Actor Barbara Billingsley, 94, who gained fame playing June Cleaver in the television series Leave It to Beaver, died Saturday in her Santa Monica home.
Billingsley played the idealized television mom from 1957 to 1963, gaining lasting fame when the popular series continued in reruns for decades.
A beautiful, thrice married actor, her first marriage to Glenn Billingsley, nephew of Sherman Billingsley, the proprietor of the Stork Club in Manhattan, ended in divorce. She outlived both her second and third husbands, Roy Kellino and Dr. William Leigh Mortensen, as well as her television husband, Ward played by Hugh Beaumont.
She is survived by her two sons, Drew and Glenn Billingsley Jr., from her first marriage.
Billingsley reprised her role as June Cleaver for the 1983 Leave It to Beaver reunion television movie playing a widow as Hugh Beaumont had died from a heart attack the previous year. She also appeared in The New Leave It to Beaver revival running from '85 to '89.
The glamorous actor never spoke ill of the television mom who, despite being a stay-at-home suburban housewife, appeared to wear pearls and high heels for cleaning and vacuuming the house. In truth, the string of pearls camouflaged a hollow in the actor's neck and the high heels were worn in later episodes to give the former model turned career actor the extra height needed to keep her taller than her two growing boys — Wally and the Beaver, played by Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers. "I was lucky they didn't put me on an apple box."
June Cleaver was but one of a number of iconic, suburban mothers appearing on television in the '50s and '60s. Like Harriet Nelson on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Donna Reed on the show carrying her name, June Cleaver was a perfect, almost super, mom.
After the series ended, if Billingsley was sent a script poking nasty fun at June Cleaver, she would turn it down. “She’s been too good to me to play anything like that,” she said. Although, she did spoof her idealized image with an appearance in the comedy Airplane!.
In 2000, Billingsley said about June Cleaver in an interview for the Archive of American Television. “She was a loving, happy stay-at-home mom, which I think is great.” Women who stay at home to care for their children may find in it the best — and most important — job they’ll ever have.
A family spokesperson, Judy Twersky, said that Billingsley died of polymyalgia, a rheumatoid disease.
If you are wondering about the use of the word actor in this report and thinking, "Doesn't he mean actress?" Please, read the first three comments.