Wednesday, October 20, 2010

So long, June Cleaver... we're going to miss you

I failed to note this weekend's passing of Ms. Barbara Billingsley, most famous for her portrayal of June Cleaver in TV's Leave it to Beaver and later in The New Leave it to Beaver.  All in all, Billingsley played the iconic TV mom for more than ten years.

You may also remember her as the "jive translator" from Airplane! (one of the finest moments in cinema, if you ask me, thanks), and the voice of "Nanny" on Muppet Babies.

This fake family sure is swell

Sure, you can have an ironic appreciation for Leave it to Beaver, and June Cleaver has become both punching bag and icon in American culture as we've seen women's roles change over the years, but the reason we used June Cleaver as a touchstone was because if you had a TV growing up from the 50's to the 90's, its likely you found yourself watching Leave it to Beaver upon occasion.  Straight up, before there were 200 channels on the dial, who didn't watch this show, at least out of boredom?

Growing up I preferred Leave it to Beaver over Brady Bunch and found June Cleaver far less creepy (and less lazy) than Carol Brady.  Plus, you know, as a chubby kid constantly baffled by the world who had an older brother who liked to dispense suspect advice and a dad who also could be found reading the paper in the living room and who was prone to give a little lecture when you fudged up, it wasn't a stretch to see the connection.  Was the KareBear like June Cleaver?  Not so much.  She was angling for a "Maria from The Sound of Music" thing.  But she got stuck with two sons who were not playing ball.

Sure, I think reruns of this show have given a good chunk of America a pretty false idea of "an America we need to get back to".  The 50's were actually a pretty rough time for a lot of Americans.  But it does hold up an ideal of a fairly functional American family, even if the structure is outdated in a post-Betty Friedan era.

But you can't fault Barbara Billingsley for being one of the best TV moms out there.  Especially as she wasn't afraid to throw Ward in front of the bus when it came to the tasks of lecturing and setting The Beaver straight when he's once again killed a neighborhood hobo.  I assume June was downstairs having a cocktail and listening to jazz.

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