Barbara Billingsley & Me
Posted October 16, 2010on:
I join the world in mourning the passing of a great – possibly the best – television mom ever. Barbara Billingsley a.k.a. June Cleaver died Saturday at age 94 – two months before her 95th birthday.
Lucille Ball was quite entertaining, as were Donna Reed and Jane Wyatt. But for my childhood, it was Barbara Billingsley a.k.a. June Cleaver – The Beaver’s mom.
Not only did I watch Leave it to Beaver when it was on in primetime from 1957 to 1963, it was my show of choice day after day in reruns after school. I could probably recite the dialog for many of the episodes to this day.
My Leave it to Beaver scholarship include reading The Beaver Papers: The Story of the Lost Season, by Will Jacobs and Call Me Lumpy: My Leave It To Beaver Days and Other Wild Hollywood Life by Frank Bank.
I was very excited in the 1980s to see a remake of the series with the surviving actors in a series called, Still the Beaver and later The New Leave it to Beaver when they came on in the 1980s. The grown up Wally and Beaver had their own families and June was in the show as the grandmother, but Ward – Hugh Beaumont – had long gone to that great office in the sky.
Something was absolutely right with the world because not only did I get to see this show, but kids liked it.
June was the heart of the kitchen, if not the show. As the TV mom, June frequently told Ward, “I’m worried about the Beav.” As she should have been – this was the kid who could be talked into anything, including climbing into a billboard soup bowl.
Barbara Billingsley left behind a huge TV family and more recent movie fans from her appearance in “Airplane.” If you haven’t seen it, you’ve really missed something hilarious.
She was on the ill-fated airplane on which passenger after passenger became deathly ill. When two African American men could not communicate with the cabin attendant, out of nowhere comes Barbara Bilingsley who says ever so sweetly, “Oh, Stewardess, I speak jive.”
She then jives back and forth in a bit that is still hilarious. You can catch it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymMBEwtRZOg.
Tony Dow, who played Wally, and Jerry Mathews, who played The Beav, stepped away from messing around on Metzger’s Field to offer some very kind words about their TV mom.
“She was as happy as a lark being recognized as America’s mom,” Dow said on CNN. “She had a terrific life and had a wonderful impact on everybody she knew, and even people she didn’t know.”
After her death, Mathers said, “I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend and lifetime mentor Barbara Billingsley. She will live in the hearts of her fans as a wonderful actress and be remembered by her friends as a gracious lady.”
In a 2000 interview, Mathers said, “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.”
Of course families were never quite like the Cleavers, although my family growing up came close. Mom did stay at home with us, even making us breakfast every morning.We didn’t get into too much trouble as kids, or at least I didn’t. I won’t speak for my brother.
Billingsley once was asked to compare real-life families to those on TV. “I just wish that we could have more families like those. Family is so important, and I just don’t think we have enough people staying home with their babies and their children.”
I was no June Cleaver myself. I worked all the while my kids were growing up.
My mom, a super secretary, went back to work after we went away to college. She continued to work part time until she was in her early 80s. Sometimes when we went back to St. Louis to visit, she’d have to go to the salt mines.
My kids seem to have grown up without too many scars from having a working mother and grandmother. Of course the mom is always the last to know.