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TV Series Star Barbara Billingsley Became Working Single Mom to Her Sons after Husband's Death

Comfort Omovre
Dec 11, 2019
04:00 P.M.
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Barbara Billingsley found fame with "Leave It To Beaver" but graced the screen with other big and small appearances after. Apart from her Hollywood career, she advocated the importance of family and raising kids.

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Becoming a Hollywood star in competition with many aspiring actresses is no easy feat. Still, Barbara Billingsley was able to do it, especially after her role in "Leave It To Beaver."

However, being a consistent face in the Hollywood scene became a struggle after she was type cast for a particular role -- her most famous one. Here's more about her life and career.

Barbara Billingsley on "Leave It to Beaver," circa 1957 | Photo: Getty Images

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FINDING FAME

Born on December 22, 1915, as Barbara Lilliam Combes, Billingsley attended George Washington High School and Los Angeles Junior College before moving to New York to pursue an acting career.

She also worked as a fashion model for a while before returning to Los Angeles, where she landed a movie contract with MGM. 

In the '40s through to the early '50s, Billingsley took on minor roles, appearing in "The Bad and the Beautiful," "Shadow of the Wall," and "Three Guys Named Mike" until she landed "Leave It To Beaver."

Barbara Billingsley seated and wearing a white blouse with lace stitching over a black ruffled skirt. She played June Cleaver in the television show 'Leave it to Beaver.' | Photo: Getty Images

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"LEAVE IT TO BEAVER"

Billingsley on "Leave It To Beaver" starred as June Cleaver and embodied a sweet and helpful housewife living a Suburban lifestyle in the postwar era. 

She was a glamorous wife whose staple outfit included pearls and high heels. Still, she was always active in getting her sons, Theodore (Jerry Mathers) and Wally (Tony Dow), out of trouble.

June was a too-good-to-be-true kind of mom, but the woman who played her was just as inspirational, both to her real sons and younger colleagues. According to her on-screen son, Mathers:

"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."

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Barbara Billingsley attends the TV Land Awards 2003 at the Hollywood Palladium on March 2, 2003 in Hollywood, California | Photo: Getty Images

For most of her life, Billingsley worked as an actress in Hollywood and graced the small screen nonstop between 1957 and 1963 — the era of reruns.

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"Leave It to Beaver" was the most successful, and as the Los Angeles star once recalled, "it was a happy experience for me and very timely."

Unfortunately, like most series actors in those days, Billingsley became type cast and got few scripts after the show ended.

Barbara Billingsley, Stephen Dunne and child actors Beverly Washburn and Ted Marc in 1955 | Photo: Getty Images

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AFTER THE SHOW

At the beginning of the '80s, the actress' career was semi-revived after she starred in the comedy movie "Airplane!" After her stint on the film, she bagged some guest appearance roles on shows like "Amazing Stories" and "The Love Boat." 

The "Roseanne" star voiced "Nanny" in the animated series "Jim Henson's Muppet Babies" from 1984 to 1991, and in 1997, she had a small part in the feature film version of "Leave It To Beaver." After that, she appeared to take a break from the movie scene.

In 2000, she granted an interview for the Academy Television archives where she spoke on her early years on MGM and playing "June Cleaver." She said that while being a stay-at-home mom worked for her character, she supports women having both a successful career and a home. 

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Publicity still of American actress Barbara Billingsley (1915 Ð 2010) for the television show 'Leave It To Beaver' in 1957 | Photo: Getty Images

THRICE MARRIED

Although she loves her career, Billingsley's most important and cherished job she had was being a mother to her kids, Drew and Glenn Jr., whom she shares with her first husband, Glenn Andrew Billingsley.

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Unfortunately, their marriage only lasted seven years. In 1953, the actress took another chance on love and married director Roy Kellino. Sadly, their relationship was cut short after he died in 1956 from a heart attack.

Her third husband, Dr. William Mortensen, would be the last man Billingsley would wed. They tied the knot in 1959 and stayed married until his death in 1981.

She dealt with the illness until her death in October 2010, at her home in Santa Monica, California. She was 94 when she passed.

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LIFE AS A MOM

Although somewhat unlucky in relationships, Billingsley was blessed with two wonderful sons who adored her for being a great mom. 

"She wanted a job that would allow her to be part of a family but still do what she wanted," Drew said. He added a story about teasing his mom:

"We would say, 'You're stealing money -- you're doing the same thing at work that you do at home and you're getting paid for it!"

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BILLINGSLEY'S DEMISE

In the years that followed, advancement in age kept the sitcom star away from the public eye, and the last few years of her life saw her get sick with rheumatoid disorder polymyalgia. 

She dealt with the illness until her death in October 2010, at her home in Santa Monica, California. She was 94 during her time of passing. Billingsley was survived by Drew and Glenn, 16 grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren.

Apart from her memorable characters on screen, the actress left behind a legacy of work that the world will remember her for; she believed in the togetherness of the family institution.

Billingsley once said that family is everything, and the world needs more people who think the same. 

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