‘Leave It To Beaver’: Barbara Billingsley Quit Major Vice for June Cleaver Role

by Emily Morgan
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When Barbara Billingsley joined the cast of the beloved 1950s family series “Leave It To Beaver,” Billingsley made a sacrifice to show her commitment to her character and the show. 

While the producers didn’t require it from Billingsley, she decided to quit smoking because she felt it was necessary for her role. 

According to Jerry Mathers, who played Billingley’s on-screen son, she sacrificed giving up her bad habit as a way to better herself. 

“Barbara Billingsley, when she started “Leave It to Beaver,” was a smoker,” he said. “So was [Ward Cleaver actor] Hugh Beaumont, so were most people, and my parents were.

According to Billingsley, it was vital for her to represent the typical American mom without unhealthy vices.

“She said, ‘Nope, the All-American mom wouldn’t smoke.’”

“But she decided that since she was playing the All-American mom that she would give up smoking,” Mathers continued. “And she did. We all know how hard that is. She just all of a sudden one day, I think it was the middle of the first season or the beginning of the second season, she just quit smoking.”

It obviously paid off for Billingsley: she passed away in 2010 at 94-years-old. 

Barbara Billingsley ‘Second Mom’ To Jerry Mathers

Despite being an iconic American show, CBS canceled the series in 1957 due to its low ratings. The following year, ABC gave the show a chance until it ended its run in 1963.

Mathers also added that the show was initially titled “It’s A Small World.”

“We went in, we did the pilot, and there was a totally different cast except for Barbara Billingsley and myself. It took a long time for the show to sell,” he said. “Because you have to remember, at that time, television was really in its infancy and most of the shows that were on were variety shows, cowboy shows, and gangster shows.”

Even though their mother-son relationship was merely for television, Mathers shared that Billingsley was like a second mom to him.

“She is the nicest lady,” he said. “My mother of course is always No. 1 in my heart but Barbara Billingsley is very, very close because she is just so nice and she exemplifies being a lady.

“She is just the perfect lady, always so nice. She’s as nice as you’d think she would be if you met her, as she is on the screen.”