Barbara Billingsley, age 94, died Saturday in Santa Monica, CA. The actress was best known for her portrayal of June Cleaver, the cookie-baking, pearls-while-vacuuming mom of Beaver and Wally Cleaver on the classic television show, Leave It To Beaver. Every Mother’s Day, June Cleaver is voted ‘best TV mom.’ The character set the bar impossibly high for moms everywhere, causing many anxious, perfectionistic women to feel like failures, falling short of June’s level of calm, organized, wise domesticity. And June inspired me to write Even June Cleaver Would Forget The Juice Box to give women a tool to battle unrealistic expectations.
But June was not perfect. She only had to parent 20 minutes a week–and had a script writer to back her up. We could all do as well! In an early episode, June mutters to Ward, as she makes sandwiches for the boys, “I don’t like that Eddie Haskell. He said mayonnaise upsets his stomach, so I’m putting some on his sandwich.” Aghast! June was imperfect–with normal human emotions. This aspect of the character seemed to disappear as the show progressed, sculpting her into the icon she became.
Unlike June, Barbara Billingsley was human. In an interview, she once commented on the pedestal she’d been placed by her role, when she was just another working mother, fighting for her own work life balance. Thanks, Barbara, for sharing your best comedic and human self with us all through the character of June. May you rest in peace.