|Subject: ARCHIVE: October 16, 2010 ~Barbara Billingsley, film, TV, and stage actress, gained prominence in the 1950s movies like "The Bad and the Beautiful", and "The Careless Years", followed by her best known roles of 'June Cleaver', matriarch of TV's "Leave It to Beaver" (195763), and her late in life resurge in film "Airplane" (1980), dies at 94. ...
Bio & PHOTO
Next Thread |
Previous Thread |
Next Message |
Date Posted: Tuesday, October 16, 06:24:09pm
[ Barbara Lillian Combes ]
(December 22, 1915 October 16, 2010)
American film, television, voice, and stage actress, gained prominence in the 1950s movie The Careless Years, acting opposite Natalie Trundy, followed by her best known role, that of June Cleaver, the mother in the television series Leave It to Beaver (195763) and its sequel The New Leave It to Beaver (198389).
Billingsley was born Barbara Lillian Combes on December 22, 1915, in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Lillian Agnes (nιe McLaughlin; 1891 1956) and Robert Collyer Combes (1891 1950), a police officer. She had one elder sibling, Elizabeth (1911 1992). Her parents divorced sometime before her fourth birthday, and her father, who later became an assistant chief of police, remarried. After her divorce, Lillian Combes went to work as a foreman at a knitting mill.
Early years ...
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 the following year. That same year, Glenn Billingsley opened a restaurant there.
She had mostly uncredited roles in major motion pictures 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).
Billingsley as assistant costume designer in "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952),
starring Lana Turner, Dick Powell, and Kirk Douglas. ...
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 co-starring role in the sitcom Professional Father, starring Stephen Dunne and Beverly Washburn. The series lasted one season. The following year, Billingsley had a recurring role on The Brothers (with Gale Gordon and Bob Sweeney), as well as an appearance with David Niven on his anthology series Four Star Playhouse. In 1957, she costarred opposite Dean Stockwell and Natalie Trundy in The Careless Years, her first and only major role in film. Billingsley appeared in guest roles on The Pride of the Family, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Letter to Loretta, You Are There, and Cavalcade of America. She appeared on Make
Leave It To Beaver
After Billingsley signed a contract with Universal Studios in 1957, she made her mark on TV as everyday mother June Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver, alongside other 1950s family sitcoms such as Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Make Room For Daddy, and The Donna Reed Show. It debuted on CBS in 1957, to mediocre ratings.
...The show was picked up by ABC the following year and became a hit, airing for the next five seasons. The show was broadcast in over 100 countries. Also starring on Beaver were Hugh Beaumont, in the role of Ward Cleaver, June's husband and the kids' father, as well as child actors Tony Dow in the role of Wally Cleaver and Jerry Mathers as Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver.
In the show, Billingsley often could be seen doing household chores wearing pearls and earrings. The pearls, which in real life were Billingsley's trademark, were, in turn, her idea to have her alter ego wear on television. The actress had what she termed "a hollow" on her neck 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. 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: residual payments ended after six reruns in standard 1950s actors' contracts.
..."She was the ideal mother", Billingsley said of her character in 1997 in TV Guide. "Some people think she was weakish, but I don'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." As for the idealized TV family on Leave It to Beaver, which continues in reruns on cable more than half a century after its debut, Billingsley had her own explanation for the Cleavers' enduring appeal. "Good grief," she told TV Guide, "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?"
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 the 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."
After six seasons and 234 episodes, the popular 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 comedian 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."
When production of the show ended in 1963, Billingsley had become typecast as saccharine sweet 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), Billingsley spoofed her wholesome image with a brief appearance in the comedy Airplane! (1980), as a passenger who could "speak jive." She stated that the role gave her as much publicity as Beaver, and revived her career.
Returning to TV work, 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 reunion television movie entitled Still the Beaver in 1983. Hugh Beaumont had died the year before of a heart attack, so she played his widow. She also appeared in the subsequent revival of the series, The New Leave It to Beaver, from 1985-89. During the run of The New Leave It to Beaver, Billingsley became the voice of Nanny on Muppet Babies from 1984-91. 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.
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, along 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. After the show's cancellation, 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 ABC's Good Morning America.
Billingsley was married three times and had two children. She married Glenn Billingsley, Sr. (19121984) in 1941. Glenn Billingsley was a restaurateur who was a nephew of Sherman Billingsley, the owner of the Stork Club. His businesses included Billingsley's Golden Bull, Billingsley's Bocage, and the Outrigger Polynesian restaurants in Los Angeles, and a Stork Club in Key West, Florida, where the couple lived briefly, after they were married. They had two sons, Drew and Glenn, Jr., and divorced in 1947.
In 1953, she married British-born movie director Roy Kellino. They were married until Kellino's death in 1956. Billingsley's third and final marriage was to Dr. William S. Mortensen. They married in 1959 and remained together until Mortensen's death in 1981.
...Billingsley died of polymyalgia at her home in Santa Monica, California, on October 16, 2010,
at the age of 94. She is interred at Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery, Santa Monica,
and one of the few celebs to be buried under thier stage and TV persona name.
Next Thread |
Previous Thread |
Next Message |