Barbara Billingsley has passed away at age 94. With her passing come memories. What was it about June Cleaver (played by Billingsley) that Americans responded to with smiles and adoration? What made the show Leave it to Beaver so popular that it is still in reruns daily? Barbara Billingsley was America’s mom and the family on Leave it to Beaver depicted what many American homes were like. It also was a model of what many wished their families were like.
In the days of Leave it to Beaver America was in a time of peace and prosperity. But there was more to those days in America. Respect and knowing right from wrong was taught every week on the Leave it to Beaver show. Barbara Billingsley was a no nonsense mother when it came to her two boys. She was always guiding them to do the right thing. Sometimes she had to out and out tell them what the right thing was. But I loved it when she talked to them until the boys came to the right answer on their own.
June Cleaver had the ability to guide and teach the kids without losing her temper. She was great at taking the edge off of Mr. Cleaver when he would get angry or impatient with the boys. She was the glue that held the Leave it to Beaver family together. I think she did it so well that American families felt held together just by watching.
Life seemed simpler then but what were the show and Barbara Billingsley trying to show us? They showed us that Beaver and Wally could get a spanking, go to bed without supper, get grounded, apologize and have curfew without the parents being sued or arrested or threats of taking them away.
The Cleavers expected Beaver and Wally to earn money for the things that they wanted. They expected the boys to do chores and get little jobs along the way. They expected the boys to do the best that they could do when they took those jobs. You know, they expected them to take pride in a job well done.
The character Billingsley played often took Wally aside and “nudged” him to take his younger brother with him to movies, ballgames, etc. She helped them bond without them knowing it. She was always there for a hug, a talk or even to teach one of them how to dance.
And let’s not forget how June Cleaver dressed. It would be shocking to have a housewife/mother walk around her very clean house in clothes that looked like she was going to an office job these days. But I remember my grandmothers wearing dresses every single day. They too had their hair combed nicely and ready for a days work at home. Now women scoff at the character Barbara Billingsley played. To be called “June Cleaver” is sometimes meant as a condemnation and not a complement. So much the sadder for American women.
We say good-bye to a wonderful actress. We also say thank you to Barbara Billingsley and a family show that always made us laugh and sometimes made us think. Today when we watch Leave it to Beaver, it brings back a yearning for better times. For things that were simpler, more disciplined and more loving. Thank you Barbara Billingsley.