Barbara Billingsley

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Barbara Billingsley
Billingsley in 1958
Barbara Lillian Combes

(1915-12-22)December 22, 1915
DiedOctober 16, 2010(2010-10-16) (aged 94)
Resting placeWoodlawn Memorial Cemetery
Alma materLos Angeles Junior College
Years active1945–2007
Glenn Billingsley
(m. 1941; div. 1947)
(m. 1953; died 1956)
William Mortensen
(m. 1959; died 1981)

Barbara Billingsley (born Barbara Lillian Combes; December 22, 1915 – October 16, 2010)[1] was an American actress. She began her career with uncredited roles in Three Guys Named Mike (1951), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and Invaders from Mars (1953), and was featured in the 1957 film The Careless Years opposite Natalie Trundy. She then appeared in recurring TV roles, such as The Brothers.

Billingsley gained prominence for her best-known role of June Cleaver, the mother in the television series Leave It to Beaver (1957–1963) and its sequel The New Leave It to Beaver (1983–1989). She appeared as the "Jive Lady" in Airplane! (1980), and her final film role was as Aunt Martha in the 1997 film version of Leave It to Beaver.

Early life[edit]

Billingsley was born Barbara Lillian Combes on December 22, 1915, in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Lillian Agnes (née McLaughlin) and Robert Collyer Combes, a police officer.[2][3] She had one elder sibling, Elizabeth.[4] Her parents divorced sometime before her fourth birthday, and her father, who later became an assistant chief of police,[2] re-married.[5] After the divorce, Billingsley's mother began working as a foreman at a knitting mill.[6]


Early years[edit]

Billingsley and Bruce Edwards play a Jewish couple in Prejudice (1949).

After attending Los Angeles Junior College for one year, Billingsley traveled to Broadway, when Straw Hat, a revue in which she was appearing, attracted enough attention to send it to New York City. When the show closed after five days, she took an apartment on 57th Street and went to work as a $60-a-week fashion model. In 1941, she married Glenn Billingsley Sr. She landed a contract with MGM Studios in 1945, and moved with her husband to Los Angeles in 1946. That same year, Glenn Billingsley opened a steakhouse there.[7]

She had mostly uncredited roles in major movies in the 1940s. These roles continued into the first half of the 1950s with supporting roles in Three Guys Named Mike (1951), opposite Jane Wyman; The Bad and the Beautiful (1952); and the science-fiction film Invaders from Mars (1953). In 1952, Billingsley had her first role as a guest star in an episode of The Abbott and Costello Show.

In 1955, she won a costarring role in the sitcom Professional Father, starring Stephen Dunne and Beverly Washburn. It lasted one season. The next year, Billingsley had a recurring role in The Brothers (with Gale Gordon and Bob Sweeney) and an appearance with David Niven in his anthology series Four Star Playhouse. In 1957, she costarred with Dean Stockwell and Natalie Trundy in The Careless Years, her first and only major role in a film.[citation needed]

Billingsley had guest roles in The Pride of the Family, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Letter to Loretta, You Are There, and Cavalcade of America. She appeared on Make Room for Daddy on January 14, 1957, in the episode "Danny's Date", where she played Mary Rogers.[citation needed]

Leave It to Beaver[edit]

Cast of Leave It to Beaver

After Billingsley signed a contract with Universal Studios[citation needed] in 1957, she made her mark on TV as June Cleaver in the sitcom Leave It to Beaver. It debuted on CBS in 1957 to mediocre ratings. It was picked up by ABC the following year and became a hit, airing for the next five seasons, and broadcast in over 100 countries. It also starred Hugh Beaumont as Ward Cleaver, June's husband and the kids' father, and child actors Tony Dow as Wally Cleaver and Jerry Mathers as Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver.

In the show, Billingsley was often seen doing household chores wearing pearls and earrings. The pearls, which were Billingsley's trademark, were, in turn, her idea to have her alter ego wear on television. She had what she termed "a hollow" in her neck[2][8][9] and thought that wearing a strand of white pearls would lighten it up for the cameras. In later seasons, she started wearing high heels to compensate for the fact that the actors playing her sons were getting taller than she was.[2][9][10] The pearl necklace was so closely associated with the character that an entire episode of the sequel series dealt with the necklace when it was lost.

Billingsley had one regret about the show's lasting success: In standard actors' contracts in the 1950s, residual payments ended after six re-runs, and the show, subsequently considered a classic, was syndicated for the rest of her life.[11]

Billingsley said that her character was the "ideal mother" during a 1997 interview with TV Guide. She said that some people thought June was a weak character, but that she didn't: "She was the love in that family. She set a good example for what a wife could be. I had two boys at home when I did the show. I think the character became kind of like me and vice versa. I've never known where one started and where one stopped." Billingsley explained her view on the enduring appeal of the Leave It to Beaver characters: "I think everybody would like a family like that. Wouldn't it be nice if you came home from school and there was Mom standing there with her little apron and cookies waiting?"[12]

Billingsley, however, questioned her character's reactions to the Cleaver children's misbehavior, basing her concern on personal experience as the mother of two sons. As co-producer Joseph Connelly explained: "In scenes where she's mad at the boys, she's always coming over to us with the script and objecting. 'I don't see why June is so mad over what Beaver's done. I certainly wouldn't be.' As a result, many of Beaver's crimes have been rewritten into something really heinous like lying about them, in order to give his mother a strong motive for blowing her lady-like stack."[13]

After six seasons and 234 episodes, the series was canceled because of the cast's desire to move on to other projects, especially Mathers, who retired from acting to enter his freshman year in high school. The younger actor considered Billingsley a mentor, a second mother, and a close professional friend:

Barbara was always, though, a true role model for me. She was a great actress. And a lot of people, you know, when they see her talk jive talk, they always say she can do other things besides be a mom on Leave It to Beaver. And I tell them Airplane! (1980); she's been a great comedienne all her life. And in a lot of ways, just like All in the Family, we kind of stifled her because her true talent didn't really come out in Leave It to Beaver. She was the straight woman, but she has an awful lot of talent.[14]

After Beaver[edit]

When production of the show ended in 1963, Billingsley had become typecast and had trouble obtaining acting jobs for years. She traveled extensively abroad until the late 1970s. After an absence of 17 years from the public eye (other than appearing in two episodes of The F.B.I. in 1971), she spoofed her wholesome image with a brief appearance in the comedy Airplane! (1980) as a passenger who could "speak jive." She said the role gave her as much publicity as Beaver and revived her career.[15]

Returning to TV, she appeared on episodes of Mork & Mindy and The Love Boat. In 1983 she reprised her role as June Cleaver in the Leave It to Beaver television movie titled Still the Beaver in 1983. Hugh Beaumont had died the previous year of a heart attack, so she played his widow. She also appeared in the revival of the series The New Leave It to Beaver from 1985 to 1989. During the run of The New Leave It to Beaver, Billingsley became the voice of Nanny on Muppet Babies from 1984 to 1991. For her performance as Nanny, she was nominated for the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series in 1989 and 1990.[citation needed]

After The New Leave It to Beaver ended its run in 1989, Billingsley appeared in guest roles on Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Empty Nest, and Murphy Brown. She also reprised her role as June Cleaver in various television shows, including Elvira's Movie Macabre, Amazing Stories, Baby Boom, Hi Honey, I'm Home!, and Roseanne. In 1998, she appeared on Candid Camera, with June Lockhart and Isabel Sanford, as audience members in a spoof seminar on motherhood. Billingsley's final film role was as Aunt Martha in the 1997 film version of Leave It to Beaver. She made her final onscreen appearance in the 2003 television movie Secret Santa.[citation needed]

After the show's cancellation in 1963, Mathers remained her close friend. They were reunited on The New Leave It to Beaver. Billingsley, Mathers, Dow, Frank Bank, and Ken Osmond celebrated the show's 50th anniversary together on Good Morning America.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Billingsley was married three times and had two children. She married Glenn Billingsley Sr. in 1941, a restaurateur and a nephew of Sherman Billingsley, owner of the Stork Club. His businesses included Billingsley's Golden Bull, Billingsley's Bocage, the Outrigger Polynesian restaurants in Los Angeles, and a Stork Club in Key West, Florida, where they lived briefly after their wedding.[16] They had two sons and divorced in 1947.[17]

In 1953 she married British-born movie director Roy Kellino. Their marriage lasted three years, when in 1956 he died of a heart attack at age 44.[18][19] It was about six months later that she was handed the pilot for what would become Leave It to Beaver (then titled It's a Small World).[20] Billingsley's third and final marriage was to William S. Mortensen in 1959; they remained together until his death in 1981.[19][21]


Billingsley died of polymyalgia rheumatica at her home in Santa Monica, California, on October 16, 2010, at the age of 94.[21] She is interred at Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery, Santa Monica.[22]


Year Title Role Notes
1945 So You Think You're Allergic Blonde with Hives Short subject
Adventure Dame #2 Uncredited
1946 Up Goes Maisie Barb's Friend at Maisie's Engagement Party Uncredited
Two Sisters from Boston Party Guest Uncredited
Faithful in My Fashion Mary – Department Store Clerk Uncredited
Three Wise Fools Sister Mary Leonard Uncredited
Undercurrent Party Guest Uncredited
The Secret Heart Saleswoman Uncredited
1947 The Arnelo Affair Weil Uncredited
The Sea of Grass Bridesmaid Uncredited
Living in a Big Way G.I. Bill's Wife Uncredited
The Romance of Rosy Ridge Wife Uncredited
The Unfinished Dance Miss Morgan Uncredited
1948 The Argyle Secrets Elizabeth Court
Souvenirs of Death Johnny's Mom Uncredited
The Saxon Charm Mrs. Maddox Uncredited
The Valiant Hombre Linda Mason
Act of Violence Voice role Uncredited
1949 The Sun Comes Up Nurse Uncredited
Caught Store Customer in Flowered Hat Uncredited
I Cheated the Law Ruth Campbell
Any Number Can Play Gambler Uncredited
Air Hostess Madeline Moore
Prejudice Doris Green
A Kiss for Corliss Miss Hibbs, Harry's Secretary Uncredited
1950 Shadow on the Wall Olga
Trial Without Jury Rheta Mulford
Pretty Baby Edna the Receptionist
Dial 1119 Dorothy, Editor's Secretary Uncredited
1951 Three Guys Named Mike Ann White
Inside Straight Miss Meadson
Oh! Susanna Mrs. Lark Uncredited
The Tall Target Young Mother Uncredited
Angels in the Outfield Hat Check Girl in Restaurant Uncredited
Two-Dollar Bettor Miss Pierson Credited as Barbara Billinsley
1952 Invitation Miss Alvy – Simon's Secretary Uncredited
Young Man with Ideas Aggie – Party Guest Uncredited
Woman in the Dark Evelyn Courtney
The Bad and the Beautiful Evelyn Lucien, Costume Designer Uncredited
1953 The Lady Wants Mink Phyllis Uncredited
Invaders from Mars Kelston's Secretary Uncredited
1954 Day of Triumph Claudia – Wife of Pilate Uncredited
1957 The Careless Years Helen Meredith
1980 Airplane! Jive Lady Alternative title: Flying High!
1987 Back to the Beach Announcer
1988 Going to the Chapel Unidentified role
1997 Leave It to Beaver Aunt Martha

Television appearances[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1952 Rebound Pat 2 episodes
1953 The Abbott and Costello Show Becky the Cashier Episode: "Television"
1953 Crown Theatre with Gloria Swanson Episode: "Half the Action"
1953 The Pepsi-Cola Playhouse Segment: "When a Lovely Woman"
1953–1954 City Detective Lita
Barbara Fuller
2 episodes
1953–1955 Four Star Playhouse Various roles 3 episodes
1953–1955 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Various roles 6 episodes
1953–1957 Cavalcade of America Dorothea Meadows
Harriet Kohler
2 episodes
1954 The Pride of the Family Episode: "Albie's Old Flame"
1954 The Lone Wolf Jean Arnold Episode: "The Long Beach Story (a.k.a. The Smuggling Story)"
1954 Fireside Theater Episode: "The Whole Truth"
1955 Professional Father Helen Wilson 18 episodes
1955 You Are There Catherine Green Episode: "Eli Whitney Invents the Cotton Gin (May 27, 1793)"
1956 Matinee Theater Episode: "Summer Cannot Last"
1956 The Loretta Young Show Connie Episode: "Tightwad Millionaire"
1956 General Electric Summer Originals Episode: "Jungle Trap"
1956 The Ford Television Theatre Mrs. Sloan Episode: "Catch at Straws"
1956–1957 The Brothers Barbara 5 episodes
1957 Panic! Mrs. Mason Episode: "The Subway"
1957 Mr. Adams and Eve Liz Blake Episode: "That Magazine"
1957 Studio 57 June Cleaver Episode: "It's a Small World"
1957–1963 Leave It to Beaver June Cleaver 234 episodes
1971 The F.B.I. Joan Connor
Mrs. Rankin
2 episodes
1982 Mork & Mindy Louise Bailey Episode: "Cheerleader in Chains"
1983 Still the Beaver June Cleaver Television movie
1983 High School U.S.A. Mrs. McCarthy Television movie
1983 Match Game-Hollywood Squares Hour Herself Game Show Participant / Celebrity Guest Star
1983, 1987 The Love Boat Phyllis Cowens (1983)
June Cleaver (1987)
2 episodes:
"He Ain't Heavy" (1983)
"Who Killed Maxwell Thorn?" (1987)
1983–1989 The New Leave It to Beaver June Cleaver 101 episodes
1984 Elvira's Movie Macabre June Cleaver Episode: "The Human Duplicators"
1984 Silver Spoons Miss Bugden Episode: "I Won't Dance"
1984–1991 Muppet Babies Nanny (Voice) 107 episodes
1985 Amazing Stories June Cleaver Episode: "Remote Control Man"
1987 The New Mike Hammer Sister Superior Paula Episode: "Who Killed Sister Lorna?"
1987 Bay Coven Beatrice Gower Television movie
1988 Baby Boom June Cleaver Episode: "Guilt"
1989 Monsters Episode: "Reaper"
1991 Parker Lewis Can't Lose Ms. Musso's Mother Episode: "Jerry: Portrait of a Video Junkie"
1991 Hi Honey, I'm Home! June Cleaver Episode: "Make My Bed"
1991 Empty Nest Winifred McConnell Episode: "My Nurse Is Back and There's Gonna Be Trouble..."
1993–1994 The Mommies Caryl's mother
Jeanne – Marilyn's Mom
2 episodes
1994 Murphy Brown Mrs. Stritch Episode: "Crime Story"
1995 Roseanne Herself – June Cleaver, TV Mom #1 Episode: "All About Rosey Part 2"
2000 Mysterious Ways Abby Westmore Episode: "Handshake"
2003 Secret Santa Miss Ruthie Television movie


  1. ^ McLellan, Dennis (October 16, 2010). "Barbara Billingsley, Mother on 'Leave It to Beaver', Dies at 94". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 17, 2010. Retrieved December 22, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d Bernstein, Adam (October 16, 2010). "Barbara Billingsley, 94, Dies; Actress Was Model Mom on 'Leave It To Beaver'". The Washington Post.
  3. ^ Combes's status as a patrolman with the Los Angeles Police Department is stated on his 1917 draft registration, accessed on on October 17, 2010. The website indicates that Combes was then married with two children. According to U.S. Federal Census information, Combes, like his first wife, was the child of an American father and an English mother. He was a native of Sea Cliff Village, Oyster Bay, New York; his father, Henry P. Combes (1860–1920), was a carpenter, and his mother, the former Helen Merritt (1864–1949), was a reporter. Information cited on 1900 U.S. Federal Census, accessed on on October 17, 2010.
  4. ^ Only one sibling, Elizabeth, is cited on 1920 and 1930 U.S. Federal Censuses, accessed on on October 17, 2010. The birth and death dates for Elizabeth Combes (later known as Elizabeth "Betty" McLaughlin) are cited on
  5. ^ The 1920 U.S. Federal Census for Los Angeles, California, documents the entire Combes household, including Lillian Combes as head of household, divorced, and with two daughters, Elizabeth, age eight, and Barbara, age four. The same census states that Robert Collyer Combes, a 28-year-old divorced police officer, was living as a lodger elsewhere in the city. Ten years later the next federal census shows that Robert Collyer Combes, by then a captain in the Los Angeles police force, was living with his new wife Maria S. Combes (1903–1999) and that the couple had been married since 1925. Maria Combes's birth and death dates are listed on the Social Security Death Index, accessed on on October 17, 2010.
  6. ^ Mother's occupation stated in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, accessed on on October 17, 2010.
  7. ^ "Billingsley's". Billingsley's. Archived from the original on July 30, 2022. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  8. ^ Good Morning America, ABC, October 2007.
  9. ^ a b Billingsley, Barbara. "Archive of American Television" (video) (Interview). 11:05-12:05. Retrieved June 3, 2021.
  10. ^ Mathers, Jerry; Fagen, Herb (1998). ...And Jerry Mathers as "The Beaver". Berkley Boulevard. ISBN 978-0425163702.
  11. ^ Arnold, Lawrence (October 16, 2010). "Barbara Billingsley, Iconic TV Mom June Cleaver, Dead at 94". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Archived from the original on October 20, 2010. Retrieved October 16, 2010.
  12. ^ Roush, Matt (October 22, 2010). "Matt's TV Week in Review". TV Guide. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  13. ^ Liebman, Nina C. (July 22, 2010). Living Room Lectures: The Fifties Family in Film and Television. University of Texas Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0292786356.
  14. ^ "TV Moms Tell Their Real Stories". CNN. July 5, 2000. Archived from the original on October 6, 2016. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  15. ^ Billingsley, Barbara (interview) (May 27, 2010). Barbara Billingsley on speaking "jive" in "Airplane". YouTube.
  16. ^ Blumenthal, Ralph (2000). Stork Club: America's Most Famous Nightspot and the Lost World of Cafe Society. Brown, Little. p. 13. ISBN 978-0316105316.
  17. ^ Silverman, Stephen M. (October 16, 2010). "Leave It to Beaver's Barbara Billingsley Loved Being America's Mom". People. Retrieved June 7, 2014.
  18. ^ Barbara Billingsley, Beaver's TV Mom, Dies At 94, NPR News (October 16, 2010)
  19. ^ a b Bygre, Duane (October 16, 2010). "'Leave It to Beaver' Mom Barbara Billingsley Dies". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 7, 2014.
  20. ^ Barbara Billingsley on the genesis of "Leave it to Beaver", interview with Karen Herman on July 14, 2000 in Santa Monica, CA (
  21. ^ a b Pollack, Michael (October 16, 2010). "Barbara Billingsley, TV's June Cleaver, Dies at 94". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 27, 2011. Retrieved October 22, 2010.
  22. ^ "Santa Monica Consolidates Cemetery Prices". Santa Monica Mirror. July 17, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

  • Applebaum, Irwyn. The World According to Beaver. TV Books, 1984, 1998.
  • Mathers, Jerry. ...And Jerry Mathers as "The Beaver". Berkley Boulevard Books, 1998.

External links[edit]