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Friday, May 31, 2013

Leave It To Beaver and Mrs. Cleaver

Today is the last day of May, which means that it also happens to be the last look back on sitcom mothers of the past.

And, for this edition, we're going to be taking a look at one of the best sitcom moms ever...well, according to quite a few people, that is.

It's hard to tell who exactly is the perfect sitcom mom, as we all have our own opinions on the subject. Some people might argue that it is Carol Brady, while others will argue that Roseanne is better. Some may like the mother from The Wonder Years, while others prefer the mother from Family Guy.

And, whilst no sitcom mother is absolutely one hundred per cent perfect, this one comes rather close.

Of course, once I reveal that today's sitcom mother was portrayed by the late Barbara Billingsley, then you've already figured out exactly who today's mother is.  But to say that Barbara had a real love for the role that made her famous was an understatement.  Not only did she play the role for "Leave it to Beaver"'s entire six year run, but she reprised the role on several occasions after that.

And, that role, as we all well know was that of June Evelyn Bronson Cleaver. 

Yes, when "Leave it to Beaver" first debuted on CBS, Barbara Billingsley was cast in the iconic role.  And, here's some interesting trivia regarding her casting.  Although the show didn't begin airing until October 1957, a pilot episode aired six months earlier in April 1957.  On that pilot, Barbara originated the role that made her a household name.

"Leave it to Beaver" was created by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher.  The plan was to have a television sitcom that featured a suburban family and dealing with the mischief and trouble that young boys could get themselves into.  The show was specifically designed to stand out from other similar shows like "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" in that rather than focus on the parents of the show, the main stars would be the children.  Originally, the show was going to be called "It's A Small World" (which coincidentally happened to be the title of the pilot episode).  The title was briefly changed to "Wally and The Beaver", and then was changed once more to become "Leave it to Beaver".

TRIVIA:  And, yes...the rumours you may have heard were true.  "Leave it to Beaver" was the very first television show to feature a toilet in a scene.  Kind of makes you wonder how people went to the bathroom before 1957, huh?

Anyway, you all know who the main characters of "Leave it to Beaver" are.  The star of the show was Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver, played by now 64-year-old Jerry Mathers.

(Mathers was just eight when he auditioned for the role, and in one of the auditions, he wore a Cub Scout uniform, and kind of rushed through the audition because he was anxious to get to the den meeting!)

Tony Dow was cast as eldest Cleaver boy, Wally, and initially Dow only went to the audition to support a friend of his who was auditioning for a different project.  But, when he decided to try out for the part and ended up getting it, he couldn't pass it up.  Dow, now 68, has since pursued a career in sculpting.

Hugh Beaumont was also cast as the role of Cleaver patriarch, Ward after he had worked with Mathers in a religious film (I know, I found that last piece of information quite interesting as I had no idea myself).  Beaumont stayed on the show the entire six year run, but died in May 1982 after suffering a heart attack.

And, then there was Barbara Billingsley, who prior to getting the role of June Cleaver worked as an actress on several B-movie roles.  And, looking back on it, I can't picture anyone else playing the role of June Cleaver but Barbara, can you?

And, cannot even compare Janine Turner's performance in the 1997 remake film.  There is absolutely no comparison.  Although, Billingsley was a good sport about it all, and did have a cameo role as Aunt Martha.

Now, I've done quite a bit of research in coming up with some interesting facts that make June Cleaver stand out when compared to the other sitcom moms that have appeared both before and after her heyday.  And, some of the information that I have dug up on June Cleaver has been very interesting.

And, no, she was not caught having an affair with a toothless prostitute, nor did she have to go on Maury Povich to find out if Ward really was the father of Beaver Cleaver.  This was the 1950s, after all, and the most scandalous thing that June probably did was wear white after Labour Day.

Anyway, did you know that in June's early life, it was widely under the assumption that June's family was more...shall we say...privileged than Ward's?  In one episode, June revealed that she was actually taught repeatedly how to do a proper curtsy in case she ever found herself courting a wealthy diplomat!

Instead, she ended up with commoner Ward Cleaver.

Well, okay, Ward wasn't exactly destitute.  But he did seem to come from a family who really understood the value of a dollar.  It was also shown in an episode that Ward convinced June to not buy an expensive opal ring.  He convinced her to go with a pair of galoshes instead!

(Hmmm...I bet if I had a wife, I'm sure that she'd love it if I bought her rainwear instead of a nice piece of jewelry.  And, I bet if I tried that, I would probably not stay married for much longer.)

But, that was the thing with June.  She very rarely got angry, or even raised her voice (well, except when Beaver gets his nice clothes all dirty or smuggles in insects into the house).  She was too much of a lady to yell, scream, curse, cry, or even sleep in the same bed as her husband.

I guess if there was really only one flaw to be found in June Cleaver, it was that she would be completely out of her element in 2013, as so much as changed over the years.  

In Leave it to Beaver, June Cleaver always dressed immaculately, and seemed to keep up with the latest fashion trends.  In 2013, let's just say that yoga pants and sweats seem to be the most popular mom trends.  I'd like to see June Cleaver squeeze into some skinny jeans now!

In Leave it to Beaver, June Cleaver manages to find a way to create a seven course breakfast menu and still keep her kitchen completely spotless.  My own mother couldn't even do that!  She always said that a messy kitchen was a badge of honour because it just went to show just how hard she worked.

In Leave it to Beaver, June Cleaver enjoys such riveting activities as needlepoint, cake decorating, and arranging tea roses.  In 2013, I don't even know anyone who does needlepoint, nor do I think many people even know what a tea rose is.  But, I do know quite a few cake decorators.

In Leave it to Beaver, June quite often got involved a little too much in the lives of her boys, even going as far as supervising Beaver's play dates with Eddie Haskell and Lumpy Rutherford (though to be fair, Eddie Haskell was a bully of sorts).  On a personal level, I don't think I would have quite appreciated my own mother butting in on my own playdates when I was a kid, although to her credit, she let us do our own thing most of the time.  And, to be fair, I never really did much that was spontaneous as a child, so she didn't really have anything to worry about.

And, I'm pretty sure that June Cleaver is the only mom that I ever saw wearing a full pearl necklace around her neck in every single scene.  She wore it while she was cooking.  She wore it while she was gardening.  She probably wore it to bed as she slept next to her husband's twin bed.  Heck, she probably even wore it while she went to use the toilet which shall never be spoken of!  Needless to say, none of the female members of my family ever loved a piece of jewelry enough to wear it at every opportunity, though I'll be the first to admit that one of my sisters has a shoe fetish.

But you know, for years, June Cleaver was considered to be one of the most iconic television moms.  And, I think it's a label that she deserved.  Oh, sure, her trademarks, quirks, and methods of running a household are horribly outdated by today's standards, but one thing remained clear.  She loved her family with all her heart, and she would do almost anything in the world to make her family happy.

And, this continued well into the 1980s when CBS aired a reunion movie called "Still the Beaver", as well as a revival show entitled "The New Leave it to Beaver", which to my surprise ran for four seasons between 1985 and 1989.  Although Hugh Beaumont had died prior to the reunion movie, the producers decided that rather than have June Cleaver remarry, that she would be seen living the life of a widow.  And, besides, it wasn't as if she was completely alone, as a now grown Beaver Cleaver and his two sons have moved in with her!

Even in adulthood, she was still taking care of her boys.  What a mom!

Sadly, Barbara Billingsley passed away in 2010 at the ripe old age of 94...and while her death was a sad day in the world of classic television, her portrayal of the near-perfect housewife and mother will always be remembered, and will always make her one of the greatest mothers in the world of situation comedy.

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