R.I.P. Barbara Billingsley (December 22, 1915 – October 16, 2010)

Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver, Airplane‘s Jive Lady, and the voice of Nanny on The Muppet Babies) died of polymyalgia at her home in Santa Monica, California this past weekend at the age of 94. Although she arguably had the funniest scene in a movie with nothing but funny scenes – Airplane! – of course she was best known as June Cleaver in the ’50s/’60s show Leave It To Beaver. She personified the stay-at-home mom.

The following is from The Morning Call:

“She was the ideal mother,” Billingsley said of her character in 1997 in TV Guide. “Some people think she was weakish, but I don’t. She was the love in that family. She set a good example for what a wife could be. I had two boys at home when I did the show. I think the character became kind of like me and vice versa. I’ve never known where one started and where one stopped.”

As for the idealized TV family on “Leave It to Beaver,” which continues in reruns on cable more than half a century after its debut, Billingsley had her own explanation for the Cleavers’ enduring appeal.

“Good grief,” she told TV Guide, “I think everybody would like a family like that. Wouldn’t it be nice if you came home from school and there was Mom standing there with her little apron and cookies waiting?”

Born Barbara Combes in Los Angeles on Dec. 22, 1915, she and her sister grew up in a single-parent household after her parents divorced when she was an infant.

She always wanted to be an actress. She was attending Los Angeles City College when she joined the cast of “Straw Hat,” a comedy that went to Broadway in late 1937. The show closed after four performances, but she “decided New York was more fun than college” and found work as a $60-a-week fashion model. She later toured with Billie Burke in a production of “Accidentally Yours.”

Her marriage in the early 1940s to restaurant operator Glenn Billingsley, nephew of Stork Club owner Sherman Billingsley, produced two sons and prompted her move back to Los Angeles, where her husband managed the Mocambo nightclub.

When the marriage ended in divorce in the late ’40s, Barbara Billingsley already had begun playing uncredited bit parts and small roles in a string of B movies. That continued into the ’50s, when she also began landing roles on “Four Star Playhouse” and other television anthology programs.

In 1955, she played co-star Stephen Dunne’s wife on the short-lived situation comedy “Professional Father,” and she portrayed Gale Gordon’s girlfriend on several episodes of the situation comedy “The Brothers.”

In 1953, Billingsley married director Roy Kellino, who died three years later of a heart attack at age 44.

“It’s a terrible blow, but you can’t wallow in your grief,” Billingsley said in a 1993 interview with The Times. “When Roy died, my agent made me work all the time. And six months later, they called me to start the series.”

“They” were Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, the creators of “Leave It to Beaver,” the first TV series to show life from a child’s point of view.

“Joe Connelly had seven children, and Bob Mosher had two, and they had a lot of material right there,” Billingsley told the Nashville Tennessean in 2003. “Every show was taken from some kernel of truth, something that had happened to their children or a relative.”

As for her trademark white-pearl necklace, Billingsley said in 2003 in The Times that she wore it “because I have a big hollow in my neck” and the necklace covered the spot perfectly.

“So no matter what I was doing — cleaning, cooking or answering the phone — I had those darn pearls on,” she said. And there was a practical reason she wore high heels on the show.

“In the beginning of the series I wore flat shoes, but then Wally and the Beaver began to get taller,” she said. “That’s why they put me in heels. The producers wanted me to be as tall or taller than the kids.”

But even with heels, Billingsley said, “sometimes I would stand on the stairs for a scene so I could have some more height.”

After “Leave It to Beaver” ended in 1963, Billingsley made occasional TV guest appearances. But she primarily maintained a low public profile with her third husband, Dr. William Mortensen, whom she had married in 1959. He died in 1981.

In 1980, Billingsley was firmly back in the public eye with her cameo in the disaster-movie spoof “Airplane!” — as the unlikely passenger who volunteers to translate the incomprehensible urban ghetto talk of an ailing black male passenger for the flustered flight attendant. (“Oh, stewardess, I speak ‘jive.'”)

In 1983, Billingsley returned as June Cleaver in “Still the Beaver,” a made-for-television film that reassembled the old series’ cast, with the notable exception of Beaumont, who died in 1982.

“No father on television was ever better than Hugh,” Billingsley once said.

Beaumont’s wise and caring father figure was there in spirit in the reunion film, however, as Billingsley’s June would visit his grave and say, “Ward, what would you do?”

The success of the “Still the Beaver” TV movie led to the series “Still the Beaver” on the Disney Channel from 1984 to 1986, with Billingsley returning as June. Retitled “The New Leave It to Beaver” when it was picked up by the cable superstation WTBS in 1986, the series ran until 1989.

Billingsley, who provided the voice of Nanny on the animated “Muppet Babies” series that aired from 1984 to 1991, appeared on television only sporadically in the ’90s. She also played a cameo — as Aunt Martha — in the 1997 feature film “Leave It to Beaver.”

Billingsley is survived by sons Drew Billingsley of Granada Hills and Glenn Billingsley of Phillips Ranch; stepson William Mortensen Jr. of Pacific Palisades; 16 grandchildren; and 23 great-grandchildren.

Trivia Tuesday – 10/19/10

Question: In the video for ‘Time After Time’, where do Cyndi Lauper and her boyfriend live?

Last Week’s Question: What actress played Laura and Almanzo’s niece on Little House on the Prairie?

Answer: Shannen Doherty

Pre-Beverly Hills 90210 star Shannen Doherty played Jenny Wilder from 1982-1983. This was Little House on the Prairie‘s jump-the-shark years, when Michael Landon was no longer on the show. After Almanzo’s brother’s died, Laura (Melissa Gilbert) and Almanzo (Dean Butler) took in his daughter Jenny. There’s no truth to the rumor that Shannen Doherty and Melissa Gilbert got into catfights on the set.

Pat Benatar to be on A&E’s Private Sessions this Sunday

Pat Benatar and her husband/guitarist Neil Giraldo will be on Private Sessions on A&E this Sunday, October 17 at 9am/8am Central. They will discuss how MTV changed their lives, sexism in the music industry, and their 30 year personal and musical relationship. And, they will be playing unplugged performances of Love Is a Battlefield,” “We Belong,” “You Better Run,” “Let’s Stay Together,” and “I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend.”

Here is a Behind the Scenes look:

Trivia Tuesday – 10/12/10

Question: What actress played Laura and Almonzo’s niece on Little House on the Prairie?

Last Week’s Question: In “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” who plays the burnout at the police station that Jeanie kisses?

Answer: Charlie Sheen

This was a very funny scene in the movie. Ferris’s sister Jeanie (Dirty Dancing‘s Jennifer Grey) catches the principal, Mr. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) sneaking around her house to bust Ferris. Jeanie kicked Mr. Rooney in the face, then ran upstairs to call the cops. Mr. Rooney took off, and Jeanie was arrested for prank calling the police.
While Mrs. Bueller is in the back of the station talking to the police, Jeanie is sitting next to Charlie Sheen’s drug addict, and annoys the crap out of her. And it didn’t help that he heard of Ferris, and implied that he admired him. Jeanie, got really annoyed, and Sheen tells her that she needs to stop worrying so much about Ferris and more about herself. All of a sudden they were kissing when the mother came out. Mrs. Bueller then dragged Jeanie out of the station.

Gary Coleman’s Death Ruled Accidental

According to the Associated Press, Police have confirmed that “Diff’rent Strokes” actor Gary Coleman’s death has been ruled an accident.

Santaquin Police Chief Dennis Howard said an autopsy found Coleman died of natural causes after an accidental fall. The finding matches the evidence police found at Coleman’s Santaquin home on May 26, Howard told The Associated Press.

Coleman’s wife, Shannon Price has responded. The following is from Fox 13 in Utah:

Gary Coleman’s wife is responding to her former husband’s autopsy results that revealed the fall at his home was an accident. Shannon Price, Coleman’s common law wife, Shannon Price says her life was turned upside down after the death of the man she loved and who she considered her husband, even though they were divorced.

“I feel there have been people that have just sabotaged me and just given me a bad name and I’ll never see it, but I do believe everyone owes me an apology that has trashed me out there because I’m not a horrible person, I would never want to kill my husband,” Price said.

Price says clearing her name is one thing, but what she wants more than anything now is for Coleman’s remains to be released to her. His body was cremated and the court has not decided who will get his ashes.

“I have a lot of mixed emotions but I honestly whatever people have said about me I just actually put it behind me because I know I did the right thing for Gary it was the hardest decision I ever had to make in my life but I don’t think I pulled the plug too soon,” Price said.

Price is now writing a book about her life with Coleman. The book is to be called “My Life with Gary Coleman” and is expected to be done in a few months.

Coleman’s estate is still undecided as to who takes ownership.

The home that Price and Coleman shared in Santaquin is still up for sale.

19 Somethin’ – MTV

The 19 Somethin’ series continues. If you missed the previous articles, you can get caught up here.

Here is the next line in the song:

Watched MTV all afternoon

What an exciting time! Cable television was brand new to most of us. Not only could you watch movies without using a VCR, or get sports news from somewhere other then the last 3 minutes of the local news, but now we could watch music videos 24/7!

On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m., MTV launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” spoken by John Lack.

Yeah, yeah, everybody knows The Buggles had the first video ever shown on MTV. But do you know who had the second? Here is a video of the first 10 minutes of MTV:

“I Want My MTV!!!”

We didn’t get cable in our area until a year or 2 after the launch. So, by the time we got cable, we had already heard all about MTV, and were foaming at the mouth waiting to get it. And it did not disappoint. There were all kinds of fun videos, and we were introduced to new music that we may not have listened to if we only heard it on the radio.

The VJ’s

And the VJ’s were also really cool. The original 5 were Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, J.J. Jackson and the iconic Martha Quinn. Unfortunately, J.J. Jackson died on March 17, 2004 at the age of 62 from a heart attack. However, if you have XM or Sirius Radio, you can listen to the rest of the VJ’s on the channel 80’s on 8. They each DJ in about 4 or 5 hour blocks, and they all host the weekly show Big 40 Countdown where they count down the 40 biggest hits of this week during a certain year in the ’80s. Last week’s episode was the biggest hits of the week in 1988.

The Beginning of the End

By the late ’80s, the format started to slowly change. First there was the news show, The Week in Rock. And then there was the cool game show Remote Control. Then in the ’90s, the cartoon show Liquid Television premiered on MTV, which featured the cultural phenomenon, Beavis and Butthead:

Old: MTV = Music Television; New: MTV = Moron Television

And then The Real World premiered. With all of these various types of shows being added to MTV, music was slowly being phased out. Now, it is kind of a sad joke about how MTV doesn’t show videos anymore. Now it is known more for Jersey Shore and The Hills than it is for being a music pioneer. There used to be Michael Jackson, Madonna, ZZ Top, and Def Leppard on MTV. Now it has been “Speidi”, “Snooki”, and “The Situation”.

Time has moved on. But at least we had our MTV for a little while.

Music Video of the Week – 10/6/10

This week’s selection is a-ha’s “Take On Me”:

“Take On Me” was released from Norwegian band a-ha’s first album Hunting High and Low. With the help of this groundbreaking video, the song reached number 1 in the U.S. in October 1985. At the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards, the video for “Take on Me” won six awards—Best New Artist in a Video, Best Concept Video, Most Experimental Video, Best Direction, Best Special Effects, and Viewer’s Choice—and was nominated for two others, Best Group Video and Video of the Year.

a-ha did not have any other major hits in the U.S. after “Take On Me”, but they remained very successful internationally. The went on hiatus in 1994, then reunited in 1998. On October 15, 2009, the band announced that they are calling it quits after their 2010 tour.