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2010s / Barbara Billingsley of Leave it to Beaver fame dies
CNN) -- Barbara Billingsley, who wore a classy pearl necklace and dispensed pearls of wisdom as America's quintessential mom on "Leave it to Beaver," has died at age 94, a family spokeswoman said Saturday. The actress passed away at 2 a.m. (5 a.m. ET) Saturday at her home in Santa Monica, California, after a long illness, spokeswoman Judy Twersky said. A private memorial is being planned. "America's favorite mother is now gone. I feel very fortunate to have been her 'son,' " actor Tony Dow, who played Wally Cleaver, said in a statement. "We were wonderful friends and I will miss her very much. My deepest sympathies to her sons, Glenn and Drew, and her entire family." Actor Jerry Mathers, who played Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver, spoke of Billingsley's talent during a 2000 appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live." "Barbara was always a true role model for me. She was a great actress," he said. "And in a lot of ways ... we kind of stifled her, because her true talent didn't really come out in 'Leave it Beaver.' She was like the straight man, but she has an awful lot of talent." The actress won a new legion of fans in a brief but memorable scene in the 1980 send-up movie "Airplane." "Oh, stewardess. I speak jive," Billingsley said in her role as a passenger attempting to comfort an ill man on the flight. From the moment its catchy theme song sounded in black-and-white TV sets of the 1950s, "Leave it to Beaver" enthralled Americans during a time of relative prosperity and world peace. Its characters represented middle-class white America. June Cleaver dutifully pecked her husband, Ward (played by the late Hugh Beaumont), when he came home to learn about the latest foibles -- nothing serious -- committed by Beaver and Wally. The parents would dispense moral advice to their sons. The boys' friends included Lumpy and the obsequious Eddie Haskell, who avoided trouble and often buttered up Ward and June. "That's a lovely dress you're wearing, Mrs. Cleaver," Eddie would typically say to Billingsley's character. Perhaps fittingly, "Leave it to Beaver" was canceled in 1963 on the eve of the JFK assassination, the Vietnam War and the tumult of the 1960s. Born December 22, 1915, in Los Angeles, Billingsley began her career as a model in New York City in 1936. She was under contract to MGM in 1945 before becoming a household name with the launch of "Leave it to Beaver" in 1957. Billingsley is survived by her two sons, Drew Billingsley of Granada Hills, California, and Glenn Billingsley of Phillips Ranch, California. Asked once to compare real-life families to TV families, Billingsley responded, "I just wish that we could have more families like those. Family is so important, and I just don't think we have enough people staying home with their babies and their children."