The tragic story behind June Cleaver

Barbara Billingsley's performance followed heartbreak in her personal life.

Making the best of a bad situation is no easy feat. Turning tragedy into triumph is a story we love to hear because it helps us believe that these things are possible. Maybe when it's our turn to go through something terrible, these stories tell us we can get through it, and might even be stronger on the other side.

Nobody should wish for the kind of success Barbara Billingsley had, as it bloomed from heartbreaking misfortune. Her most notable role came to her in the wake of losing a partner.

In 1953, a few years before Leave It to Beaver, Billingsley wed filmmaker Roy Kellino. Nobody could have predicted how short their marriage would last. Just three years later, Kellino died of a heart attack at age 44.

"It's a terrible blow, but you can't wallow in your grief," Billingsley told The Times in 1993. 

"When Roy died, my agent made me work all the time. And six months later, they called me to start the series."

The "they" she referred to were producers Bob Mosher and Joe Connelly. They were the creators behind the series that became Leave It to Beaver

The timing may have been a coincidence, or it may have been the result of her agent urging her to work more and more. Regardless, the fact that she came out on the other side as June Cleaver is significant, not just in her life, but in the history of American television.   

While Billingsley had suffered a great loss, she came to represent something more than herself on Leave it To Beaver. June Cleaver became an avatar of the ideal mother. Those without a mom of their own could project their emotions onto this fictional one, finding comfort in the fair but firm child-rearing on their TV. And those with a mother who fell short of Billingsley's "perfect" mom could find solace in June Cleaver with each episode. 


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13 Comments

Null88 4 months ago
June was another out-of-touch Pollyanna. Brittle, vain, assumptive, Bronson. She always made Ward do the heavy parental lifting. She was a lousy parent to boys.
vg2023 5 months ago
She was related to Raphie in Christmas Story by marriage.
Lantern vg2023 5 months ago
She was also related by marriage to Sherman Billingsley who ran the Stork Club in NYC.
MadMadMadWorld vg2023 5 months ago
Peter Billingsley ("Ralphie") is a cousin to Glenn, who was married to Barbara.
Barbara was married to Glenn (1941-47), a nephew of Sherman.
RamJam3500 5 months ago
Yo bro! I did NOT know all these years Barbara Billingsley was the woman who spoke 'jive' in the movie 'Airplane', until I read a comment from CoreyC. Wait til I ask My friends if they know about this ✌🏾😆
JL1965 5 months ago
Just a class woman on and off TV. A true Icon
Runeshaper 5 months ago
That is sad 😔, and I’m glad that Barbara bounced back 😊
Zip 5 months ago
Quietly, behind the scenes, her agent probably did her a huge favor by "making" her work all the time. Keeping busy so she wouldn't wallow in despair and get too far into her own head. Had to have been tough, but she obviously was stronger for it.
CoreyC 5 months ago
So sad but at least she could speak jive.
Coldnorth CoreyC 5 months ago
The best part of the movie is when she spoke that way
Rick 5 months ago
She had young kids, too (the sidebar story, at least for me, is about Barbara Billingsley accidentally calling her own children "Beaver" sometimes). They were from a previous marriage, but what a tough childhood - Mom and Dad get divorced, then stepdad dies when they're still young.
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