What ‘Leave It to Beaver’ Star Barbara Billingsley Gave Up in Order to Play June Cleaver

The cast of 'Leave It to Beaver'
The cast of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

When Leave It to Beaver star Barbara Billingsley joined the cast of the pioneering 1950s comedy in the role of June Cleaver, she gave up something dear to her.

It’s not that the show’s producers required it of her but it was instead a decision she herself made for what she felt was the good of the show.

Here’s what Beaver actor Jerry Mathers shared about his former on-screen mother, Barbara Billingsley.

‘Leave It to Beaver’ premiered in 1957

The cast of 'Leave It to Beaver'
The cast of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

Leave It to Beaver did not enjoy success right away. CBS premiered the family program in 1957 and canceled it because of its low ratings. The following year, ABC gave the series a go and that network became Beaver‘s home until it ended its run in 1963.

According to Mathers in his 2006 conversation with the Archive of American Television, the show was originally called “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.”

Billingsley gave up this vice

The cast of 'Leave It to Beaver'
The cast of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ | Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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Mathers talked about Billingsley’s sacrifice in order to work on the show. While it wasn’t required of cast members, she demanded it of 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.

“But she decided that since she was playing the All-American mom that she would give up smoking,” he 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.”

To Billingsley, who died in 2010 at age 94, it was important for her to represent the typical American mom as a woman without vices.

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

Billingsley really was as nice as she seemed

Barbara Billingsley
Barbara Billingsley | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Mathers shared that next to his own mother, Billingsley was a very close second when it came to great moms.

“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.”