Sunday, October 17, 2010

Barbara Billingsley R.I.P.

Actress Barbara Billingsley, best known for playing June Cleaver on the sitcom Leave It To Beaver, passed yesterday at the age of 94. The cause was the rheumatoid disease polymyalgia.

Barbara Billingsley was born on December 22, 1915 in Los Angeles, California. She attended George Washington High School and Los Angeles Junior College. She left the junior college to appear in the short lived Broadway play The Straw Hat. She worked for a time as a fashion model, the went back to Los Angeles where she appeared in local plays. In 1941 she married Glenn Billingsley, taking his surname as her stage name. She was signed to a contract with MGM and would have several uncredited roles and bit parts in films in the late Forties and Fifties, including in the movies Up Goes Maisie (1946), Living in a Big Way (1947), Act of Violence (1948), A Kiss for Olga (1949), Shadow on the Wall (1950), Angels in the Outfield (1951).

Miss Billingsley made her television debut in a guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. Over the next few years she guest starred on the shows The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse, The Lone Wolf, The Pride of the Family, Four Star Playhouse, Schlitz Playhouse, The Loretta Young Show, Make Room for Daddy, Cavalcade of America, and Mr. Adams and Eve. She was a semi-regular on the short lived series Professonal Father and The Brothers. She also appeared in such films as The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Invaders from Mars (1953), Day of Triumph (1954), and The Careless Years (1957).

It was in 1957 that Barbara Billingsley signed a contract with Universal Pictures. This lead to her being cast as June Cleaver, the mother of the title character, on Leae It To Beaver. The character was the epitome of the Fifties, sitcom housewife, even wearing pearls and high heels while doing housework. Leave It To Beaver ran only one season on CBS before being cancelled for low ratings, then lasted another five years on ABC. It then went on to a phenomenal run in syndication.

Miss Billingsley would go onto guest star on such shows as The F.B.I. In 1980 she made a signature appearance in the movie Airplane! In the Eighties she would reprise her role as June on the revival of Leave It to Beaver, The New Leave It To Beaver. Miss Billingsley also provided the voice of Nanny on the cartoon Muppet Babies. She guest starred on such shows as Mork and Mindy, Movie Macabre (reprising her role as June Cleaver), Silver Spoons, Amazing Stories (once more reprising her role as June Cleaver), Mike Hammer, The Love Boat (on an episode of which she played June Cleaver again), and Baby Boom (playing June Cleaver). She appeared in the films Back to the Beach (1987) and Going to the Chapel (1988).

In the Nineties into the Naughts she guest starred on the shows Empty Nest, Murphy Brown, The Mommies, Roseanne (once more as June Cleaver), and Mysterious Ways. She appeared in the film version of Leave It To Beaver (1997) and the telefilm Secret Santa (2003--her last appearance on the screen).

I never was a huge fan of Leave It To Beaver, but I always did like Barbara Bilingsley. She was charming and appealing in her role as June Cleaver. She played it very well. And she was very good in her many guest appearances and film appearances over the years. She was a very good comedic actress. Indeed, she was one of the best parts of Airplane! She was loved by many and she will certainly be missed by many.

1 comment:

Toby O'B said...

Lovely tribute, Merc. Thanks for all of us Barbara Billingsley fans!