The roles with which Barbara Billingsley is most closely associated place her outside the time frame on which we usually focus here at Cladrite Radio, but she had small roles in a number of pictures in the 1940s, and that’s good enough for us.
Billingsley, who died yesterday at age 94, played June Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver, and with her passing we feel almost as if we’ve lost a second mother. A good portion of our childhood was spent watching afternoon reruns of Leave It to Beaver (if we ever saw the show during its primetime run on ABC, we were awfully young and don’t recall it), and we’ve often told friends that our childhood was not unlike the Beav’s. That claim tends to inspire skepticism, but it’s true. Mom and Dad had the same calm, reasoned approach to parenting as the Cleavers did, and our little corner of suburbia really was almost as idyllic (or, in any case, so it seemed to us) as Mayfield, U.S.A.
The show stands up today. It’s often lumped with Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and other, blander shows of the era, but we’re of the opinion that it’s a much better show than any of those programs, accurately capturing a certain essence of childhood as it once was (and, to a certain degree, remains today) in a way those other shows didn’t.
Our mom didn’t wear pearls, as did Billingsley’s June (she wore them to hide a cleft or depression at her neckline with which she wasn’t pleased), and she showed a bit more spunk and verve than did June, but Karen and June would’ve gotten along just fine if they’d ever met at a PTA meeting.
To her credit, Billingsley kept working long after Leave It to Beaver ended, and she was willing to poke fun at her image with the memorable “I speak jive” scene in Airplane!. She was working as recently as 2003, at the age of 87.
We met Jerry “the Beav” Mathers a few years ago, and he spoke very highly of both Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont, who played Ward Cleaver, saying they were, to him, like a second set of loving and supportive parents. We can imagine that he and Tony Dow, who played brother Wally on the show, feel the loss of Ms. Billingsley very strongly today.
Frankly, it feels a bit as if we’ve all lost a mom.
R.I.P., Barbara. Thanks for the memories. Please give Hugh our best.