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BARBARA BILLINGSLEY
by Kevin S. Butler


Classic TV star Barbara BillingsleyActress Barbara Billingsley, best for her roles as Mrs. June Cleaver on "Leave It To Beaver"/"The New Leave To Beaver Show" and the voice of Nanny on "Muppet Babies" died late Friday night/early Saturday morning October 16, 2010 at her home in Santa Monica, Cal.

She was 94 years old and had been suffering from Rheumatoid disease.

Born Barbara Combes in Los Angeles on December 22, 1915, she took the name of Billingsley after her divorce from her first husband Glen Billingsley.

She had been a movie actress since the mid-1940s, her acting credits were minor to say the least, and it was not until the late 1950s that she finally obtained stardom as the beautiful, caring matriarch of the Cleaver clan.

Originally, Ms. Billingsley had been slated to do another series pilot with future "Beverly Hillbillies" lead Actor/singer and dancer Buddy Ebsen. For whatever the reasons, the pilot never came to fruition and she was offered a second series that was picked up by the ABC TV Network - Leave It To Beaver.

The show didn't do so well on ABC and it soon moved to CBS where it ran successfully until 1963. After that, Ms. Billingsley left TV acting and she wasn't seen by the public again until the 1980s when she landed the role of the foul talking, elderly passenger in the two "Airplane" movies.

She went on to appear in the movie "Back To The Beach" with Beaver co-stars Mathers and Dow, Bob Denver, Alan Hale,Jr., Don Adams, Annette Funicello, Connie Stevens and Frankie Avalon in 1986

She reprised her role of the matriarch of the Cleavers first on the CBS TV movie "Still The Beaver" in 1983 and on the cable TV series "The New Leave It To Beaver Show" in 1985.

Ms. Billingsley also found the time to do voice overs for TV cartoon shows like "Muppet Babies" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (where she played against type as the voice of the mother of the infamous Shredder).

She also made guest appearances on "Murphy Brown", "Empty Nest", "Baby Boom" and on an episode of "Roseanne" with other former TV moms Pat Crowley (Joan Nash on the TV version of "Please Don't The Daises"), June Lockhart (Ruth Martin on "Lassie" and Dr. Maureen Robinson on "Lost In Space") and Isabel Sanford (Louise Jefferson on "All In The Family" and" The Jeffersons").

In 1997, Barbara Billingsley played Aunt Martha in the theatrically released "Leave It To Beaver" movie. Despite her appearance in the film. it was a dud and it quickly left the theaters.

In recent years Ms. Billingsley made fewer public appearances due to her failing health. She is survived by her two sons, a stepson and many grandchildren.

The new DVD collection of Leave it to Beaver has a wonderful visit with Barbara Billingsley filmed just a few years ago and it's a joy. The entire box set is super from start to finish.


Leave it to Beaver on DVd

Leave It To Beaver: The Complete Series

Leave it to Beaver is one of those rare shows from the 1950s that still can get me laughing. It's a snapshot of an era that seems quaint compared to today, and many people might imagine it has an antiquaited feel - teens wearing coats and ties, everyone being so polite, neighborly neighbors - but Beaver, as opposed to almost all other 1950's sitcoms, is the cream that rises to the top. There wasn't a better written, directed and acted program from that era, the programs sizzle with a freshness that remains intact, especially with these digitally remastered prints. Black and white never looked so good, the screen glistens thanks to the impeccable production values this program enjoyed.

From the minds of Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher (Amos 'n' Andy, The Munsters), Leave it to Beaver remains relevant because the problems the Cleaver family faced are the same that your family faces today. The solutions may be different; let's face it, no matter how good a parent you are the Eddie Haskells have us all outnumbered now. But these simple storylines are sure to raise a smile of recognition.

Was life really like Leave it to Beaver in the late-1950s? I was too young to remember but some people want you to think so. It did represent an ideal as far as it went, which wasn't very far.

Besides great scripts, this superior cast is the best television had to offer. I normally don't like TV shows with kids, they're so phony most of the time. But not here. Jerry Mathers was such a natural and Tony Dow couldn't be more relatable.

The supporting cast can't be beat. Richard Deacon as Lumpy's father is flat-out hilarious, Beaver's classmates are easily recognizable from your own youth, and Ken Osmond as Eddie Haskell became a TV icon thanks to his devilish niavete. I just love watching Barbara Billingsley's reaction to Eddie which had become quite subtle by year 6. Priceless!

I was surprised to discover that the sixth season was the strongest, this series just kept getting better from year to year. From the jazzy re-imagining of the theme song to the Beaver's newly changed voice, season 6 explored the world of teenagers while the early years focused more on the elementary school experience. One wonders what would have happened if the cast had wanted to go another season and Wally entered college.

One of the reasons I liked year 6 best are the storylines - Wally learns to drive, Wally and Beaver graduate, Wally grows a mustache to impress a girl, Uncle Billy (Edgar Buchanan) watches the boys for a weekend, Beaver tries to get the paperboy fired so he can get the job, Wally dates a bad girl - these are all jumping off points for Connelly & Mosher's unique brand of Americana humor (they also created Mayberry RFD).

And Beaver was one of the few TV series that aired a final episode, a retrospective of past storylines is the last outing.

Every season has it's own bonus features; a couple of audio interviews with Ken Osmond & Frank Bank and Jerry Mathers and Frank Bank are repeated across the yearly collections. Unfortunately, I had some playability problems in the middle of season 6 disc 4 but that could be my players.

This package also contains extras not available when you buy the seasons separately (seasons 5 & 6 have not been released as of June, 2010). On the bonus disc there's a wonderful interview with the cast members from 2005 with Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow, and Jerry Mathers (Billingsley is now 95 years old and she looks great here.)

Seriously, this is one of the best retro interviews with a TV cast I've seen. Very revealing, heartwarming; it's nice to know that one of the shows that's come to represent the American ideal actually was populated by the types of folks we imagined. It's a must-see.

Another video retrospective with Ken Osmond and Frank Bank contains a tribute to Hugh Beaumont that actually brought a tear to my eye. I must be a real softie. Also included in the bonus disc is a reproduction of the Leave it to Beaver game board, I actually remember playing this game as a kid. Clever!

Leave it to Beaver The Complete Series is a joy to behold and surely something you'll treasure over the years. 37 discs with 234 episodes - that's a lot of TV watching and every show is a gem, each with its own sparkling personality.

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