I don't know about you, but I'm taking this as a really, really bad omen.
Mrs. Cleaver is dead of rheumatoid disease, having departed this mortal coil with her alter ego, Barbara Billingsley, at age 94 in Santa Monica, Calif. Ward et June n'existent plus, and the Beaver -- and all the rest of us -- gently weep.
She is survived by Wally and the Beav . . . and about 72 million Baby Boomers steeped in all things Leave it to Beaver. The New York Times fills in the details:
SO JUNE CLEAVER was an ideal, as opposed to "realistic." So what? We need ideals, but now we only have dysfunction as our guide.
From 1957 to 1963 and in decades of reruns, the glamorous June, who wore pearls and high heels at home, could be counted on to help her husband, Ward (Hugh Beaumont), get their son Theodore, better known as Beaver (Jerry Mathers), and his older brother, Wally (Tony Dow), out of countless minor jams, whether an alligator in the basement or a horse in the garage.
Baking a steady supply of cookies, she would use motherly intuition to sound the alarm about incipient trouble (“Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver”) in their immaculate, airy house in the fictional town of Mayfield. (The house appeared to have no master bedroom, just a big door from which Ward and June occasionally emerged, tying their bathrobes.)
Along with the mothers played by Harriet Nelson (“The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet”), Donna Reed (“The Donna Reed Show”) and others, Ms. Billingsley’s role became a cultural standard, one that may have been too good to be true but produced fan mail and nostalgia for decades afterward, from the same generation whose counterculture derided the see-no-evil suburbia June’s character represented.
Ms. Billingsley, who had nothing but respect for June Cleaver, was a former model and career actress who was married three times and spent part of her career as a working single mother (of two boys, at that).Yes, she acknowledged 40 years later, her role was a picture-perfect reflection of the times. “We were the ideal parents because that’s the way he saw it,” she said, describing the show as the world seen through the eyes of a child.
We live in an age that ridicules the wholesome likes of Ward and June Cleaver. The thing is, once upon a time there were real Wards and Junes. Maybe not perfect, but if you watched Leave it to Beaver closely, neither were Ward and June.
But they were there; they tried hard, and they cared deeply. They believed in decency, in virtue, and they expected that Wally and the Beav would, too.
How naive. Successful civilizations, however, are built upon such naiveté.
Our present one, such as it is, has no such naiveté left. And I think losing the physical embodiment of that ideal -- a woman who worked hard, loved much and did the best she could in real life, as well as behind the TV screen -- is some sort of an omen.
OF COURSE, I can't prove that. That's how omens work; you're never sure till after something bad is in the rear-view mirror (along with the omen).
This one thing is sure, though. We need more June Cleavers -- more Barbara Billingsleys. But now we have one fewer.
That's ominous right there.
While we're waiting for whatever's going to happen to happen, here's the rest of the 1963 final episode of Leave It to Beaver.