Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Gee, Mrs. Cleaver ...
October 16, 2010 2:21 PM   Subscribe

"Gee, Mrs. Cleaver, your kitchen always looks so clean. Why, thank you, Eddie. My mother says it looks as though you never do any work in here." U.S. television and film actress Barbara Billingsley, mother of Theodore 'Beaver' and Wally Cleaver on the television series 'Leave It to Beaver,' has died.

Airplane! (1980): "Oh, stewardess, I speak jive."
posted by ericb (71 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Barbara Billingsley's EmmyTVLegends interview.

Excerpts:
Barbara Billingsley on the genesis of "Leave it to Beaver."

Barbara Billingsley on speaking "jive" in "Airplane."
posted by ericb at 2:25 PM on October 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was more of a Donna Reed fan, as far as black-and-white housewives go... But Billingsley holds a place in my heart for her work on Beaver and Airplane.

.
posted by hippybear at 2:25 PM on October 16, 2010


Trivia:
"Billingsley was related by marriage to actor/producer Peter Billingsley, known for his starring role as Ralphie in the seasonal classic A Christmas Story. Her first husband Glenn's cousin was Peter's mother, Gail Billingsley." *
posted by ericb at 2:29 PM on October 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


I believe she also lent that familiar, comforting voice to the role of Nanny on Muppet Babies.
posted by evilcolonel at 2:31 PM on October 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Ward, I think you were a little hard on the Beaver last night."

.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 2:32 PM on October 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


.
posted by briank at 2:35 PM on October 16, 2010


Oh, no. Oh, no, no, no.

Sigh.

Mr. bakerina and I bought the Leave It to Beaver dvd box set when it was released a few years ago. One thing that always struck me was how "June Cleaver" has become cultural shorthand for "stay-at-home mom, always cooking and keeping an immaculate house while wearing dresses and pearls, not much of an inner life," but if you watch those episodes, June Cleaver was a *pistol*. Every time Ward became a little too full of his wise, all-knowing dad self, she was there to burst that balloon. Of course, she did it with love and kindness -- June *was* a nice lady, after all -- but she never allowed herself to be reduced to "little woman" status. There are also a few episodes where she refers to her childhood, to growing up without a mother, and her devotion to her aunt (who came to visit the Cleavers while June was out of town, and who was a complete pain in the ass -- yet Ward, Wally and Beav treated her well because June loved her, and they loved June). I get the sense that June had a rich inner life, that she was a reader and thinker, and that reading and thinking didn't stop once she became a housewife and mother. I also get the sense that she was a lot smarter than Ward.

As long as I live, I will never laugh as hard as I did the first time I heard Barbara Billingsley say "Jive-ass dude don't got no brains *anyhow*."

.
posted by bakerina at 2:55 PM on October 16, 2010 [44 favorites]


.
posted by jquinby at 3:06 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by tommasz at 3:16 PM on October 16, 2010


As a latchkey kid, June Cleaver may as well have been my mom, too.
posted by padraigin at 3:24 PM on October 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


.
posted by 1000monkeys at 3:24 PM on October 16, 2010


.


(warm cookies & a cold glass of milk)
posted by R. Mutt at 3:36 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by mrbill at 3:38 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 3:39 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by 300two8 at 3:42 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:45 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by UseyurBrain at 3:54 PM on October 16, 2010


..............................................


A string of pearls for you, Barbara Billingsley.
posted by Elsa at 4:03 PM on October 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


.
posted by hortense at 4:07 PM on October 16, 2010


Thanks for your comment, bakerina. I agree that Leave it to Beaver has become cultural shorthand, and most of us that refer to it aren't even familiar with the show. Is it worthwhile to find it to watch?
posted by Sukey Says at 4:08 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:10 PM on October 16, 2010


Chump don't get no help.

.
posted by benzenedream at 4:11 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:14 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by disclaimer at 4:31 PM on October 16, 2010


Back in the day when there were only 4 channels on TV (if you count PTV). "Leave It To Beaver" and "Gilligan's Island" were must see TV. I bet I've seen ever single episode of Beaver. I also have one of those weird brains that can remember episodes of TV that I saw decades ago.

I can remember the episode where Beaver swore (the class bell went off just as he did, so the viewer never found out what he said) or the episode where Eddie talks him into mowing people's lawns without asking permission first or when he smoked his dad's collectible pipe.

I can go on in the same way about any of the characters. The show was 10 years into reruns (try to imagine that happening these days) by the time I ever encountered it and it still didn't feel dated. I can pretty much say the same thing about Barbara Billingsley. Her role may be dated, but her acting isn't.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:35 PM on October 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sukey Says: yes. The show is hilarious, and wholesome, and charming. ... Espescially the early eps when Beaver is little. Really fun to watch.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 4:36 PM on October 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


.
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:51 PM on October 16, 2010


Even if it weren't all of the above, it's an amazing window into how American families in the 1950s were "supposed" to live and deal with everyday complications and setbacks (including the virtual nonexistence of minorities and poor folk) ..... even if it was just a representation of what Joe Connelly, Bob Mosher, and ABC executives thought American families should be like. And it's true -- June Cleaver was no Stepford wife.
posted by blucevalo at 4:54 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Adrienne Barbeau is now all that's left before the spank bank of my youth closes its doors forever.

.
posted by davelog at 5:07 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


.


"Ward, aren't you being a little hard on the Beaver?"
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 5:20 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Davelog; Tina Louise is still alive. don't be so glum friend.
posted by Keith Talent at 5:23 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've been to the restaurant, but I really didn't like it. RIP Mrs. Cleaver.
posted by 6:1 at 5:39 PM on October 16, 2010


I grew up with "Leave It To Beaver". No reruns for me...

Rest in Peace Mrs. C

.
posted by jgaiser at 5:50 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by ants at 5:50 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by BaxterG4 at 5:50 PM on October 16, 2010


I loved what Barbara said in response to comments about June Cleaver's inevitable pearls and heels: "The heels were because the boys were getting taller than me, and the pearls were there to hide a hollow in my neck." Also: "June Cleaver didn't keep her house in perfect order, the prop man did it."

The woman always struck me as so down to earth and so quick to deconstruct her iconic role that it made her damn cool. Billingsley was an actress and all these roles were first and foremost simply work to her. The irony is that a woman known for her role as the perfect 50's housewife was herself a divorced (and then widowed twice) and working mother of two.

Leave it Beaver, by the way, was never a big success in its own time. It was never a top-rated show. I think I read it was never even in the top fifty at a time when there weren't that many more than fifty shows. The only reason so many people saw it and we are still talking about it today is because it lasted long enough to go into syndication, and once in syndication it took on the aura of the archetypal fifties show.

Loved the Airplane cameo, and I also have fond memories of the time she appeared on Roseanne. Roseanne walks into her kitchen late one night to find a bunch of TV moms there. Great dialogue ensues, and then at one point she asks them if they want to know how much she makes. They shriek, "Yes!!!" and get into a huddle. Roseanne whispers the amount. Barbara Billingsley breaks away from the huddle with a stunned look on her face and says, "Gee, for that much money I'd kiss chicks."

Thanks for everything, Barbara.
posted by orange swan at 5:59 PM on October 16, 2010 [10 favorites]


.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:05 PM on October 16, 2010


yes, we watched a countless epsiodes of leave it to beaver, we remember Barbara, but for the love of MIKE can not remember the father's character that was played on the show. also hats off to her living into her 90's.
posted by tustinrick at 6:28 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by Spatch at 6:38 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by cybrcamper at 6:49 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:03 PM on October 16, 2010


She was the mom I always dreamed of having, instead of the drunk who made me carry her booze out the side door of the garage and in through the back door so the neighbors wouldnt see. June Cleaver cooked dinner for her family. I used to watch it on TV while I ate a jar of pickles.
posted by timsteil at 7:06 PM on October 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


The show was 10 years into reruns (try to imagine that happening these days)

Lessee what's on TV right now. Um, Brady Bunch, Happy Days, Cheers....
posted by Melismata at 7:09 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had a very broken, very unstable childhood. Television became my window into kinder, gentler family lives. I idolized TV moms like June Cleaver, Carol Brady, Florida Evans, and so many others. In many ways, as corny as it may sound, those women helped shape the kind of mother I strived to be. I wasn't drawn to them because they were archetypal kinds of homemakers; I wanted to be like them because they treated their families with love and warmth and respect.

Rest in peace, Barbara, and thanks.
posted by amyms at 7:09 PM on October 16, 2010 [11 favorites]


Aww.. she was one of my favorite mothers.

.
posted by Mael Oui at 7:38 PM on October 16, 2010


When I was a kid, I would have given anything for a hunk of her cake.
posted by digsrus at 7:44 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hardly ever could make it through a whole episode of Leave It To Beaver when I was a kid. Five minutes in Beaver (or Wally, or Lumpy, or someone I would identify with) would have become embroiled in a complex situation that was certain bring a world of trouble upon his head. He'd then attempt some pathetic and painful effort to solve it himself, which only served to make things worse. Finally he'd just twist in the wind until the painful and humiliating moment of discovery and reckoning. This was not comedy. This was sheer terror.
posted by squalor at 8:04 PM on October 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


You just summed up why I watched Charles in Charge with dread. And I was 20.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:08 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aw, heck. Thanks for the memories, Ms. Billingsley.
posted by Lynsey at 9:23 PM on October 16, 2010


It's Beavers Mom! And She Speaks JIVE!!!
With very much love for her whole career (I'm 52 and she represented (along with Sam Stephens) what I had to look forward to as a married adult. Or so I hoped...
.
posted by djrock3k at 9:26 PM on October 16, 2010


Oh, this is sad. She was a class act.

.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:43 PM on October 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


.
posted by contessa at 9:44 PM on October 16, 2010


I was just watching her interview about the jive scene in Airplane a few days ago.

.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:51 PM on October 16, 2010


June Cleaver always seemed to me like a banal and alien mother figure. But the moral lessons that were themes in the shows were a significant source of guidance. Like others in this thread, I grew up in a seriously dysfunctional 'home' without maternal care and the Leave It To Beaver show was an important part of my understanding how to be a better person in the world.

It always impressed me that when Beaver messed up he was not either verbally or physically abused. I listened intensely to the lessons that June and Ward gave their sons.

Didn't know until now that Barbara Billingsley's uncle was Sherman Billingsley, who owned The Stork Club.

Leave It To Beaver videos

Theodore was nicknamed "Beaver" because when Wally was little, he couldn't say "Theodore".

Mathers also had a remarkable, professional relationship with both Billingsley and Dow, who were both his second mother and brother and close friends, both on- and off-camera.

Thanks for the guidance Mrs. Cleaver. Condolences to Jerry Matthers, Barbara Billingsley's sons, Drew and Glenn, Jr. RIP Barbara Billingsley.
posted by nickyskye at 9:54 PM on October 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:07 PM on October 16, 2010


I'm a little dismayed that I never made the connection that the mom from "leavithabeaver" was also the voice of Nanny. Two of my favorite childhood shows.

. (for June)
and
. (for Nanny)
posted by The Potate at 11:08 PM on October 16, 2010


.

These anecdotes are beautful.
posted by everichon at 11:10 PM on October 16, 2010


.
posted by Feisty at 11:30 PM on October 16, 2010


These anecdotes are beautful.

Albeit a trifle sad. Next time someone wonders why the USA is so fucked up, I'm gonna point them to this thread, that teaches us that America's moms are all out socializing, working or boozing, while leaving their children's moral guidance to Mr and Mrs Cleaver -- a woman who wears her pearls and stilettos to do the housework and never has a hair out of place!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:57 AM on October 17, 2010


.
posted by crossoverman at 1:51 AM on October 17, 2010


.
posted by geekyguy at 2:36 AM on October 17, 2010


.
posted by fairmettle at 5:16 AM on October 17, 2010


Damn.

.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:33 AM on October 17, 2010


With regard to the talented and lovely Ms. Billingsley...
.
But with regard to Leave it to Beaver and shows like it... what Squalor said. A lot of comedy is still rooted in ritual humiliation, but in those days there was so little else you could do that it was practically all you had. You had this perfect world where there was always enough money, where nobody beats their kids, where authority figures never abuse their authority, teenagers don't have sex and never get pregnant and never realize they're gay and Mom and Dad are literally always right. So what's left to create drama? Let the poor stupid kids, who are almost the only human characters in a world of too perfect to be true mannequins, get in trouble and draw a "wholesome" lesson out of it, over and over again.

Needless to say, I absolutely adored Pleasantville.
posted by localroger at 6:40 AM on October 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


.
posted by kuppajava at 8:15 AM on October 17, 2010


localroger, except for the episode where Beaver takes on a newspaper route, and after several problems getting started and stepping up to the responsibility, he finally gets settled.

Then Mom and Dad think that he's screwed up again, and "deliver" stale newspapers that he's spent a great deal of time bundling up to return.
posted by djfiander at 8:28 AM on October 17, 2010


.
posted by leetheflea at 9:47 AM on October 17, 2010


Thanks for your comment, bakerina. I agree that Leave it to Beaver has become cultural shorthand, and most of us that refer to it aren't even familiar with the show. Is it worthwhile to find it to watch?
Absolutely! I still laugh at certain episodes, even though I've seen them all dozens of times. Jerry Mathers was adorable during the first season (he was, however, one of those child actors that seriously outgrew their cuteness once adolescence hit) and the writers caught the "vibe" of being a kid (especially in that era) with their very realistic diaglog. It wasn't all joke-joke-zinger like the Huxtable kids, or four-year-olds spitting out precocious lines more appropriate for adults. Beaver and Wally and their friends talked and acted like little kids.

Besides the words "June Cleaver" automatically conjuring up a mental picture of the perfect housewife, immaculately groomed and always baking cookies or vacuuming, Leave It To Beaver produced another character whose name has become part of the American vernacular. Most folks will know what you mean if you describe someone as an Eddie Haskell type.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:52 AM on October 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


djflander, that episode is just the exception that demonstrates the rule. The only reason June and Ward made the "mistake" was that it was such a given that Beaver would screw up that it was a very sensible assumption for them to make, based on the series experience.
posted by localroger at 1:23 PM on October 17, 2010


She was a great lady.

.
posted by cereselle at 8:08 AM on October 19, 2010


.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:28 PM on October 19, 2010


« Older Twenty-four vintage book covers from Portugal...  |  I'm proud of the BBC. A song.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments