So Long, June Cleaver

Yesterday the passing of Barbara Billingsley was reported on the news. We boomers will forever remember her as June Cleaver, the idealized mother of “the Beaver” on one of the most quintessential boomer TV shows of all time, Leave It to Beaver.

The character of June Cleaver was written as the epitome of 1950s and ’60s suburban motherhood, always perfectly attired and quick with a smile for her husband and children. Much has been made of the high heels and pearls that the character always wore, whether doing the housework or heading out with her husband, Ward (played by Hugh Beaumont). In the following interview, though, Ms. Billingsley explained the evolution of the dresses, pearls and high heels:

Throughout the show’s entire run (1957-1963), Barbara Billingsley got top billing, as she was the first introduced in the opening credits. The other thing to note about this, her defining role as an actress (though she was a veteran before being offered the role), was that in an age when “a woman’s place was in the kitchen,” in this show June is often seen solving whatever dilemma the Beaver got into right alongside her husband, even arguing with him at times as to the best parental response to the situation. In the end, Ward often gave the parental talk to the Beaver, but it always seemed that June’s sage advice was omnipresent, even if she took a backseat to the father figure as was the custom of the day.

One thing no one can argue with is that Barbara Billingsley made an ideal June Cleaver. While her tiny waist and shapely gams made her a Pygmalion come to life in glorious black & white, her grace and elegance is what helped make the strange juxtaposition of pearls and heels in the suburbs seem credible.

Then there was Wally’s (the Beaver’s brother, as played by Tony Dow) friend Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond). He was always up to no good, yet he was the perfect gentleman in front of Mrs. Cleaver. Perhaps the fictional Eddie realized that Barbara Billingsley, or rather, June Cleaver, was universally recognized and accepted as the mother figure every boomer boy could respect.

Coincidently, the show was first broadcast on the very day that Sputnik was launched, and ended five months before President Kennedy was assassinated. In other words, this show was aired during the prime boomer years. If ever there was a TV mother figure for boomers, it was Barbara Billingsley.

For Mister Boomer, Leave It to Beaver wasn’t his favorite show, but one the family watched throughout its entire run and on into reruns. Beaver (Theodore Cleaver, as played by Jerry Mathers), got into some predicament in every episode. Mister Boomer, himself around the Beave’s age, never understood how one kid could get into so much trouble. Plus, Theodore felt perfectly at ease talking to his parents about whatever his problem was, and that was a strange concept for the real-world boomers in Mister B’s suburbia. In contrast to TV families like the Nelsons, the Andersons and the Cleavers, parents in Mister B’s neighborhood kept a healthy “overseer” distance from their children. They preferred fear and discipline to talk and reason.

In 1980, Barbara Billingsley appeared in the movie Airplane! as a jive-speaking grandmother. Once again, the actress showed us her professionalism and range by giving us an extremely funny performance that has since joined the classic comedy sketches of all time. Remember this, boomers?

Barbara Billingsley has given boomers some great memories. For that, we are eternally grateful. Good night, Mrs. Cleaver. Thank you, Ms. Billingsley.

What did Barbara Billingsley mean to you?

Boomers Can Now Say, “When I Was Your Age…”

We’ve all heard it: Growing up, our parents and grandparents would never miss an opportunity to remind us “how good we had it” compared to when they were growing up. Now it’s our turn.

When we look back at the tremendous hardships, coupled with enormous lifestyle changes and technological advances experienced by the preceding two generations after World War II, they did indeed bear witness to amazing times. But looking at the past fifty years that chronicle the growing of the boomer generation, we can say no less about our times. The social and political upheaval of our youth was rivaled only by the technological marvels that evolved to pave the way for the next generations.

So, the next time your grandchildren — or children — ask you about what it was like when you were growing up, here are a few common things that are now taken for granted that our families just did not have when we were young children, because they either hadn’t been invented yet, or were not popularized until we were well into our teens and twenties.

Boomers did NOT have:

Cell Phones (not commercially sold until 1983)

Touch-Tone Phones (slowly replaced the rotary dial when introduced in 1963)

Anything related to Personal Computers (PC not popularized until the 1980s)

Internet (not commercially popular until the mid 1990s)

Master Card/Visa credit cards (Diners Club was the first credit card, introduced in 1950, but MC and Visa weren’t popularized until the mid 70s)

Microwave Ovens (invented in 1946 but not popular in the home until the mid 70s)

Garbage Disposal Units (on the market in 1938 but took until the 1970s to become readily accepted by municipalities and available to consumers)

Plastic Garbage Cans (steel cans ruled; we kept them until they rusted out through the bottom)

Plastic Garbage Bags (not popularized until the late 1960s)

Disposable Diapers (not commercially available until the late 1960s)

Automatic Dishwashers (not common in households until the 1970s)

Non-Dairy Creamer (first introduced in 1961)

Cuisinart Food Processor (available in 1973)

Heart Transplants (first in 1969)

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging — first in 1977)

Rollerblades (introduced in 1979)

Instant Noodles (introduced in 1971)

VCR (introduced in 1971; DVD players weren’t around until the 1990s; and forget about TiVO)

Karaoke (introduced in 1971)

Jacuzzi (whirlpool popularized in the mid 70s)

Here are some things we DID have. While some are still around, others have been relegated to the dustbin of history:

Slinky (invented in 1943)

Lincoln Logs (invented in 1916)

Erector Set (invented in 1911)

Silly Putty (invented in 1943)

Frisbee (introduced in 1948)

Portable Transistor Radio (popularized around 1954)

Etch A Sketch (introduced in 1960)

Tupperware (the famous seal was invented in 1947)

Polaroid Camera (on the market in 1948)

The ‘Pill’ (approved by the FDA in 1960 — for boomer moms, of course)

Music Cassette (first introduced 1n 1962, but popularized in the 1970s)

Roller Skates (around for hundreds of years)

How about it, boomers? What did you have as a child that your children or grandchildren didn’t?