Best known as June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver, Billingsley was born Barbara Lillian Combes in Los Angeles, California the daughter of a cop and a factory girl.
Being that close to Hollywood had it’s affect, but Billingsley actually got her start in New York. While in college she traveled to Broadway, when Straw Hat, a L.A.-based revue in which she was appearing, moved to Manhattan. It closed in less than a week, but Billingsley stayed, working as a $60-a-week fashion model.
In the 40’s and 50’s she found herself in a bunch of B-movies like The Bad and the Beautiful, Three Guys Named Mike, and Invaders from Mars. Eventually she ended up in a starring role in The Careless Years opposite Dean Stockwell and Natalie Trundy, but her movie career took a backseat to the fresh new opportunities that came with television.
In 1952, Billingsley landed a guest-starring role on an episode of The Abbott and Costello Show. The part led to other roles on TV and in 1957 signed on as everyday mother June Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver. Also starring on Beaver were Hugh Beaumont, in the role of Ward Cleaver, June’s husband and the kids’ father, as well as two unfamiliar child actors, Tony Dow in the role of Wally Cleaver and Jerry Mathers as Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver.
Leave It to Beaver debuted on CBS, to mediocre ratings and was soon cancelled. However, the show moved to ABC the following year and stayed there for the next five seasons.
When production of the show ended in 1963, Billingsley had become typecast as too sweet and had trouble obtaining acting jobs for years. She quit the biz until she was lured back to famously spoof her wholesome image with a brief appearance in the 1980 comedy Airplane!, as a prim and proper passenger who could “speak jive”.
She later reprised her June Cleaver role three times, in Amazing Stories, Baby Boom and Roseanne.