Actress, Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver, a perfect 1950s mom on the classic TV series, “Leave It to Beaver,” passed away at the age 94, at her home in Santa Monica, CA, on Saturday, October 16th at 2 a.m. (5 a.m. ET) at her home in Santa Monica, California, after a long illness.
“She was as happy as a lark being recognized as America’s mom,” actor Tony Dow, who played Barbara’s oldest TV son, Wally Cleaver, told CNN’s Don Lemon. “She had a terrific life and had a wonderful impact on everybody she knew, and even people she didn’t know.” Tony, who was about 12 when the series began, is now 65 years old.
Jerry Mathers, who played Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, the youngest son, was about 9 when the series started. He is now 62. In 2000, he told Larry King in a television appearance on Larry’s show that Barbara “was always a true role model for me. She was a great actress,” he said. “And in a lot of ways … we kind of stifled her, because her true talent didn’t really come out in ‘Leave it Beaver.’ She was like the straight man, but she has an awful lot of talent.”
Barbara Billingsley displayed some of that talent as the “jive lady” in the 1980 spoof, “Airplane!” Here is the exchange between Barbara as the Jive Lady and the two Jive Dude passengers:
Randy: Can I get you something?
Second Jive Dude: ‘S’mofo butter layin’ me to da’ BONE! Jackin’ me up… tight me!
Randy: I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
First Jive Dude: Cutty say ‘e can’t HANG!
Jive Lady: Oh stewardess! I speak jive.
Randy: Oh, good.
Jive Lady: He said that he’s in great pain and he wants to know if you can help him.
Randy: All right. Would you tell him to just relax and I’ll be back as soon as I can with some medicine?
Jive Lady: [to the Second Jive Dude] Jus’ hang loose, blood. She gonna catch ya up on da’ rebound on da’ med side.
Second Jive Dude: What it is, big mama? My mama no raise no dummies. I dug her rap!
Jive Lady: Cut me some slack, Jack! Chump don’ want no help, chump don’t GET da’ help!
First Jive Dude: Say ‘e can’t hang, say seven up!
Jive Lady: Jive a$s dude don’t got no brains anyhow! Hmmph!
Barbara Billingsley was born Barbara Lillian Combes on December 22, 1915, in Los Angeles. She started out modeling in New York City in 1936, and eventually made her way to the West Coast where she was put under contract to MGM in 1945. By this time, she had married Glenn Billingsley, a nephew of Stork Club owner, Sherman Billingsley. At MGM, she played a number of mostly uncredited roles as secretaries, hat check girls, saleswomen and even a couple of gamblers. She also appeared on television shows like The Abbott and Costello Show, Schlitz Playhouse and The Loretta Young Show, before becoming nationally known on “Leave it to Beaver” in 1957. Barbara appeared in 263 episodes until the sitcom ended in 1963. She reprised her role in the 1980s in the “New Leave it to Beaver,” and her last film role was as Aunt Martha in the 1997 big screen version of “Leave It to Beaver.” Billingsley also was the voice of Nanny in Nickelodeon’s “Muppet Babies.”
Barbara’s “Leave It to Beaver” husband, Hugh Beaumont (the perfect 1950s TV dad, Ward Cleaver) passed away in 1982 at the age of 73 from a heart attack.
When asked if there was any difference betwen the character of June Cleaver and herself as a mother, Barbara said: “My sons say, no. Gradually what happened is the writer started writing about you, as well as the character they created originally. So you all become mixed up.”
Barbara Billingsley is survived by two sons, Drew Billingsley and Glenn Billingsley, both of whom reside in California. After her divorce from Glenn Billingsley in 1947, Barbara remarried two times, to film director, Roy Kellino and after his death, she married Santa Monica physician, William Mortensen, who also predeceased her. A private memorial is being planned.