For a generation of Americans, perhaps several generations, Barbara Billingsley was not just a vision of motherhood, but indeed the archetypal mother figure. As “Leave It To Beaver” mom June Cleaver, she was matriarch of the quintessentially American clan of the 1950s. Billingsley portrayed Cleaver with warmth, empathy, humor and wisdom.
The actress passed away Saturday, after a long battle with illness, at the age of 94.
In a 1994 interview, Billingsley confessed that, at the time, she was aware of how good the show was, but she had no idea how deep it would seat in the imaginations of viewers. “People still talk about it and write letters, telling how much they watch it today with their children and grandchildren,” she said.
June Cleaver was the role of Billingsley’s life. She is secondarily best know for her small role in 1980’s “Airplane!” wherein she gently toyed with her motherly image: Her infamous line, “I speak jive,” showcased an actress aware of her place in the annals of entertainment, but unafraid to subvert that image.