“Leave It To Beaver” was on TV so long ago that not even *I* saw the originals. But I did watch the show in repeat syndication for years, all throughout my childhood — it aired every afternoon just after I got home from school. Our neighborhood had its own Wally, Beaver, Lumpy and Eddie Haskell, but there was no one around who was anything like June Cleaver.
June and her husband, Ward, were incredibly exotic in their pin-straight neatness and level heads. In contrast to their personas (and ‘only’ two kids), my neighborhood was full of enormous Catholic families and no parents could be that polished when there were a half-dozen or more kids underfoot. For example, I was way, way more likely to see *my* mom walking around in a ratty bathrobe, with a Tareyton hanging out of her mouth, than I was to see her in pearls and an immaculate dress.
I bring all of this up because Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver, died over the weekend. I was surprised to find out she was still alive; I didn’t think she was long for this world after she did the “I speak Jive” appearance in “Airplane!” more than 20 years ago.
June Cleaver often was held up as the example of the innocence of the 1950s, although I think of her in a different way. Those pearls and that dress were a prison jumpsuit of a different kind, but that look and that lifestyle was history before the 1960s ended, even in my little Midwestern town.
Still, Billingsley made June her own. There aren’t too many actresses who can claim they’ve done that with any role.