Mourning June Cleaver

How the death of one of TV's greatest moms impacts us all

June Cleaver died over the weekend, and this Boomer is bummed.

Well, not June Cleaver, exactly, but Barbara Billingsley, the actress who will forever be connected to the role she played on Leave It to Beaver, the quintessential 1950s family sitcom. Billingsley was 94.

June Cleaver was the era’s perfect stay-at-home TV mom. She was sweet. She was helpful. She wore shirtwaist dresses and pearls and never had a bad hair day. Nothing unhinged her.

Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont) worked at some suit-and-tie job, though we never saw him in the office. His real role was to dole out fatherly discipline in response to the weekly disasters created by teenager Wally (Tony Dow) and kid brother Theodore (Jerry Mathers), known to all as Beaver.

I loved “the Beaver.”  In his pre-pubescent years, he was so adorable you wanted to eat his freckled little face. Who knew Jerry Mathers would grow up to be a fat toad? Or that Tony Dow, once surfer-boy handsome, would now resemble David Crosby, albeit less walrus-like.

Billingsley, a former model who married three times, remained stately, even scoring a hysterical “I don’t speak jive,” turn in 1980’s Airplane! Like the rest of her TV family, however, she would be stuck in a Leave It to Beaver time warp. The typecasting stifled all their careers.

At the time of Leave It to Beaver, there were similar sitcom moms – Donna Reed of The Donna Reed Show and Harriet Nelson of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, for example — but June Cleaver was tops in my book. Even her first name was sunny.

Hugh Beaumont died in 1982, so Billingsley’s passing on Saturday officially makes Wally and the Beav  orphans. Mayfield, USA, will never be the same. And neither, in a weird way, will those of us who grew up with them there.