By CHRIS WEBER Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES October 16, 2010 (AP)
Barbara Billingsley, who gained supermom status for her gentle portrayal of June Cleaver, the warm, supportive mother of a pair of precocious boys in "Leave it to Beaver," died Saturday. She was 94.
Billingsley, who had suffered from a rheumatoid disease, died at her home in Santa Monica, said family spokeswoman Judy Twersky.
When the show debuted in 1957, Jerry Mathers, who played Beaver, was 9, and Tony Dow, who portrayed Wally, was 12. Billingsley's character, the perfect stay-at-home 1950s mom, was always there to gently but firmly nurture both through the ups and downs of childhood.
Beaver, meanwhile, was a typical American boy whose adventures landed him in one comical crisis after another.
Billingsley's own two sons said she was pretty much the image of June Cleaver in real life, although the actress disagreed. She did acknowledge that she may have become more like June as the series progressed.
"I think what happens is that the writers start writing about you as well as the character they created," she once said. "So you become sort of all mixed up, I think."
A wholesome beauty with a lithe figure, Billingsley began acting in her elementary school's plays and soon discovered she wanted to do nothing else.
Although her beauty and figure won her numerous roles in movies from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, she failed to obtain star status until "Leave it to Beaver," a show that she almost passed on.
"I was going to do another series with Buddy Ebsen for the same producers, but somehow it didn't materialize," she told The Associated Press in 1994. "A couple of months later I got a call to go to the studio to do this pilot show. And it was 'Beaver.'"
Decades later, she expressed surprise at the lasting affection people had for the show.
"We knew we were making a good show, because it was so well written," she said. "But we had no idea what was ahead. People still talk about it and write letters, telling how much they watch it today with their children and grandchildren."
"Leave it to Beaver" airs weekdays at Noon on RTV Channel 3.2