Barbara Billingsley, best known for her role in the late 50s, early 60s sitcom “Leave it to Beaver” as June Cleaver, has died at the age of 94. Thus passed the actress who played the ideal American mom of that era.
Or perhaps any era.
People, myself included, sometimes make great sport of how idyllic and altogether too perfect the portrait of the Cleaver family was. Ward Cleaver, played by the late Hugh Beaumont, was almost Solomon-like in his wisdom, the perfect ideal of an American praetor familius. Ward Cleaver never used corporal punishment on screen, though it was an accepted practice in that era. He was college educated, worked in an office, and was always home for dinner.
Tony Dow, who later had a good career as a television director, was the older son, Wally, a teenager who, though he dated successfully girls by the battalion, never got into too much trouble and certainly wouldn’t dream of going too far in the back seat of a car.
Beaver, played by Jerry Mathers, was the main subject of the series, cute, somewhat naïve, always getting into some sort of trouble, but not too much trouble. Beaver’s misadventures always contained a lesson. Good behavior brings rewards. Naughty behavior brings consequences.
But it is the mom, June Cleaver, whom most people of a certain age remember with appreciation. Always well turned out, as if getting ready for an elegant dinner, June kept the house clean, put dinner on the table, and shielded her two sons from the wicked ways of the world. Not that there were too much wickedness ever depicted. One would hardly know, watching “Leave it to Beaver”, that there was a Cold War on or that American had a race problem. Topical was not an element of television of that time.
The only real headache June had to put up with was Wally’s friend, Eddie Haskell, the ne’er do well James Dean wannabe who was oily obsequious every time he entered June’s kitchen. Of course Eddie was up to something and June knew it. But she never, to my recollection, ever told the little hood to put a sock in it. June Cleaver was a lady and did not lower herself to telling off young hoodlums.
Who would not want to have a mom like June Cleaver? A wife like her, maybe not. Most families now need the dual income and one could not imagine June Cleaver working in an office, even in the same capacity as Joan in the more contemporary look at the era, “Mad Men.”
Barbara Billingsley also appeared briefly in “Airplane!” the mad cap satire of airliner disasters as she played the matron who could “speak jive.” That was playing against type.
Barbara Billingsley may have driven many American women to therapy by setting an unrealistic standard for being a wife and mother, but she looked good and competent doing so.
Source: Barbara Billinglsey, IMDB
Leave it to Beaver, TV.Com