Barbara Billingsley (1915-2010)

Actress Barbara Billingsley, whose portrayal of June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver helped set the television standard of the wholesome, suburban mother, passed away yesterday at the age of 94. A largely unsuccessful film career in the late 1940s and early 1950s led to minor roles on television programs like The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse and The Loretta Young Show. From January to July of 1955, Billingsley appeared in Professional Father, a CBS sitcom in which she played a wife and mother; during the 1956-1957 season she appeared on another CBS sitcom, The Brothers as the girlfriend of Gale Gordon’s character.

On April of 1957 the pilot episode to what would become Leave It To Beaver aired in syndication as an installment of Studio 57. The series premiered in October of 1957 on CBS and would stay on the air for six seasons, ending in 1963. Billingsley’s career ground to a halt due to typecasting until 1980 when she made a brief but memorable appearance in Airplane!. A 1983 made-for-TV movie titled Still the Beaver broadcast on CBS led to a weekly series, also called Still the Beaver, which aired on Disney Channel for one season from 1985-1986. It was then picked up by TBS, renamed The New Leave It to Beaver, and ran for three more seasons, ending in 1989.

Billingsley later reappeared as June Cleaver in a 1995 episode of Roseanne, alongside a number of other “TV Moms,” including Isabel Sanford, June Lockhart and Patricia Crowley. She made a cameo appearance in the 1997 feature film Leave It to Beaver. According to the Internet Movie Database, her last role was in a 2003 NBC made-for-TV movie called Secret Santa.

Here is the first portion of Billingsley’s interview for the Archive of American Television, conducted in 2000:

Obituaries can be found at The New York Times, Variety, The Los Angeles Times and People.com.


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