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A tribute to the TV Mothers we loved

Sun 9th May 2021

This Mother's Day, we take a trip down memory lane and pay tribute to the mothers we grew to love on TV, and the brilliant actresses behind them, from over the last few decades. Most of these mothers are best known for their model parenting ways, while others are remembered purely for their comic ability to portray the imperfections of family life in the most hilarious of ways.

Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver - Leave It to Beaver  

June Cleaver was the traditional mother and housewife. Photo: ABC Television
June Cleaver was the traditional mother and housewife. Photo: ABC Television

June Cleaver is the quintessential housewife whose life revolved around her dedication to her family. She is a loving mother to two boys and a devoted wife who enjoys the simple things in life like cooking, needlepoint, social engagements and always prides herself on looking her best. With a standard a little out of reach for mothers of today, most would still agree June Cleaver's wholesome moral lessons still stand true.

June Cleaver: "Well dear you can't blame them too much, they went over to see the big fire at the lumber yard." Ward Cleaver: "Fire?" June Cleaver: "Yes, they couldn't resist it, and after all they are just boys."

Famous for her role as June Cleaver, Barbara Billingsley played both the mother in the television series Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963) and its sequel The New Leave It to Beaver (1983-1989). In her final film role she played Aunt Martha in the 1997 film version of Leave It to Beaver. In Barbara's illustrious career that spanned over 50 years, she made several star cameos in beloved shows such as Mork & Mindy, The Love Boat, Murphy Brown, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and many more, often reprising her role as June Cleaver. In her personal life, Barbara was the mother to two sons, born to her first husband, restaurateur Glenn Billingsley. Barbara Billingsley passed away 16 October 2010 aged 94.

Florence Henderson as Carol Brady - The Brady Bunch   

Carol Brady was the matriarch of the Brady Bunch. Photo: ABC Television
Carol Brady was the matriarch of the Brady Bunch. Photo: ABC Television

Carol Brady had three girls and married Mike Brady who had three boys of his own "and that's how they became the Brady Bunch". With a sunny disposition, Carol Brady is a devoted mother who gives her children enough space to grow and make their own mistakes, offering a shoulder to cry on when things don't always go to plan - and never without a moral lesson to learn. Perhaps one of the most iconic mothers in television history, Carol Brady was included in Yahoo!'s Top 10 TV Moms from Six Decades of Television for the time period 1969-1974 and she was also listed in the Top 5 Classic TV Moms by Film.com.

Having begun her career in musical theatre and Broadway, the multi-talented star appeared in Oklahoma!, Wish You Were Here, The Sound of Music, Little Women and Fanny. In her TV career, while she is most famously known as Carol Brady, she was also an avid fan of game shows and appeared in many. In real life, Henderson had four children and five grandchildren of her own, and was a loving mother until her death on 24 November 2016, aged 82.

A special mention to Ann B. Davis who played the devoted housekeeper, Alice Nelson on the show. Not officially a Mother, she loved the Brady children as if they were her own.

Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens - Bewitched     

Samantha Stephens was a supernatural mother like no other. Photo: ABC Television
Samantha Stephens was a supernatural mother like no other. Photo: ABC Television

Samantha Stephens is a loving witch who is married to mortal Darrin Stephens and together they navigate parenthood raising two magical children. Samantha balances her new mortal life best she can and tries to avoid using her witch powers. She brings out the best in everyone, and is always the most sensible one in the family which helps create calm in the sometimes witch-frantic house. Samantha raises her children Tabitha and Adam to treat everyone with respect be they mortal, magical, witch or warlock.

"Yeah. You're the only living human being who can say he's had Napoleon Bonaparte as a guest in his house. It's ironic." 

Montgomery's part in the series earned her five Primetime Emmy Award nominations and four Golden Globe Award nominations. Her early career saw her appear in many big-name television shows, including The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. During her time on Bewitched, her on-screen pregnancies were no smoke and mirrors - she gave birth to two of her three children while working on the show. Elizabeth Montgomery passed away 18 May 1995 aged 62.

Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo - I Love Lucy  

Lucy Ricardo's hilarity extended to her parenting. Photo: Young & Rubicam
Lucy Ricardo's hilarity extended to her parenting. Photo: Young & Rubicam

Lucy Ricardo together with her husband Ricky are the funniest parents one could have. Lucy often finds herself in a pickle and bandleader-husband Ricky is often the one to catch her in the thick of it.  Lucy often doubts her first time parenting abilities and hilariously struggles with day to day life being mother to Little Ricky. Nonetheless, with determination she and her husband create a wonderful life themselves and encourage their son to relish in his artistic potential.

"Ever since we said, 'I do,' there have been so many things we don't.

Little Ricky's birth on the show actually coincided with the exact date of Lucille Ball's real-life son. The scene in which Lucy tells husband Ricky they're having a baby is a touching moment in television history. Ricky realises Lucy may be the one who is expecting and when Lucy nods yes, he is overcome with joy and he sings "We're Having a Baby". Actress, Lucille Ball is overwhelmed with emotions being pregnant for the first time herself, that she breaks down in tears during the scene.

Lucille Ball was nominated for 13 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning four times. She received two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, was one of the first recipients of the Women in Film Crystal Award and she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1984 - just to name a few! You can find out more about her amazing life as part of this tribute to the comedians of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Lucille Ball passed away 26 April 1989 aged 77.

Jean Stapleton as Edith Bunker -  All in the Family

Edith Bunker was the glue that held her family together. Photo: CBS Television
Edith Bunker was the glue that held her family together. Photo: CBS Television

Edith Bunker is constantly trying to keep the peace in her house with her ultra-conservative, husband Archi, feminist daughter Gloria and politically opinionated son-in-law Michael. Edith is an undereducated, but caring and loving woman whose naivety often leads her to funny situations. She teaches her daughter that it's ok to have opinions, but when opinions of others differ to her, that's ok too. Edith offers traditional motherly advice in an entertaining way that is still fitting today.

"Well, I liked being called a "Goddess of Beauty", but somehow it seemed more permanent when your father called me a dingbat."

Jean Stapleton was best known for her role as Edith Bunker which earned her three Emmys and two Golden Globes for Best Actress in a comedy series. Coincidentally, one of her Best Actress in a Comedy Series awards was won 50 years ago to this day - on Mother's Day, 1971. Stapleton also raised two children who went into the family business - actor/writer/director John Putch and television producer Pamela Putch.

Jean Stapleton passed away 31 May 2013 aged 90. In a tribute to her incredible legacy, the marquee lights on Broadway were dimmed for one minute 5 days after her passing.

Doris Roberts as Marie Barone - Everybody Loves Raymond  

Marie Barone is the mother-in-law that most women dread.
Marie Barone is the mother-in-law that most women dread.

Marie Barone is the strong matriarch of the Barone family. Not the ideal mother-in-law, she often insults her daughter-in-law Debra in a passive-aggressive way which sees them butt heads often. As a housewife and mother, Marie believes she excels in every which way and with her soaring self-esteem it means the rest of the family are constantly reminded of it. In reality though she is the main culprit behind the families conflict which makes for very entertaining viewing.

"If I see something that you desperately need help with, like cooking, cleaning, the children, your hair... I care so much that I have to say something, because I want to help."

Doris Roberts was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2003 an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the University of South Carolina and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2011. Apart from Everybody Loves Raymond, she appeared in many well-loved films and programs, including National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation in 1989 and Ruby and Oswald in 1978. She was a doting mother to her only son, and later to three grandchildren. Doris Roberts passed away 17 April 2016 aged 90.

Estelle Getty as Sophia Petrillo - Golden Girls  

Sophia Petrillo (far-right) was a mother with an attitude. Photo: Ron Tom/NBCU Photo Bank
Sophia Petrillo (far-right) was a mother with an attitude. Photo: Ron Tom/NBCU Photo Bank

Sophia Petrillo is one opinionated-firecracker of a mother and although she often insults her daughter Dorothy in front of her best friends Rose and Blanche, she still absolutely adores her. Their mother and daughter bond is strong and Dorothy along with her best friends often seek Sophia's wise old words of wisdom, whether they take it on board is another question.

"Your heart's in the right place, but I don't know where the hell your brain is."

Estelle Getty portrayed Sophia for an incredible 10 years and 258 episodes for which she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a TV Series Musical or Comedy and won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Estelle and husband Arthur Gettleman raised their sons, Carl and Barry, in Queens, New York, before Getty moved to California for Golden Girls.    Estelle Getty passed away 22 July 2008 aged 84.

Agnes Moorehead as Endora - Bewitched  

Endora was yet another mother-in-law to be reckoned with. Photo: ABC Television
Endora was yet another mother-in-law to be reckoned with. Photo: ABC Television

Not your average mother - certainly not the mother-in-law you'd wish for, Endora is a quick-witted witch who hates her daughter Samantha being married to mortal Darrin Stephens. She often uses witchcraft to cause havoc to her son-in-laws life and when she refuses to call Darrin's name correctly, instead referring to him as Derwood, Darwin or Dum Dum, bringing her (and the audience) much amusement. The wisdom that comes from being centuries old, means this witch-mum knows what is best for her daughter and although she is the chief antagonist, she is still a devoted mother and loving grandmother to Tabitha and Adam.

"I detest sounding like one of those mothers who thinks they know it all, but unfortunately, I do."

Agnes Moorehead didn't gravitate towards lead roles in her career, but her acting ability still brought her great praise earning her a Primetime Emmy Award, two Golden Globe Awards and nominations for four Academy Awards and six Emmy Awards. Moorehead became the first woman to host the Oscars ceremony back in 1948 alongside Dick Powell. With a 41-year-old career that spanned overstage, film, TV and radio, including her role in Citizen Kane, Agnes was a veteran of the industry and the first woman to host the Oscars ceremony. During her first marriage, she fostered a boy named Sean, becoming an important figure to pay tribute to on Mother's Day as an exemplary foster mother.

Agnes Moorehead passed away 30 April 1974 aged 73.

Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell - Game of Thrones  

The Queen of Thorns, Lady Olenna Tyrell is the ruthless matriarch of House Tyrell.
The Queen of Thorns, Lady Olenna Tyrell is the ruthless matriarch of House Tyrell. Contributed

Lady Olenna Tyrell is the elderly matriarch of House Tyrell and the last known head of the house. She is quick witted and sarcastic and is often plotting something to protect her family - and why she is referred to as the Queen of Thorns. Widow to Lord Luthor Tyrell and mother to Mace Tyrell she is a wise and cunning old woman who isn't afraid of anything!

"I did unspeakable things to protect my family. Or watched them being done on my orders. I never lost a night's sleep over them. They were necessary. And whatever I imagined necessary for the safety of House Tyrell, I did." 

English actress Diana Rigg played Olenna Tyrell receiving significant praise for her portrayal with Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2018. From the wife of James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service to the title role of Medea, Rigg was an exceptionally talented actress on both the stage and screen. To this day, her daughter, Rachael Stirling, walks in her mother's footsteps, as an Laurence Olivier Award nominated actress for her prowess on the stage and her excellence on screen, in shows and films such as Doctor Who and Snow White & the Huntsman. Diana Rigg passed away 10 September 2020 aged 82.

Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams - The Addams Family  

Morticia Addams was the spooky, kooky mum to two wacky children. Photo: ABC Television
Morticia Addams was the spooky, kooky mum to two wacky children. Photo: ABC Television

Morticia is wife to Gomez Addams and mother to daughter Wednesday and son Pugsly. She may be creepy, kooky and altogether spooky, but she is a generous and stylish mother all the same. She encourages her children to be independent and unique spirits. Morticia loves her family and although some might say this rose bud cutting, pale skin woman isn't fit to be a Mum, one can't deny who fierce loyalty and protection she has for her family - albeit with an axe.

Carolyn Jones' career was strong in the 1950s and 1960s where she achieved a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for The Bachelor Party and a Golden Globe Award as most promising new actresses of 1959. While she had no children of her own, this made her uniquely aloof parenting style on screen that much more hilarious. Carolyn Jones passed away 3 August 1983 aged 53.

Jessica Walter as Lucille Bluth - Arrested Development

Lucille Bluth was the callous yet hilarious head of the Bluth family.
Lucille Bluth was the callous yet hilarious head of the Bluth family.

Lucille Bluth is the matriarch of the Bluth family. Mother of the year she is not, she is accustomed to her very decadent lifestyle. Often seen condescending to her hired help and emotionally abusive and manipulative to her children, she often lies to them just to keep them fighting - not to stop them as one should. There's not much to love about this mother but it's pure comedic entertainment to watch her spiral out of control all the same.

Jessica Walter and Arrested Development cast were nominated five times for Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy Series by Screen Actors Guild Awards. She also won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series for Amy Prentiss and was nominated four times in both Golden Globe awards and Primetime Emmy Awards. As the mother to one daughter, Jessica lived an incredible life with an illustrious career, which you can read more about in this tribute to her life. Jessica Walter passed away 24 March 2021 aged 80.

By Kirsten Jakubenko

Sources:

  • https://www.stayathomemum.com.au/my-kids/50-best-fictional-mums-on-tv-and-film/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_Cleaver 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Billingsley 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estelle_Getty 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Everybody_Loves_Raymond_characters#Marie_Barone 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doris_Roberts 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnes_Moorehead 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florence_Henderson
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Montgomery  
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucille_Ball 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_and_Ricky_Ricardo 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolyn_Jones 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Walter 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_Bunker 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Stapleton 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_Rigg 
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olenna_Tyrell 
  • https://gameofthrones.fandom.com/wiki/Olenna_Tyrell