Skip to main content

Barbara Billingsley, whose portrayal of June Cleaver on the sitcom "Leave It to Beaver" helped define the suburban TV mother of the 1950s and who lampooned her wholesome image in the movie "Airplane!" as a prim older lady who is fluent in "jive," died Oct. 16 at her home in Santa Monica, Calif.  She was 94.

Mrs. Billingsley was a fashion model and supporting player on film and television before she won her best-known role, gowned in her signature skirts, high heels and pearls as the Cleaver family matriarch on "Leave It to Beaver."

June Cleaver was presented as the flawless housewife, lovingly going through the motions of running a home: stuffing celery with peanut butter, vacuuming in high heels, greeting her husband when he came home at night and tucking in her two adorable sons.


Actress Barbara Billingsley played June Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver from 1957-1963 on CBS and ABC.  She died early this morning at her home in Santa Monica, Calif., after a long illness.

The Washington Post has this photo gallery of Billingsley's life and of the show itself

The original nuclear family on "Leave It to Beaver": Jerry Mathers, left, Barbara Billingsley and Tony Dow.


:: ::

Billingsley starred in a program that represented a much-different era than the one we live in today  

They were the Modern Family of their time, back when cars sported tailfins, Americans raced the Russians to the moon and everybody liked Ike.

They were the Cleavers, delivering a bit of sanitized Americana every week on the TV sitcom Leave It to Beaver: stalwart dad Ward, hormonal older brother Wally, trouble-prone kid brother Theodore (better known as "the Beaver," for his oversized front teeth), and the always perfectly coiffed, calm and collected mother, June, played by actress Barbara Billingsley.

:: ::

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Billingsley defined the classic suburban sitcom mother.  A full-time mom invariably attired in a dress, pearls, and heels, June Cleaver was at once an accurate snapshot of a certain kind of American mother, a role model, and a fantasy of the sort of maternal figure millions of people enjoyed watching for Beaver‘s six seasons.

Billingsley played June without a trace of irony and a firm confidence.  While June knew her place and deferred to her husband, Ward, in most matters of child-rearing, Billingsley’s portrayal allowed you to understand that June knew how to guide both her husband and her sons to do the correct thing through suggestion and by example.  


:: ::

Here's a CNN Report from earlier today in which Don Lemon interviews Tony Dow, who recounts his experiences working with Billingsley on the show

:: ::

Leave it to Beaver had all-white, middle class characters which were reflective of the era in which it was introduced.  The series has its admirers as well as many critics, even though at the time it was televised it was not considered one of the top programs of the day

Leave It To Beaver, a series both praised for its family-bolstering innocence and panned for its homogenized sappiness, served as a bridge between the waning radio comedy and the blossoming of the television "sitcom."

Despite its six-year-run as a prime-time network offering, Beaver never made the coveted top-twenty-five list. Nevertheless, its down-to-earth writing, low-key acting and uncontrived storylines served as a memorable and well-crafted icon for the positive if unremarkable joys of middle class family life in general and suburban kid-dom in particular. If Beaver's ignoring of significant social issues was a common flaw of the programs of its time, its unpretentious advocacy of personal responsibility and self-respect was an uncommon virtue. Admittedly, as critic Robert Lewis Shayon observed, Ward and June Cleaver were "Mr. and Mrs. Average-American living in their typical Good Housekeeping home."  But what happened in and around that home was a consistent and continuous celebration of all those minor but precious family victories that could be won even when the children themselves were required to be the decision-makers.

(Pictured above: Ward Cleaver (played by Hugh Beaumont), Wally Cleaver (Tony Dow), June Cleaver (Barabara Billingsley), and Beaver Cleaver (Jerry Mathers))

:: ::

Actor Jerry Mathers -- who played "Beaver" on the show -- issued this statement in remembrance of his television mom

I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend and lifetime mentor Barbara Billingsley.  She will live in the hearts of her fans as a wonderful actress and be remembered by her friends as a gracious lady.  Barbara was a patient advisor and teacher.  She helped me along this challenging journey through life by showing me the importance of manners and respect for others.  She will be deeply missed by all of her family, friends, fans and most especially by me.

Rest in peace, Barbara Billingsley.

:: ::

Crossposted at Docudharma and The Stars Hollow Gazette

Originally posted to JekyllnHyde on Sat Oct 16, 2010 at 10:07 PM PDT.


What is Your Favorite Television Sitcom from the 1950's or 1960's?

6%31 votes
1%8 votes
1%7 votes
8%37 votes
0%3 votes
14%68 votes
11%54 votes
2%10 votes
2%12 votes
7%33 votes
16%76 votes
6%29 votes
13%63 votes
2%10 votes
4%21 votes

| 462 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site