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Column - Barbara Billingsley was a super TV mom

A few nights ago, I was watching, for the umpteenth time, the movie Airplane.

One of the loony passengers is the woman who played the mother in Leave it to Beaver.

Try as I might, I couldn't remember the name of the actress who played June Cleaver.

It was driving me crazy because for so many years that was a recurrent trivia question: Who played the role of the mother on Leave it to Beaver? I always answered that one correctly but only after scratching the bottom of my mind.

After Airplane, I tossed and turned. Try as I might, I just couldn't remember her name, and I refused to "cheat" by looking it up on the Internet. After scratching the bottom of my mind until it was raw, finally, just before sleep, the answer boomed like a bolt of thunder: Barbara Billingsley! Yes, that's it! And Hugh Beaumont as the dad, Ward Cleaver. And Jerry Mathers as Beaver, and Tony Dow as his older brother, Wally. I could just hear, as if the music was right in my living room, the opening-credit theme of Leave it to Beaver: Duh-dunt, da-da-duh-da, dunt-duh-dah...

This morning, I learned that Barbara Billingsley died at the age of 94. What a super TV mom she was. Like Martha Stewart without a temper.

My brothers and I and our neighbor buddies never missed an episode of Leave it to Beaver. We'd gather together on the neighbor's giant L-shaped sofa, munch popcorn and slurp Kool-Aid while amused by the latest misadventures of the Beav. That show was a part of just about everyone's life in the late 1950s. Sure, it was cornball goo-goo, but it was a lot of fun.

Who can forget Eddie Haskell, the neighborhood trouble-maker and friend of Wally's, who loved to browbeat and bully the Beav? I can still hear Wally, defending his little bro, telling Haskell, "Hey, Eddie, for cryin' out loud, why don't you lay off the Beav?!"

Eddie was our favorite character. We couldn't wait for his next trouble-making scheme. When the Cleavers' doorbell rang, we were always hoping it was bad-boy Eddie.

"Well, hello, Mrs. Cleaver," he'd say with his fawning slick insincerity, sticky as pancake syrup. "What a lovely dress you're wearing. Say, would Wally happen to be home?"

June's reaction was classic - always funny. She would look at Eddie through the open door, wise to his oily ways, and smile with wide-eyed charm and kindness, causing devious Eddie to squirm.

Most Leave it to Beaver episodes have blurred in my memory under time's eraser. But one still stands out - the one when the Beav thinks he can do hypnotism. He hypnotizes Eddie. Eddie, of course, ever the trickster, pretends the hypnosis has worked. Acting like a zombie, he tells the Beav he would gladly kill or steal for him while under his hypnotic command. The Beav panics. Wally saves the day by giving Eddie a good slam-dunk. It was so funny we kids were rolling in convulsions on that big couch.

Ah, yes, those were the good old days. In our four-channel world, we kids were easy to please. Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver had all the answers to any problem, and by the end of each episode we all knew right from wrong. The world, once again, was back on track. It's a good thing younger generations can enjoy the "Beav" through re-runs.

Here's some neat facts for Leave it to Beaver trivia fans: Hugh Beaumont (Ward Cleaver) had a second career, later in his life, as a Christmas-tree grower near Grand Rapids, Minnesota. His wife at that time, Kathryn Adams Doty, was born in New Ulm. In 1972, Beaumont had a stroke from which he never quite recovered. He died of a heart attack in 1982 while visiting a son, a psychology professor, who was then living in Munich, Germany.