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Barbara Billingsley, one of TV’s “ideal” 1950s moms who portrayed the Beaver’s mother on “Leave it to Beaver,” died in Santa Monica, Calif. on Saturday. She was 94 and had suffered from a rheumatoid disease, according to a family spokesperson.
Beloved by a generation of Baby Boomers, who recall her as the even-keeled June Cleaver, Billingsley was the quintessential ’50s mom. Along with such other primetime “moms” as Harriet Nelson and Donna Reed, she projected the era’s ideal of suburban womanhood.
“Leave it to Beaver” ran from 1957-63. When the series ended, Billingsley retreated from show business, raising her two boys. She spoofed her good-mother image in “Airplane!” (1980) playing the Jive Lady. She reprised her June Cleaver role in the 1983 TV movie, “Still the Beaver.” In 1997, she played Aunt Martha on yet another “Leave it to Beaver” production.
“Leave it to Beaver” star Jerry Mathers said in a statement Saturday, “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.”
He continued, “Barbara was a patient advisor and teacher. She helped me along this challenging journey through life by showing me the importance of manners, and respect for others.She will be missed by all of her family, friends, fans and most especially by me.”
On “Leave It To Beaver,” Billingsley starred along with Mathers, Tony Dow and Hugh Beaumont. Although she was warmly admired for her unselfish solving of daily domestic problems, usually involving the Beaver’s “goof-ups,” Billingsley’s exchanges with the show’s bad boy, Eddie Haskell, are, perhaps among the more memorable. Ever calm and resolved in the face of Eddie’s manipulative flattery, Billingsley’s firm and friendly demeanor countered his every shenanigan.
During the 1980s, Billingsley appeared in television movies, including: “Back to the Beach,” “Going to the Chapel,” and “Bay Coven.” In addition to her acting, she performed voice work in the 1984 TV series, “Muppet Babies,” voicing the Nanny character.
She was born Barbara Lillian Combes on Dec. 22, 1915, in Los Angeles and attended Los Angeles Junior College before pursuing an acting career in New York. Her first professional experience in New York was in “Straw Hat,” which eventually made it to Broadway, but it closed after only five shows. She then pursued a career as a fashion model. She appeared in a number of uncredited small roles in the mid ’40s, garnering her first film credit in “The Argyle Secrets” (1948). She went on to play in a number of B movies, including such fare as “Air Hostess,” “Trial Without Jury,” “Three Guys Named Mike” and an uncredited part in “Angels in the Outfield.”
During the early ’50s, Billingsley performed in such wide fare as “The Lady Wants Mink,” “Invaders from Mars,” The Jungle Trap.” With the coming of TV, her career escalated. She performed on the 1955 TV series “Professional Father” and the following year co-starred in “The Brothers.” Billingsley also appeared in a number of TV plays on such anthology series as “Four Star Playhouse” and “Matinee Theater.” It was 1957 and her role as June Cleaver that catapulted her to the national spotlight.
She was married to Glenn Billingsley from 1941-47. The couple had two children. She married Roy Kellino in 1953, who died three years later. In 1959, Billingsley wed William Mortensen.
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