Sunday, October 17, 2010

Thank You, Mrs. Cleaver...!

Yesterday the Beav's Mom passed away at the age of 94. Everyone loved Mrs. Cleaver, she was the perfect mother, wife, homemaker -- always vacuuming and baking cookies in her pearls. She set an impossible standard for any of our real Moms. I thought my mother was the perfect mother -- she was a wonderful cook, gardener, home decorator; she could teach Martha Stewart or Rachael Ray a thing or too. But often when I came home from school and got off the school bus, there was my mother on her hands and knees in the garden, wearing ratty old pedal pushers and one of my father's shirts, with dirt all over her face, as she worked her magic on the petunias or the begonias. "Oh, gosh, why couldn't Mom be more like Mrs. Cleaver? And why couldn't our life be more like 'Leave it to Beaver?'"

*sigh*

If folks ever tell you they grew up in a "Leave it to Beaver" household, don't believe them. The presumption of a "Leave it to Beaver" lifestyle was impossible, even in the make-believe world of television.  Most housewives were more like Lucy and Ethel than they were like June Cleaver or Donna Stone (the Donna Reed Show).  It's no accident that TV shows like "Leave it to Beaver" or "The Donna Reed Show" were sponsored by Campbell’s Soup, Johnson and Johnson, General Electric. The shows were half hour advertisements, marketing a lifestyle, and people bought it. None of my friends had mothers who vacuumed in their high heels and pearls. And none of them had fathers who ate dinner in a sports jacket and tie. Most folks in post-war middle class North America had traditional middle class jobs, where they got their hands dirty doing a day's work. In 2007 Barbara Billingsley told an interviewer that the reason she always wore pearls on camera is because of a small indentation just above her sternum that didn't look good on television, so she covered it up. Who knew!

If anything, Mrs. Cleaver was the catalyst who started the feminist movement; she was the bridge to women's social activism of the 1960s. Women started looking at their lives of vacuuming and cookies and said, "Is this all there is?" Now women have unimaginable choices that they never had before. They can work at challenging careers, and they can still be good Moms and vacuum and bake cookies, but they can do it on their own time and they don't have to do it in their pearls. Thank you for that, Mrs. Cleaver.

21 comments:

Bruce Coltin said...

Watching that show was like taking a trip into what we thought was normalcy. We of course were mistaken, but still it helped shape our view of the world -- until reality undid that view. There were more Eddie Haskells out there than June Cleavers.

Charles Gramlich said...

I never watched this show. I watched My three sons, and later the Brady Bunch which was kind of the same sort of thing in a way.

jblack designs said...

As a kid from a profoundly dysfunctional "home," I will be eternally thankful I grew up in the time of Leave it to Beaver, et al. The families in those types of shows gave me a glimpse of what a family could be--in sharp contrast to the world around me.

The kindness, genuine affection and love between the characters of those TV shows--and the patience! I soaked it up as a kid.

Maybe there is no exact copy of those TV moms and dads, but I've met parents who came close. I learned to see them from those shows, and I took some of my own cues as a mom from them, too. Would I have known how to be like that without those shows? I didn't see it in my own life, so I don't know. Nancy Drew's dad helped show me the way, but those moms ... they spoke to me. I didn't want (and didn't emulate) the pearls; I wanted the kindness.

Jennifer

lakeviewer said...

To me, as a newly arrived teen from Europe, this program stood for the greater America all around me. It represented all that was good and decent about the life I came to.

Kathy's Klothesline said...

She was so "everyday elegant"! So unlike the role models of recent years. Back when children were allowed to remain innocent. We had a lively discussion about how TV shows have changed over the years. There seems to be no more lines to cross, even the ads on TV are bold and explicit........... makes me long for yesteryear.

Alicia said...

It was odd for me as a child to watch this show because we are Hispanics and while my mom was a stay at home mom she dressed nothing like Mrs. Cleaver. My dad was a ranch foreman and I'd never even seen him in a suit. But I did love watching the Beav and the scrapes he got into.

I always wanted to be like Beav's mom when I grew up. Now the closest I've come is in the fact that I do love pearls :-)

Charlene said...

I never watched that show much as we didn't have a TV until I was older. My mother was always home when I got off the bus and my grandmother too. There was nothing like going in and hollaring, "Mom"! and her ansering back.

June said...

You're right of course: it was a fantasy and, yes, I guess an advertisement. But, oh, how I wanted to grow up to be June Cleaver or Donna Reed!

DJan said...

I loved that show, but you know, not one episode has stuck with me. I remember the characters but I didn't actually think about what they were wearing at the time. We sure didn't have a life like theirs, but I didn't notice the differences. I do remember the scrapes that Wally got into.

Rebecca said...

No perfect house.
No perfect neighborhood.
No perfect father.
No perfect mother.
No perfect son.
No perfect brother, sister or friend.
No perfect school.
No perfect teacher.
No perfect game, show, talent or career.

No perfect world...

Just one perfect God.

xo~Rebecca

Marcos Vinicius Gomes said...

I dont know this show, but I always supposed that this marvellous world of some shows and some advertising is a way to aggregate worth. This worth can be material or ideological only. I remember Bewitched and 'stuffed shirt' Samantha (but Samanta was cute in anyway)

KrippledWarrior said...

The loss of film and TV stars rarely affects me. For what did I really know about that person in reality. Thousands of people around us die everyday. And no one seems to notice. But this person was special to me, ever since I was a child...

Donnetta Lee said...

We lived in upstate New York in a less than desirable household. But brother and I watched the Beav and dreamed that our lives could be more like his. And I figured that Eddie's home life might be more like our own. D

The Bug said...

I always thought my mom was more fun than June Cleaver any day. She worked in a hosiery mill, then in a convenience store & then she cleaned houses for a living - so there weren't any pearls in her everyday wardrobe. But there were card games (she cheated!) & movies & ping pong games :)

Owen said...

We grew up in a dream world, the first generation really nourished on a significant diet of television. No brainwashing tool could have been more effective. But reality is starting to slip into focus, and it is not always pretty these days...

jojo said...

the way that our current culture affects woman is by making them feel less than, same then as now, my mother strived endlessly to be that woman...she felt a failure to not have the perfect home. She always commented that she deserved better, better from us better from life. She couldn't carry the pressure of being less than.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think all those 50's TV shows created a lot of insecurity, even anxiety, in women whose lives did not conform to the ideals presented there. The only one which actually translated to reality in my family's home was "Father Knows Best," with the addition of spankings to enforce the idea.

Wolynski said...

If women are to be free of spending their lives in the kitchen and vacuuming, the men have to pitch in.

We've come a long way, but have a very long way to go still. I can't believe the amount of male chauvinists I meet - and this 50 years after feminism first took root.

Single and Sane said...

My WWI-generation grandparents dressed much like Ward and June. My grandmother was no June Cleaver - far from it - but she wore a dress with hose and (low) heels every single day, and my grandfather wore a shirt and tie every day. I don't remember him ever wearing a jacket to the dinner table though. ;-)

One of the news stories I have heard in the last few days said that Billingsley wore the high heels to stay taller than the growing actors who played her sons.

Land of shimp said...

Hehe, yes, and one of the biggest clues to how unrealistic the lives depicted on those fluffy shows was? They weren't allowed to show a toilet onscreen so all of the bathroom sets were sans commode.

Paula Slade said...

Jo, when Babara Billingsley passed away earlier this week, I too paused and recalled the many differences between her television persona and my own mother's real lifestyle and role within our family.

Your mother and mine were very similar - artistically talented, excellent homemaker, green-thumb gardener, and an all-around loving mom.

I agree that the role Billingsley performed was a catalyst for change. I know that over the years my mom encouraged me to always put family first, but spread my wings while doing so.