October 17, 2010, - 12:37 am

“Oh, Stewardess, I Speak Jive”: Barbara Billingsley, RIP (VIDEOS)

By Debbie Schlussel

She raised a generation of America’s kids, then taught them as adults how to speak Ebonics.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned actress Barbara Billingsley on this site (as the perfect new bi-lingual translator for the DEA) and wondered to myself how old she was and whether she was still alive.  I was happy to see that America’s most beloved TV mom from ’50s series, “Leave It to Beaver,” was still with us, in her nineties.  Sadly, she died, today, at age 94.

When I think of Barbara Billingsley, the first thing that comes to mind is not her role as June Cleaver–America’s mom whom I used to watch in after school re-runs in the late ’70s and early ’80s.  Instead, it’s the line that began one of her funniest scenes ever,

Oh, Stewardess, I speak Jive.

And, I also think of my favorite line–also uttered by her–in the movie in which that scene appeared, 1980′s  “Airplane“:

Chump don’ wan’ da help, chump don’ get da help.

When she served as the Ebonics translator, Billingsley said it revived her career all over again.  Here, she talks about learning Jive and how it “changed her life”:

“Barbara was a patient advisor and teacher. She helped me along this challenging journey through life by showing me the importance of manners and respect for others,” Jerry Mathers, 62, who played the Beaver from 1957-63, said in a statement. “She will be missed by all of her family, friends, fans and, most especially, by me.”

“She was as happy as a lark being recognized as America’s mom,” Tony Dow, 65, who played Wally, told CNN. “She had a terrific life and had a wonderful impact on everybody she knew, and even people she didn’t know.”

Later on, whenever I’d lament the death of American values, I’d be lectured back by this or that liberal relative or adult,

You just want to go back to the ’50s and the days of “Leave It to Beaver.”  Well, it’s not like that anymore.

And, of course, it was always said as if the traditional family portrayed on that show was some sort of crime or villainy perpetrated on America, something to be reviled.  Well, I was not alive then, so it’s hard to “go back,” but those days and that nuclear family dynamic were much better for America than the Sarah/Bristol/Levi/Tripp/Todd/inner-city Shaniqua baby mama and Mr. Mom anti-dynamics of today.  The traditions of ’50s TV were highly underrated, even if the real life Billingsley divorced her first husband (her other two husbands pre-deceased her).

I don’t think most people realize what a powerful–and positive–influence she had on America’s moms/wives (and husbands/fathers and kids) at the time, through her TV persona.  Her style, grace, and elegance touched even those of us who watched her in re-runs decades later.  A beautiful and classy lady who loved America, and it loved her back (until leftists reviled her stay-at-home, married mom status and faux-conservatives like Sarah Palin, Michelle Fraudkin, and Kelly Ayotte reviled it, too).

Barbara Billingsley, Rest In Peace.

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23 Responses

I grew up watching Leave it to Beaver reruns in the 70s, and first saw Airplane when I was 10. Barbara was a big part of my childhood. RIP.

Mark on October 17, 2010 at 3:31 am

To me, THE example of how a fine actress can take a character in a banal, stupid lowest-common-denominator TV show and make her human, moving and funny will always be Irene Ryan, playing Granny on “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Miranda Rose Smith on October 17, 2010 at 6:26 am

    She was a Tony award winning actress in the midst of the hokum but she had as a foil the low key brilliance of the great Buddy Ebsen who also oozed charisma and charm.

    DAN on October 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm

The 1950s was a sedate time in American life – I wasn’t around them any more than Debbie was so I can’t tell you how people lived then. Barbara Billingsley’s passing marks the end of an era. Its hard to say we’re better off today than we were in the 1950s.

NormanF on October 17, 2010 at 7:30 am

The ’50′s-’60′s were a time of real comfort. It was safe, even with our nuclear war drills, under the desks, and what-not. Coming home to milk and cookies, “leave it to beaver”, Father’s Knows best, etc, and homework, baseball, or sledding , after school, and Daddy comes home at 6 p.m. sharp. I rode with my Mom to the train station , sometimes , to pick up my Dad, when he left her the car for the day. He’d happily whistle while he mowed the lawn, and after dinner, the Good Humor Ice cream truck came, where for 10 cents we got that ice cream bar. I’d go to sleep with the windows open, and hear the crickets, and my clock radio was on softly, with Nat King Cole crooning or Peggy Lee. yeah, we did look back at that cynically , when we were 15, but not long after, we rcognized those safe times.

dov epstein on October 17, 2010 at 8:20 am

I used to help out before Christmas in a business that used to ship out the finest Persian pistachios, (pre Jimmy Carter).
Barbara ordered from us every year, and I still remember the wonderful gracious letter she would write with wonderful penmanship on her personal stationary. I really wish now that I had saved one of her letters.
I think the era of manners and thoughtfulness is now past.

Michael on October 17, 2010 at 10:32 am

I was born in ’57 so don’t remember the last part of the 50′s, but I do remember the early 60′s being much like dov epstein described the 50′s. Then the Marxist social assault commenced on dickhead LBJ’s watch and things have been going down the shitter ever since.

The same two guys had conversations in other scenes of the movie where one of them would end a sentence with an ebonic sounding “Shit!”, and the subtitle would translate it as “Golly!”.

CornCoLeo on October 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

    The same two guys had conversations in other scenes of the movie where one of them would end a sentence with an ebonic sounding “Shit!”, and the subtitle would translate it as “Golly!”.

    CornCoLeo on October 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Reply

    You should see and hear what goes on when American films, with Hebrew subtitles, are shown on Israeli TV.

    Miranda Rose Smith on October 18, 2010 at 2:48 am

The four most long-lasting situation comedies of the 1950s involving nuclear families with more than one child were (in order of debuts) “Ozzie & Harriet” “Father Knows Best” “Leave It To Beaver” and “The Donna Reed Show.” There were probably a few others, but they either didn’t last for more than one season, or weren’t preserved on kinnescopes (or both), so they never turned up in reruns.

The similarities between the four are quite interesting. The Nelsons, and The Cleavers both had two sons, The Stones had a daughter and a son (and in later episodes, another daughter) and the Andersons had two daughters and a son. One can assume from this that they were all WASPs, as Catholic or Mormon families would probably have had a lot more kids. None of the fathers did anything quirky or eccentric for a living, except for Ozzie Nelson, who apparently did nothing. Finally, they all lived in the suburbs.

Strangely, throughout the 1960s there were a few stabs at portraying nuclear families of this sort, but shows like “The Addams Family” “The Munsters” “Please Don’t Eat The Daisies” “Blondie” and “The Baileys Of Balboa” only lasted for one or two seasons, then disappeared. The only one that lasted for a grand total of three seasons was (of all things) “Lost In Space.” That was the decade in which people seemed to prefer goofier situations involving witches, genies and talking horses.

Of course, that all changed in 1969 when “The Brady Bunch” debuted, and the father on “My Three Sons” finally remarried. Not surprisingly, the most successful sitcom of the 1970s was a series that portrayed a nuclear family in the 1950s, “Happy Days.”

Irving on October 17, 2010 at 12:07 pm

More of the greatest generation passing away. Sad. I loved how she’d put Eddie Haskel in his place. Had to like Haskel as well.

Samurai on October 17, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    “You look lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver.” Eddie Haskell.

    It was so hilarious!

    RIP, Mrs. (Jive Talkin’) Cleaver.

    As goes on October 18, 2010 at 7:16 pm

In the early 70′s, I was the only white kid on my bus going to school in Pontiac, MI. So watching Leave it to Beaver in the afternoons after makin’ it home was a wonderful escape. I knew life was more like Beaver than the hell I and others faced as the school system went to hell thanks to intefering federal judges.

RIP B. Billingsley. Dug Ya.

P. Aaron on October 17, 2010 at 1:57 pm

And yet people despise the American woman she portrayed.

Janis on October 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Both of those videos are absolutely hilarious. The first one from the movie is a classic scene although the second video is almost as good.
I am not sure if she is being serious or funny when she starts to speak jive and how easy it is in video 2.
Either way, I will miss her as June Cleaver as well.
Another little piece of Americana taken away from us.

Stephen on October 17, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I was born in the mid to late 50′s, and the early 60′s was a continuation of the 50′s. There was not the level of suburban sprawl, and our parents could hunt just about 5-10 miles from the Nation’s Capitol. G-d, I miss Montgomery County, Maryland before it became the sprawling mess it is today. There were no immigrant or drug problems like we have today. There were virtually no Muslim in America, and no terrorism. The crime level was quite low, and the death sentence was given out for murders and rapes.

There was still a Civil Service Exam, and no racial quotas or affirmative action.

Most mothers were housewives, and there was a very low level of juvenile delinquency. If a young person committed a crime, there name was published in the newspaper (no one worried about self-esteem).

We did have the Cuban missile crisis (I was in kindergarten), but that passed. In the DC area, most of our fathers were government employees, many in Defense (which back then made up about 50% (or a little more) of the government budget of 85 billion dollars). The children knew all about politics because of our fathers’ jobs.

Jonathan Grant on October 17, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    If a young person committed a crime, there name was published in the newspaper THEIR Name. Are you sure the names of juvenile delinquents were published in the papers?

    Miranda Rose Smith on October 18, 2010 at 2:44 am

    Reply

    I forgot to clarify that my posting was my reply to Mr. Grant.

    Miranda Rose Smith on October 18, 2010 at 2:45 am

My Mistake.. The budget was 99 Billion dollars, but spending was 106 billion dollars, with a deficit of 7 billion dollars (we were in a mild recession). Military spending was 52 billion dollars.

Jonathan Grant on October 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Another wonderful aspect of those times is that virtually everyone bought and drove an American car from one of the six automobile companies, watched tv made one of over 100 American manufacturers, had an American made kitchen (made in America), used American made light bulbs, and drank from an American made coffee cup. They wrote with pencils made in New Jersey, and when they used the plumbing, the pipes were made in America by American companies.

If you happened to travel to New York, the West Side factories were housed in brick buildings (which are now very expensive lofts), near the docks from whence goods would be shipped out all over the world.

Jonathan Grant on October 17, 2010 at 5:03 pm

If a young person committed a crime, there name was published in the newspaper THEIR Name. Are you sure the names of juvenile delinquents were published in the papers?

Miranda Rose Smith on October 18, 2010 at 2:44 am

You are correct. I was typing faster than my brain was working. And yes, names of juveniles (in their teens) were published in the papers.

Self esteem was often at the end of a father’s belt back then, and it worked.

Jonathan Grant on October 18, 2010 at 8:49 am

I never took that show seriously. I just couldn’t believe that a television mother and housewife never exhibited psychotic episodes like the real ones.

Jew haters of Columbine on October 19, 2010 at 9:49 am

First June Cleaver and now Howard Cunningham! Who’s next?

Blayne on October 19, 2010 at 2:54 pm

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