Barbara Billingsley, perhaps the most famous mother in the history of television, passed away at her California home today at the age of 94.
From 1957 to 1963 and in decades of reruns, the glamorous June, who wore pearls and high heels at home, could be counted on to help her husband, Ward (Hugh Beaumont), get their son Theodore, better known as Beaver (Jerry Mathers), and his older brother, Wally (Tony Dow), extricated from innumerable minor jams, from an alligator in the basement to a horse in the garage. While baking a steady supply of cookies, she would use motherly intuition to sound the alarm about incipient trouble (“Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver”) in their immaculate, airy house in the fictional town of Mayfield. (The house appeared to have no master bedroom, just a big door from which Ward and June occasionally emerged, tying their bathrobes.)
Along with the mothers played by Harriet Nelson (“The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet”), Donna Reed (“The Donna Reed Show”) and others, Ms. Billingsley’s role became a cultural standard, one that may have been too good to be true but engendered fan mail and nostalgia for decades afterward, from the same generation whose counterculture derided the see-no-evil suburbia June’s character represented. The real Barbara Billingsley, who had nothing but respect for June Cleaver, was a former model and career actress who was married three times and spent part of her career as a working single mother (of two boys, at that).
I used to watch Leave It To Beaver and wonder what the hell had gone wrong with my family, not realizing that nobody’s family was like that.