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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 }

BARBARA MADDEROM October 17, 2010 at 6:50 pm

IM SO SAD TO HEAR ABOUT BARBARA’S BILLINGSEY DEATH
MY SISTER & I GREW UP ON LEAVE IT TO BEAVER SHE IS # 1 MOM
THEY BROKE THE MOLD WHEN JUNE CLEVER WAS MADE…
MY SISTER & I WATCHED IT WHEN WE WERE LITTLE & I STILL DO
& ALL THE OTHER CLASSICS LIKE MY THREE SONS & ETC
SHE WILL MISS MISSED …
& LASSIE

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stu October 17, 2010 at 2:20 pm

she had the best beaver in hollywood.

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Ramubay October 17, 2010 at 10:52 am

Instead of linking my name to my website I’m linking it to RetroTeeVee’s You Tube channel. It has the first two seasons of the show posted in order. I don’t know the person who posted them but I did watch them all recently and thought others would like to as well. Also Family Affair and My Three Sons.

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Gina October 17, 2010 at 8:17 am

Barbara Billingly epitomizes what Mom meant to their children. These TV moms of today only pale next to Beavers’ mom. She will be missed as a trademark of TV lands’ of moms!

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deb October 17, 2010 at 7:57 am

I’m so sad to hear of Barbara Billingsley’s passing. Her role as June Cleaver was a classic and I’ll never forget Leave it to Beaver. I watched it as a kid and still watch it today. Their family was the family everyone wanted and that everyone should aspire to even today. Yes, it is dated but the human element will never go out of style. The world would be a better place if everyone treated their family members with the respect this family did. Rest in peace, Barbara Billingley.

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John October 17, 2010 at 5:08 am

Barbara Billingsley and Donna Reed – they were SO perfect!

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Brett October 17, 2010 at 4:38 am

Rest in Peace Barbara. While you weren’t my real Mom, you were the best TV Mom that ever was. Now you’re chatting with my mother in a better place..

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Paul Schifino October 17, 2010 at 4:19 am

She was great. I’m surprised that her remembrance didn’t include a mention for her hilarious turn in “Airplane” — She and her jive talking was standout.

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Ramubay October 17, 2010 at 10:46 am

It did. Go back and read the article.

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Deborah October 16, 2010 at 11:59 pm

I loved her in “Leave It to Beaver” reruns of course. My personal favorite roll of hers was the “Jive Lady” in the movie “Airplane”, because it was so un-June Cleaver. Also, it was hilarious, (the whole movie was). I also loved those times when she got to parody June. She was a great actress. She lived a long full life, & will be missed.

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Chad harkins October 16, 2010 at 9:57 pm

My memory of barbera , besides leave it to beaver is the jive lady in Airplane and i forgot she was the voice of nanny on muppet babies good night June may she rest in peace :(

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iza October 16, 2010 at 8:19 pm

So very sad to hear of ‘Mrs. Cleaver’s’ passing. I loved growing up with the re-runs of Leave it to Beaver on to greet me after school. Ms. Billingsley was always one of my favorites on the show…she had such style and finesse. Beauty, brains and the mom we all wanted to meet us at the door with fresh baked cookies! Always perfectly dressed (Eddie Haskell was right, that is a lovely dress!), impeccably put together, wise and strong in a world still dominated by men where the roles of women were strictly the homemaker. Thanks for the fond memories, Barbara, and sharing your great talent…you will be missed.

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Pat October 16, 2010 at 7:14 pm

The perfect mom !

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Chris Skowron October 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I would like to thank you for giving simple details in the first paragraph in expressing Barbara Billinglsey’s recent death.
I read what the LA time’s and other papers wrote, whom ever wrote the information made it sound like Barbara Billinglsey died a saturday ago and not today, October 16th.
Thank you so much for your good grammer.

Chris Skowron

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Arlene J October 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Barbara and her talents will be missed. She brought much joy to many viewers of Leave It To Beaver. Raising my boys I often thought of her and only wished I could have been as “put together” June Cleaver. Rest in peace Barbara.

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Crix Lee October 16, 2010 at 1:55 pm

my favourite moment, I have to say, is that episode of Roseanne when all the great TV Moms showed up in Roseanne’s kitchen. BEST episode EVER.

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