Terry Kelleher
September 01, 1997 12:00 PM

>June Cleaver

THE MOTHER OF ALL CLEAVERS

TODAY IT WOULD BE A conference call, but in 1957, when Barbara Billingsley first played Everymom June Cleaver in Leave It to Beaver, it was a party line. In any case, on a recent afternoon, Billingsley, 75, had a three-way phone chat with a correspondent and the new June-bug, Northern Exposure’s Janine Turner. “No one could ever step into Barbara’s shoes,” says Turner, 34. Nevertheless, she does just that in the new film version of Beaver. “I tried to give June the charm and grace of the character with a ’90s twist,” she says. “I wear jeans and a midriff top.” Billingsley sighs. During her six years on the show, she groans, “They didn’t even let me wear pants.”

Despite that, Turner and Billingsley—who appears in the film as Aunt Martha—dispute the notion that the original June was antifeminist. “She wasn’t namby-pamby,” says Billingsley. “She held the family together.” The conversation eventually meanders to real-life motherhood. When Turner in forms Billingsley that she is fixing a nursery in her Dallas home in preparation for the birth of her first child, due in December, the elder June sounds just tickled. “It’s the best and biggest job you’ll ever have.” She should know: The actress, who has lived alone in L.A. since her husband, physician William Mortensen, died in 1981, has two children of her own and, she notes, is “loaded” with 16 grandkids. As for the unmarried Turner, though she refuses to identify the father, she does disclose that she’s expecting a girl. And despite her baby’s winter due date, she already has an idea of what to call her. “Maybe I’ll name her June.”

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