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Leave It to Beaver: Barbara Billingsley Dies at 94, Good Night June Cleaver

Barbara BillinglseyThe actress who some believe to have personified the quintessential TV mom has died. Barbara Billingsley, star of Leave It to Beaver, passed away early this morning at the age of 94. The exact cause of death is not known but she had been in poor health for some time.

Born in Los Angeles to Robert Collyer Combes, a police chief, and Lillian A. Combes, she was the youngest of three children. Billingsley’s parents divorced while she was still a child and she fell in love with drama in school.

After spending a year at a Los Angeles junior college, Billingsley went to Broadway as part of the Straw Hat revue. It quickly closed but she stayed in New York and worked as a fashion model. In 1945, she landed a contract with MGM and appeared in a number of small roles in movies until the mid-1950s. Those led her to be cast in several TV programs of the day.

In 1957, Billingsley was signed to play June Cleaver, the mother on the Leave It to Beaver sitcom, and received top billing over Tony Dow, Hugh Beaumont, and Jerry Mathers. The show initially aired on CBS but, after one season, moved to ABC and ran for five more years. The series ended on its own terms and was one of the few of that era to have a series finale. In the last episode, June is cleaning and comes across a photo album. The Cleaver clan ends up recounting experiences they’ve had together via clips from earlier episodes.

Barbara BillinglseyAfter that, Billingsley was typecast as the perfect mother and found it difficult to land other roles for several years. She guest-starred on a number of shows over the years, sometimes in her Leave It to Beaver persona. Billingsley also voiced the “Nanny” caretaker of the Muppet Babies characters on that animated series for 107 episodes. Billingsley found new notariety by playing the “jive lady” in the first Airplane! movie.

In 1983, she joined most of the original Beaver cast for the Still the Beaver reunion movie on CBS. That led to a whole new Beaver sitcom called The New Leave It to Beaver. That lasted for 104 episodes and Billingsley’s character was now an active widowed grandmother who became a member of the Mayfield City Council.

One of Billingsely’s last on-screen roles was in a cameo as Aunt Martha in 1997’s Leave It to Beaver feature film. Other original TV castmembers, Ken Osmond and Frank Bank, had small roles as well.

Billingsley was married three times and her last husband died in 1981. She is survived by two sons, several grandchildren, and generations of grateful TV viewers.

What do you think? What are your favorite memories of Barbara Billingsley? Please share them below.

 

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig V September 26, 2012 at 6:04 am

Barbara Billingley, the mother on Leave It To Beaver, was the perfect mother, keeping an emaculate home and amazingly enough, kitchen, what with two kids. Always wearing a dress, she and Ward kept their disagreements to a minimum and Wally and Beaver in line, while putting up with the two-faced Eddie Haskell, who was hilarious to watch, a jerk and a gentleman! They don’t make sitcoms like Leave It To Beaver anymore!

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Mike Macklin December 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm

I loved the show as a kid. She was a positive role model. We need more Barbara Billingsleys around. My sympathies to all her family.

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A.G December 30, 2010 at 4:04 am

I just learned 2 days ago of Ms.Billingsley passing,and ‘was quite sad to know that,but,also grateful that she shared her craft of acting with everyone.My favorite memories of her is just everytime I see her,in whatever show she’s in…but,I must say,I was amazed at her acting in Airplane!,as the “jive lady”. Those who have never seen it…PLS watch it,it’s that good! I read that her 2 sons had said she was pretty much like June Cleaver,but,Ms.Billingsley did not agree.But,later did agree that she was like June,as the show progressed.If ever I could have chosen a mom,you,indeed,would have been her.Rest in peace,dear lady. Forever a fan.

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Wah October 17, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Wah
I’m sad to hear that Mama June Clever’ passing
She remind me of my own mother. She will
always be the greatest mom on or off stage. In
the Return of the Leave it to Beaver, Ed Haskell
with his wise crack & good old Lubby. You will
alway be in our heart & dearly missed.

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