I don’t know how I missed this until today, but Barbara Billingsley died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 94.
She was, of course, the epitome of the American mom, from her role as June Cleaver in “Leave It to Beaver,” which ran from 1957 to 1963 and made occasional reappearances in made-for-TV movies and reunion specials.
“Leave It to Beaver” was one of the shows I watched every day after school. Growing up poor in Brooklyn, it was fascinating to see how a “normal American family” was supposed to behave.
Episodes dealt with such weighty issues as Wally’s embarrassment over the size of his nose and the Beaver’s desire to raise pigeons. Ward could explain to his sons why a woman’s place was in the kitchen, and there would be no outcry. The biggest threat to family stability was a scheming suck-up named Eddie Haskell. Maybe there was an episode on civil rights once, but for all I know, that might have been “The Andy Griffith Show.” The times were so innocent, June could say, “Ward, I think you were pretty hard on the Beaver yesterday,” and no one would even think of that being risque.
But Billingsley will also be remembered for one of the best spoofs in movies, as the Jive Lady in “Airplane.”
She explained how she got the role and described the help of the two “black fellas” in coming up with the lines.
Her first credited acting role was in a 1948 murder mystery called “The Argyle Secrets” but her first screen appearance was in a film short as a blonde with hives in something called “So You Think You’re Allergic.” Those roles have faded in memory, but people who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s will always remember June Cleaver.