Barbara Billingsley, Television’s June Cleaver, Dies
On the classic comedy series Leave It to Beaver, Billingsley created one of TV's most enduring matriarchs.
Actress Barbara Billingsley, best known for the role of June Cleaver on the television series Leave It to Beaver, one of the iconic matriarchs in television history, died October 16, 2010, at her home in Santa Monica, California. She was 94.
According to news reports, the cause polymyalgia, a rheumatoid disease.
Leave It to Beaver, which aired from 1957 to 1963, presented a wholesome post-World War II American family consisting of Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont), his wife June (Billingsley) and their two sons, Theodore, known by the nickname Beaver (Jerry Mathers), and older brother Wally (Tony Dow).
Usually adorned in pearls and heels, stay-at-home-mom June carried herself with glamour even as she baked cookies and helped her family through an endless series of suburban peccadilloes.
She was born Barbara Lillian Combes on December 22, 1915, in Los Angeles, where she attended George Washington High School. While a student at Los Angeles Junior College, she moved to New York City, where she appeared in a short-lived Broadway play, Straw Hat.
After working as a model, Billingsley returned to Los Angeles, where she signed a contract with MGM. In the 1940s and early ‘50s, she was cast in small roles in such movies as The Bad and the Beautiful, Shadow on the Wall and Three Guys Named Mike.
She broke into television in the early 1950s with roles in such series as Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Four Star Playhouse and Matinee Theatre. She also co-starred in the series Professional Father and The Brothers.
After Leave It to Beaver went off the air, Billingsley continued to act, often in roles that directly modeled, or gently parodied, June Cleaver. Television series she appeared on included The FBI, Mork and Mindy, The Love Boat and Roseanne. She also reprised June in the TV movie Still the Beaver and the series The New Leave It to Beaver. She also had a role in the 1997 feature film version of Leave It to Beaver.
In addition, she drew laughs playing against type in the 1980 big-screen comedy Airplane! and did voice-over work on the children’s television series Muppet Babies.
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.
She and Billingsley were married in 1941 and divorced in 1947. She married two more times; both marriages ended when her husbands died.
She is survived by her two sons.
On July 14, 2000, Barbara Billingsley had the distinction of being interviewed for the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. During the three-hour interview, conducted in Santa Monica, California, by the director of the Archive, Karen Herman, Billingsley spoke about her early film career at MGM and her eventual television roles in Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Four Star Playhouse and Matinee Theatre. She also spoke in detail about her series roles on Professional Father and The Brothers — two roles she played before her defining role as June Cleaver on the series Leave It to Beaver and The New Leave It to Beaver.
The entire interview is available online here.