A Salute to 10 Classic TV Moms

Carol Brady was not going to wear an apron….Everyone wanted to be a Partridge….June Cleaver wore heels for a reason….and “Mrs. C” knows how to get what she wants! In honor of Mother’s Day, the Archive of American Television highlights quotes and clips from 10 interviewees best-known for their roles as iconic sitcom TV moms.

Jane Wyatt on playing Margaret Anderson on Father Knows Best
I did understand wife and mother because I was a wife and mother. Margaret was much nicer than me. I can say that. But then she had all her lines written for her. I was much more independent than she was. She was a very nice person, I enjoyed playing her. And, she had a wonderful rapport with her children.

Barbara Billingsley on playing June Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver
Some people think she was namby-pamby. But no, she used to get teed off with the children. She didn’t always refer to the father as far as punishing is concerned. She was a loving, happy, stay-at-home mom, which I think is great. I’m not for every woman having to be out in the workplace. I had two children at home and I was working. But I think the one that stays home, if she’s doing a good job, it is the best job she’ll ever have, the most important.

Interview clip: Barbara Billingsley on June Cleaver’s wardrobe, high-heels, and pearls

Marion Ross on playing 50s mom Marion “Mrs. C.” Cunningham on Happy Days
Between my childhood in Minnesota, and the 50’s, it’s easy for me to relate to the kind of woman who gets everything she wants, but in a very charming, feminine way, because it’s just easier! That’s kind of the way I was raised and that’s what I saw in my own childhood how women love their husbands and protects her husband from the children. “Be good to your father.” He’s the head of the family, but he really isn’t, of course. She is the head of the family. But that’s the artifice. This is all pre-women’s lib. Now, I still think it’s a kind of a handy way to get things done. We conceal our strength.

Florence Henderson on playing Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch
I know that there were certain things that I brought to the role. I think it was my experience as a young parent and the fact that I understood kids. I felt close to them. I was really the only one on the set that was married, that had children and an ongoing relationship…. I would never wear an apron. I wanted to wear sexy nightgowns. I wanted to make her as human as possible.

Interview clip: Florence Henderson on playing Carol Brady

Mary Tyler Moore on playing Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show
The sponsors had a good deal more to say back then. We had to sleep in twin beds even though we were a married couple. We had to wear pajamas with the little pockets and a shirt. We were not allowed to say pregnant. You had to say “expecting a child” or “expecting a baby.” The big objection was the pants that I wore in The Dick Van Dyke Show. I had seen too many housewives on television who were vacuuming in high heels and a floral printed frock. I said, wait a minute, that’s not the way it really is and I wanted to be real. I wanted to represent something of me. And I was married and a mother, and I’ve walked around barefoot as I still do, and wore pants. So I brought that to the show. I also brought my sense of honesty, my sense of truth.

Diahann Carroll on playing single-mother Julia Baker on Julia
On television, Julia was the first non-conventional, educated, single mother who was outspoken. She dated. She raised her child…But no Black male was the argument. No father. No image for the children to relate to a father. That was a very loud criticism. It’s not that Julia and her son didn’t talk about situations. It may not have been his life, but we did talk about situations. Also, mother dated, and we brought the male into the house to say hello to the son. And, usually it was another professional Black that the young man was exposed to. So, I think that as we look back, that we’re very proud of that, that piece of work. It represented a new thought. It represented something that was subject to a great deal of criticism.

Interview clip: Diahann Carroll discusses Julia

Jean Stapleton on her favorite Edith Bunker “mother” moment on All in the Family
The anniversary episode was one was one of my favorites. Edith was to give marital advice to her daughter. That was great. She and Gloria felt that they should have a mother and daughter talk now that Gloria’s getting married. So of course Edith said nothing. Gloria supplied all of the issues and answered them while Edith would nod in approval “yes, yes of course.” Edith was very, very shy, very timid about discussing such things. It is very funny and very much in character.

Video clip: watch the brilliant scene Jean Stapleton references here:

Shirley Jones on being TV music group mom Shirley Partridge on The Partridge Family
She was a working mom, but wanted her children to have values. The show business thing was secondary. And they made a point of that, because the first couple of shows, the pilot in particular, they were dealing very much with the show-business angle, “where are we going to perform? Let’s rehearse every day.” And finally [producer] Bob Claver said, “we’re going to tone down the show business angle. We’re going to make them real people. We’re going to have stories about teenage sweethearts in school, and we’re going to have stories about Shirley maybe dating one of the local guys. There will always be a song, but the show won’t be built around that performance.” I think that helped because it made us real people. And it also got every teenager in America thinking that they could do this. “We can go to school and we can have a band. And we can get a bus.” The sad part is that every once in a while, I would find some young 16, 15, 14-year-old, sitting on my lawn, just off a bus from Iowa or Michigan or someplace, saying, “I’ve come to be in The Partridge Family. I can play the instrument.” They’d literally run away from home. I just had to tell them the truth and say, “listen, this is a television show. We don’t have a band. It’s all make-believe.”

Interview clip: Shirley Jones on Shirley Partridge

Phylicia Rashad on playing Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show
She had a very normal relationship. She understood the difference in all their personalities. It was a very loving relationship, and there was discipline. She was very, very patient, but very disciplined. She understood the value of discipline. And they, as parents, understood the importance of being on the same page with those people.

Interview clip: Phylicia Rashad on working on The Cosby Show

Patricia Heaton on playing Debra Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond
Debra’s a horrible homemaker, that was what was so wonderful about her is that she couldn’t cook, and a lot of times with the kids it was just like “whatever.” I think there’s a whole movement in our country since Martha Stewart came on the scene of being a perfect and making every small daily task a work of art, which there’s some benefit to trying to lift the mundane out of its mundaneness and making it something because every act of care that you do for your family is actually sort of a sacred thing. But when you’re packing a lunch every morning, you’re not going to cut the sandwich into smiley shapes and starfish, you just throw in that prepackaged crap in their bag and stick it in their backpack. So, I think she tried, but she was like every mom that has it up to here with everything. …But I think she was a good mother, yeah, definitely.

Interview clip: Patricia Heaton discusses the Everybody Loves Raymond family dynamic

Happy Mother’s Day!

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