Barbara Billingsley



Also Known As
Barbara Lillian Combes
Birth Place
Los Angeles, California, USA
December 22, 1915
October 16, 2010
Cause of Death


One of television's most iconic moms, Barbara Billingsley was the effortlessly thoughtful and warm-hearted June Cleaver on "Leave It To Beaver" (ABC/CBS, 1957-1963). A bit player and supporting actress in features prior to its debut, Billingsley became a welcome guest in households throughout the series' six-year run, as well as its subsequent reunion TV movie and "The New Leave It To Be...

Family & Companions

William Mortensen
Physician. Died in 1981.


One of television's most iconic moms, Barbara Billingsley was the effortlessly thoughtful and warm-hearted June Cleaver on "Leave It To Beaver" (ABC/CBS, 1957-1963). A bit player and supporting actress in features prior to its debut, Billingsley became a welcome guest in households throughout the series' six-year run, as well as its subsequent reunion TV movie and "The New Leave It To Beaver" (Disney Channel/TBS, 1985-89). The show's ubiquity in syndication assured her lasting small-screen immortality, where her seemingly natural kindness and patience made her an ideal TV mom for generations of viewers.

Born Barbara Lillian Combes in Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 1915, she was the daughter of police chief Robert Collyer Combes and Lillian McLaughlin. Motion pictures were a bonding element between Billingsley and her mother, who frequently took her and her two siblings to the movies. It seemed only natural, then, that she would develop a fascination for drama while attending George Washington High School in L.A., and continued to pursue it while a student at Los Angeles Junior College. She dropped out while still a sophomore when "Straw Hat," a revue in which she was appearing, moved to Broadway. Once in New York, she worked as a fashion model and toured with Billie Burke (the Good Witch of the North in "The Wizard of Oz") in a production of "Accidentally Yours." She married restaurateur Glenn Billingsley, who provided her with her surname as well as two sons, before their marriage ended in 1947. Her husband also gave her a familial connection to future child star and director Peter Billingsley, whose mother, Gail, was her first husband's cousin.

A contract with MGM materialized in 1945, which preceded a string of decidedly supporting roles in B-movies. She provided a mere voice for "Act of Violence" (1948), and that same year appeared in "The Argyle Secrets" and "The Valiant Hombre," in which her entire function was to give the Cisco Kid information about her missing brother. She had a bit as a young mother who encounters Abraham Lincoln before his assassination in 1951's "The Tall Target." Later that year, she graduated to the A-list with "Three Guys Named Mike," but Jane Wyman got the guys and Billingsley was on the sidelines. Uncredited turns in "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952) and "Invaders from Mars" (1953) seemed to indicate the direction of her film career, and as the studios curtailed production of B-films, Billingsley headed to the small screen. Ironically, the year she landed the role of June, she would enjoy possibly her best role in movies, as the mother whose daughter elopes with Dean Stockwell in "The Careless Years" (1957).

Beginning in 1953, Billingsley was a staple of the many anthology programs that dominated the airwaves at the time such as "Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars" (CBS, 1951-59). Her first fulltime series role was as wife to a child psychologist on the short-lived CBS effort, "Professional Father" (1955). She then played Gale Gordon's girlfriend on several episodes of "The Brothers" (CBS, 1957) and nearly became Danny Thomas' second TV wife on "Make Room For Daddy" (ABC/CBS, 1953-1964) after the death of Jean Hagen. But after signing a contract with Universal in 1957, she was hired by veteran entertainment writers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher onto a new series about childhood and family life that, unlike other similar series, would shift the focus to the children rather than the parents. "Leave It To Beaver" kicked off in October of 1957, and after moving from CBS to ABC at the behest of its sponsor, Ralston Purina, it enjoyed a steady viewership during its six-year run. Though much of the show's popularity was based on the antics of Jerry Mathers' Beaver, its most consistent element was Billingsley, who appeared in every episode of the first-run series, as well as all of the subsequent reunion and spin-off shows.

Though she frequently said that Connelly and Mosher cast her as June out of pity - her second husband, director Roy Kellino, died before her audition for the series - Billingsley's poise and professionalism made her the ideal candidate for the role. Perfectly coiffured, soft-spoken but firm when necessary, and never without a dress and pearls (the latter to cover a hollow in her neck), Billingsley's June Cleaver was an ideal television maternal figure. With Hugh Beaumont at her side as husband Ward Cleaver, June was warm, thoughtful, patient to a fault, and never without a kind word for everyone, even the exasperating Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond). She was no automaton, though, as evidenced by her frequent, oft-quoted line, "Ward, I'm worried about the Beaver." If June lacked complexity, she made up for it in consistency and care, which made her one of the most beloved TV moms of the 1950s and 1960s.

After "Beaver" ended its run in 1963, the show remained on the airwaves for decades as a syndication staple. Billingsley, however, gracefully exited the entertainment business after only a few more guest appearances, preferring the quiet of Malibu or world travel with her third husband and two sons to the hurried pace of Hollywood. However, in 1980, she was thrust back in the public consciousness through a hilarious and memorable cameo in "Airplane!" as a passenger who could translate the urban ghetto chatter of a black passenger for the white flight attendant. The sight gag of the epitome of whiteness speaking" jive" was memorable and Billingsley seemed to be back on the radar of Hollywood producers.

Brian Levant, at the time a sitcom writer raised in Garry Marshall's factory at Paramount, sold CBS on the reunion TV movie "Still the Beaver" (CBS, 1983). Hugh Beaumont, who had played Ward Cleaver, had died in 1982, so the audience saw June going to Ward's gravestone and saying, "Ward, I'm worried about the Beaver." The success of the TV movie propelled a determined Levant to sell the then fledgling Disney Channel on a weekly series, "The New Leave It to Beaver." Beginning in 1985, Billingsley returned to the small screen as June Cleaver, now a grandmother, living with the divorced Beaver and his brood. From 1986-89, the show was picked up by Ted Turner's superstation, TBS, which produced more originals. Finally, in 1989, the Cleavers were retired. Billingsley continued to make occasional guest appearances, particularly on a memorable episode of "Roseanne," in which Roseanne has a fantasy encounter with famous TV mothers. The inevitable feature version of "Leave It to Beaver" (1997) found Janine Turner inheriting her pearls as June, with Billingsley relegated to the small role as Aunt Martha.

Billingsley's screen appearances grew more sporadic as she entered her eighth decade, with her final role coming in the 2003 TV movie "Secret Santa" (NBC). She continued to join her surviving cast mates, including Mathers - with whom she had remained close friends for over four decades - on television reunion specials and the occasional spoof or tribute to TV mothers. On October 16, 2010, she passed away at the age of 94 at her home in Santa Monica after a lengthy illness, one of the last surviving members of television's original golden age. "Barbara was a patient advisor and teacher. She helped me along this challenging journey through life by showing me the importance of manners and respect for others," Mathers said in a released statement. "She will be missed by all of her family, friends, fans and, most especially, by me."



Cast (Feature Film)

Secret Santa (2003)
Miss Ruthie
Leave It to Beaver (1997)
Wedding Day Blues (1988)
Bay Coven (1987)
Still the Beaver (1983)
June Cleaver
Airplane! (1980)
The Careless Years (1957)
Helen Meredith
Invaders from Mars (1953)
Dr. Kelston's secretary
The Lady Wants Mink (1953)
The Bad and the Beautiful (1953)
Evelyn, costumer
Invitation (1952)
Miss Alvy, Bowker's secretary
Woman in the Dark (1952)
Evelyn Courtney
Young Man With Ideas (1952)
Angels in the Outfield (1951)
Hatcheck girl
Oh! Susanna (1951)
Mrs. Lark
Three Guys Named Mike (1951)
Ann White
Inside Straight (1951)
Miss Meadson
The Tall Target (1951)
Young mother
Two Dollar Bettor (1951)
Miss Pierson
Dial 1119 (1950)
Editor's secretary
Pretty Baby (1950)
Shadow on the Wall (1950)
Trial Without Jury (1950)
Rheta Mulford
Act of Violence (1949)
Woman's voice
The Sun Comes Up (1949)
Air Hostess (1949)
Madeline Moore
The Valiant Hombre (1949)
Linda Mason
I Cheated the Law! (1949)
Ruth Campbell
Prejudice (1949)
Doris Green
Caught (1949)
Fur coat shopper
Any Number Can Play (1949)
The Argyle Secrets (1948)
Miss [Elizabeth] Court
The Saxon Charm (1948)
Mrs. Maddox
The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947)
The Unfinished Dance (1947)
Miss Mogan
The Arnelo Affair (1947)
Clerk Weil
Undercurrent (1946)
Three Wise Fools (1946)
Sister Mary Leonard
Adventure (1946)
Faithful in My Fashion (1946)
Up Goes Maisie (1946)
Two Sisters from Boston (1946)
Guest at party
The Secret Heart (1946)

Cast (Special)

TV Land Awards: A Celebration of Classic TV (2003)
67th Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade (1998)
1998 Creative Arts Emmy Awards (1998)
Mom Knows Best (1992)
Soap Opera Digest Awards (1989)
Jay Leno's Family Comedy Hour (1987)
Lifetime Salutes Mom (1987)
Getting the Last Laugh (1985)
High School, U.S.A. (1984)
It's a Small World (1957)

Cast (Short)

Souvenirs of Death (1948)
So You Think You're Allergic (1945)

Life Events


Returned to Los Angeles and acted in local plays before signing a contract with MGM Studios


First film roles included, "The Argyle Secrets" and "The Valiant Hombre"


Appeared in "Three Guys Named Mike" with Jane Wyman


Acted in "The Bad and the Beautiful" with Kirk Douglas


Early TV work on episode of "Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars" (CBS)


Had first regular series role on "Professional Father" (CBS)


Best-known for her role as June Cleaver on the television series, "Leave It to Beaver" (CBS, 1957-58; ABC, 1958-63)


First and only major role in a feature film, "The Careless Years"


Appeared in two episodes of "The F.B.I." (ABC)


Spoofed her wholesome image with a memorable cameo in "Airplane!"


Returned as June Cleaver on "Still the Beaver," a CBS reunion special


Reprised role of June Cleaver on "The New Leave It to Beaver" (Disney, 1985-86; TBS, 1986-89)


Appeared in the big screen version of "Leave It to Beaver," playing the character of Aunt Martha


Movie Clip


Arnelo Affair, The - (Original Trailer) A neglected wife (Frances Gifford) gets mixed up with an hypnotic charmer and murder (John Hodiak) in The Arnelo Affair (1947).
Airplane! - (Original Trailer) When a flight crew falls ill, the only man who can land the plane is afraid of flying in Airplane! (1980), a spoof of Zero Hour! (1957)."
Two Sisters from Boston - (Original Trailer) Two Sisters from Boston (1946) have their sensibilities bent when they find work in a Bowery saloon in this hit MGM musical.
Sun Comes Up, The - (Original Trailer) Lassie helps Jeanette MacDonald find happiness with an orphaned boy in The Sun Comes Up (1949).
Three Guys Named Mike - (Original Trailer) Stewardess Jane Wyman can't decide between Three Guys Named Mike (1951), co-starring Van Johnson and Howard Keel.
Shadow On The Wall - (Original Trailer) Ann Sothern, typically a light-hearted comic actress, does a 180 here as a murderess whose crime is witnessed by her victim's daughter.
Inside Straight - (Original Trailer) Louis B. Mayer's nephew Gerald directed Inside Straight (1951), and didn't do too bad with this story of 19th Century San Francisco.
Faithful in My Fashion - (Original Trailer) A sailor on leave (Tom Drake) causes problems at the department store his girlfriend (Donna Reed) manages in Faithful in My Fashion (1946).
Secret Heart, The - (Original Trailer) A recent widow tries to help her emotionally disturbed stepdaughter in The Secret Heart (1946), starring Claudette Colbert, June Allyson and Walter Pidgeon.


William Mortensen
Physician. Died in 1981.