Saturday, October 16, 2010


Barbara Billingsley, who wore a classy pearl necklace and dispensed pearls of wisdom as America's quintessential mom on "Leave it to Beaver," has died at age 94, a family spokeswoman said Saturday.

The actress passed away at 2 a.m. (5 a.m. ET) Saturday at her home in Santa Monica, California, after a long illness, spokeswoman Judy Twersky said. A private memorial is being planned.

The actress won a new legion of fans in a brief, but memorable, scene in the 1980 send-up movie "Airplane."

"Oh, stewardess. I speak jive," Billingsley said in her role -- much different from her June Cleaver persona -- as an elderly passenger comforting an ill man on the flight. She, the sick man and his seat companion engaged in street-slang banter.

From the moment its catchy theme song sounded in black-and-white TV sets of the 1950s, "Leave it to Beaver" enthralled Americans during a time of relative prosperity and world peace. Its characters represented middle-class white America.

June Cleaver dutifully pecked the cheek of her husband, Ward (played by the late Hugh Beaumont), when he came home to learn about the latest foibles -- nothing serious -- committed by Beaver and Wally.

The parents would dispense moralistic advice to their sons. The boys' friends included Lumpy and the obsequious Eddie Haskell, who avoided trouble and often buttered up Ward and June. Perhaps fittingly, "Leave it to Beaver" was canceled in 1963 on the eve of the JFK assassination, the Vietnam War and the tumult of the 1960s.

Born December 22, 1915, in Los Angeles, Billingsley began her career as a model in New York City in 1936. She was under contract to MGM in 1945 before becoming a household name with the launch of "Leave it to Beaver" in 1957. Billingsley also voiced the role of Nanny in Nickelodeon's "Muppet Babies" from 1984 to 1991.

Billingsley, whose second and third husbands predeceased her, is survived by her two sons, Drew Billingsley of Granada Hills, California, and Glenn Billingsley of Phillips Ranch, California...

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