Barbara Billingsley, who is best known for her role as the original "supermom" June Clever on the hit sitcom "Leave It to Beaver," died at her home in Santa Monica on Saturday of rheumatoid disorder polymyalgia, according to her publicist Judy Twersky. She was 94.
In her role as the doting mother of Wally and the Beaver, which lasted from 1957 to 1963, Billingsley exemplified the perfect, pearl-wearing homemaker in the fictional town of Mayfield, U.S.A.
Billingsley was born Barbara Lillian Combes in Los Angeles, California, in 1915. She started acting as a child, appearing in a number of school plays, and after graduating high school she worked in New York as a fashion model and eventually landed a contract with MGM studios.
Working in the Hollywood studio system, Billinglsey typically took unaccredited roles until she landed television work in 1952. It was in 1957, when she signed with Universal Studios, that she made her mark on the American TV landscape with her role as June Clever.
While she and the Cleaver clan became a post-war America's idea of the perfect family, Billingsley had difficulty living up to that standard. She was married three times, and she spent part of her career not baking cookies but working as a single mom to two boys.
Speaking of her character in 1997 in TV Guide magazine, Billingsley said she felt that everyone thought the Clevers were the perfect family.
"She was the ideal mother," Billingsley said. "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."
While celebrating "Leave It to Beaver's" 50th anniversary, she told ABC's Tom Bergeron about her character's trademark accessories. The heels were an attempt to stay taller than the growing boys...and those pearls?
"I always had something around my neck because I have a hollow there and it was hard in those days to photograph it," Billingsley said.
After "Leave It to Beaver" went off the air in 1964, Billingsley saw few acting roles. But her career was revived in the 80s with the movie "Airplane," where Billingsley turning her "white-bread" reputation on its head as a jive-talking airline passenger in one of the movie's most memorable moments.
And while she kept audiences laughing into well her 90s, it was her role as June Cleaver that made her an American icon.