America’s favorite mom, Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver), 94, passed away Saturday. In The New York Times, Michael Pollak writes:
Ms. Billingsley was born Barbara Lillian Combes on Dec. 22, 1915, in Los Angeles, where she attended George Washington High School. She left Los Angeles Junior College to appear in a short-lived Broadway play, “Straw Hat.” She took her stage name from her first husband, Glenn Billingsley, a nephew of Sherman Billingsley, the proprietor of the Stork Club in Manhattan. They had two sons.
After working as a fashion model, Ms. Billingsley returned to Los Angeles, acted in local plays and was signed to a contract by MGM. In the 1940s and early ’50s, her film roles were mostly small. Her movies included “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952) with Kirk Douglas, “Shadow on the Wall” (1950) with Ann Sothern and “Three Guys Named Mike” (1951) with Jane Wyman.
Of “Leave It to Beaver,” she later recalled, “It was a happy experience for me, and very timely,” adding that there was never a fight on the set in seven years. After the show ended its run in 1963, Ms. Billingsley, by then typecast, saw few acting roles.
Her show business career was revived in 1980 by the movie comedy “Airplane!” in which she played a sweet passenger who communicates in “jive” with two streetwise black passengers — an ironic comment on her previous incarnation as America’s white-bread mom. After that there were guest appearances on “Mork & Mindy,” “Amazing Stories,” “The Love Boat,” “Murphy Brown,” “Roseanne” and other shows. From 1984 to 1991 Ms. Billingsley was the voice of the nanny in the animated series “Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies.”
In 1983 she reprised her role as June in a television movie, “Still the Beaver,” which reunited her with many members of the original “Leave It to Beaver” cast (but not Hugh Beaumont, who died in 1982). That led to a cable series known first by that name and then as “The New Leave It to Beaver.” She also had a small part in the 1997 feature-film version of “Leave It to Beaver.”
After her divorce from Glenn Billingsley in 1947, Ms. Billingsley married Roy Kellino. After Mr. Kellino’s death in 1956, she married Dr. William Mortenson, a general practitioner. They remained married until Dr. Mortenson died in 1981. “Our family after I married Dr. Bill turned out to be like” the Cleavers, she said in 2000.
She is survived by her two sons, Drew Billingsley of Granada Hills, Calif., and Glenn Billingsley Jr. of Phillips Ranch, Calif.
Many of Ms. Billingsley’s later guest appearances were either as June Cleaver or in roles that made wry references to her. But she said she turned down scripts if they made fun of June.
“She’s been too good to me to play anything like that,” she said.