swimmer and diver and years doing exhibition trampoline, but that’s another interview. I am known for starting out as an actor. At that time I wanted to be a director. All the directors I worked with I tried to study, especially the really good ones. When I was in my early 20s I thought I knew as much about directing and filmmaking as anybody. I had been in it for so long and I worked with a couple of especially great directors. I studied their techniques and I read books, went to UCLA and a place called Sherwood Oaks Experimental College and Columbia College and took film, writing and directing classes. So, I was pretty prepared, but, it’s hard to break into, let’s say directing. Then when we came back to do “The New Leave it to Beaver,” I made that part of the contract that I would write and direct some of the episodes. That got me started and from there I just kept doing shows and eventually went from sitcoms like “Coach,” which I did 14 or so of to directing a bunch of half-hour shows. Then I got into hour episodes, which is more like filmmaking because you have a week of preparation where you can talk with the Director of Photography and the heads of each department and see your visuals interpreted. I had the good fortune to direct a number of Babylon 5 and Star Trek, Deep Space Nine and it just mushroomed from there. I stayed busy in that realm of the business for nearly twenty years
Q - You said it’s hard to break into directing. Is that because there is a lot of nepotism in the business?
A – No, I don’t think as a director you find nepotism. In the beginning when I was in my 20s it was kind of old-school Hollywood where there were probably 50 directors who did all the work, and probably less in television. So, you’d see their names constantly on different shows. For somebody who hasn’t directed there are only a couple of ways in, one is to make a short film and another is to write something you want to produce and you somehow finagle putting your name on it as a director. That was hard for me because to making a short film like that it wasn’t as professional as I was used to. Maybe I had an elitist attitude, which was a mistake. Later on when I was directing in my 40s and 50s colleges seemed to be springing up with really good communications programs and film programs. When I was trying to break in there were only three schools with much of a resume: UCLA, USC and NYU. Nowadays, every college has its own communications program and they are turning out these fine young directors. When I was coming up you had to do a half-hour television show if you were going to get hired. Nowadays, you can start off creating a music video.
Q - You seemed to have made a smooth transition from being a teenage TV star to an adult director, producer and writer. There’s never been any scandal associated with your name.
A - That’s probably why I never was really in the press popularity contest.
Q - Are you saying if you had problems with the police or problems with drugs and in rehab you would have been better off career wise?
A - Those guys are famous. But actually that’s tongue-in-cheek. My friend Billy Gray, who was on “Father Knows Best” got caught with a couple of joints in his car on Hollywood Boulevard and it ruined his career, back in the early 60s. Things were much different….people didn’t really relish anybody’s problems as much as they do today.
Q - When people hear your name do they say “seems like I’ve heard that name before.” And then you have to explain what you’ve done and what it is you’re doing today.
A - Not so much. I think people either know me or they don’t. The Beaver show has been on the air ever since it started in 1957. It never went off the air. The reruns started right away and then they just kept going. It’s still on 2 to 3 times a day wherever you are. Nevertheless the younger group might have heard of it but they wouldn’t recognize the name or recognize me. A lot of people will say, didn’t you used to be somebody? (Laughs) or didn’t we go to school together? They sort of recognize me from somewhere, but, they’re not sure from where.
Q - Do you ever turn on the TV and see yourself from a past episode? What goes through your mind? Do you say I should’ve played that scene differently?
A - I probably should’ve played every scene differently. I don’t actually see the show. I sometimes will happen by it. Sometimes my wife will say, let’s watch that. I bet I haven’t seen over half a dozen episodes in the last 20 years. I don’t really look for it. For a while there I was a little bit resentful because I really wasn’t able to break out of that Wally character and a lot of roles that I got were very similar. Everybody knows that good guy thing is the most boring of all characters. I was really interested in doing some more interesting kind of work which I did get one opportunity for a Dr. Kildare/Eleventh Hour. I played an unwed father. It was the first episode that had tackled that taboo issue. It was a terrific show. It got the Directors Guild Award, and was written by a terrific writer. When it came time for the Emmys they couldn’t figure how to categorize it because part of it was on The Eleventh Hour and part of it was on Dr. Kildare. That would’ve been great if that could’ve made more of a splash. Aside from that, a lot of my roles were kind of innocuous.
Q - Did you, because of your role on a popular TV show of the time meet Marilyn Monroe or Elvis?
A – No, but I would’ve loved to have met either one of them. I did meet a lot of people who were working at Universal. Rock Hudson would walk by and we’d throw the football around. I hit a baseball into Steve McQueen’s Jaguar windshield and broke it. Robert Mitchum was on the lot a lot of the time. Everybody was very friendly. Obviously I was a kid and they were adults so were not going to go out and have a beer, but, I was around them. I became friends especially after the show with many people from the era, like Paul Petersen, Billy Gray and Stan and Barry Livingston, and I could go on and on.
Q - Jim Morrison was studying at UCLA in the early 1960s. Did you ever run into him?
A – Sorry to say I didn’t. A friend of mine was, supposedly, his best friend. He claimed to have written ”First Time Ever I saw Your Face,” the Roberta Flack song, that he sold for 75 bucks. Never got anything after that.
Q - I believed the actors on “Leave It To Beaver” were the characters they were portraying.
A - That’s pretty good.
Q - To me that’s a mark of being a good actor.
A - Or, it means you’re not a good actor and you can’t hide your own persona. But no, I understand what you’re saying. That’s the goal of any actor to make people believe that you are that person. But, I had some help. Jerry and I and Ken, all of us had some help in that the writers wrote to our strong suit. If I had been a bookworm and one some kind of literary contest I’m sure Wally would’ve been some kind of book nerd and not a basketball player, but because I was very athletic they wrote to that kind of thing. That was very fortunate for me because in the beginning I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing. It took a few years before I figured out how you do this. When I was watching all those other shows like “Make Room for Daddy”, a lot of the acting, both the adults and the kids seemed real broad and kind of forced. My mom took me to see James Dean and Marlon Brando movies when I was a kid. I noticed there was a big difference in the approach to acting. I tried to take the course of trying to do the reality kind of thing.
Q - One thing you didn’t do was make a record. Johnny Crawford made records. I don’t even know, can you sing?
A - No. That’s the big problem. If it was nowadays they can make you sound on key even when you’re off. Back then you had to at least be close. I have no ear. I wish I did. I love music, but I just don’t have an ear so it makes it difficult.
Q - Look what they did for Fabian. He couldn’t really sing.
A - That’s true, but he sang better than I did, (Laughs) so you can imagine how bad my singing would be. I didn’t want to make a record because I didn’t think I was any good at it. I figured why do it? Better to stick with things that I think I’m good at, where I have something to offer, not something I’m trying to scam the public on stuff.
Q - Are there any plans in the works to write a memoir?
A - That’s another thing that’s been asked of me and I don’t think I will. I’ve read some of them and there have been some really good ones, but, my time in the business, there weren’t the stories there are nowadays. People were much more respectful. They had really great people on the crews, on the cast. Everybody got along. Probably the most interesting thing I ever did as I said was break Steve McQueen’s windshield. You had Frank Bank who played ”Lumpy,” he was sort of a minor Wilt Chamberlain in the lovemaking but that was all hype in his mind.
Q - Did you go to any of the Hollywood parties? You could’ve probably got in to anything at the time.
A - That’s probably true but, I was kind of shy, not very sociable. I never really became part of the Hollywood crowd. I went to a few parties and I knew a lot of people but basically I lived my own life and did a lot of beaching, spent my summers in Catalina, did a lot of water skiing. I was real active but I may have missed out on a lot of good stuff. I also missed out on all the drugs, which I’m fine with.
Official website: www.tonydowsculpture.com
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