Billingsley, according to MSNBC, died at her Santa Monica home after a battle with polymyalgia, a rheumatoid disease.
With modern interpretations of the fifties and sixties such as “Mad Men,” where the nuclear family is under incredible and often constant strain, Billingsley’s role as June Cleaver was always one of gentle nurturing and patience, quite the opposite of the famously frigid Betty Draper. June’s concern was maintaining the status quo of house and home, often worrying about her sons Wally, and of course, The Beaver.
Her signature pearls, she said in an interview with the Archive of American Television, were originally meant to hide a hollow she had in her neck. “That is the Gospel Truth!” Billingsley said. “Not because I was cleaning the house and vacuuming in high heels.” The heels, she added, came later once Wally (Tony Dow) and Beaver (Jerry Mathers) began growing. “I had to be taller!” Billingsley said. “I was lucky they didn’t put me on an apple box.”
After her six-seasons of portraying June Cleaver, Billingsley was typecast mostly as a docile homemaker, and used that time off camera to focus on raising her family, the Times said. She made a famous cameo appearance in the 1980 satire “Airplane!” as a woman who kindly lent out her jive language skills to help interoperate what a jive-tossing hipster had to say.
Billingsley was born in Los Angeles as Barbara Lillian Combes on December 22, 1915, and, according to IMDB, starred in two failed TV series before donning pearls, heels, and aprons for the role of June Cleaver.
According to the Times, Billingsley began acting on Broadway after leaving Los Angeles Junior College. It was at the short-lived play “Straw Hat” where she met her then-husband, Glenn Billingsley. They had two sons, and divorced after six years of marriage.
Billingsley remarried director Roy Kellino in November of 1953, though their marriage was cut short when Kellino died of a heart attack three years later, a short while before she was cast in her role on “Leave It To Beaver.”
She married general practitioner Dr. William Mortenson in 1951 and remained married until his death twenty-two years later.