October was a particularly bad month for iconic TV parents. Within days, we lost two -- Barbara Billingsley ("June Cleaver" on "Leave it to Beaver") and Tom Bosley ("Howard Cunningham" on "Happy Days"). Both played 1950s-era parents; one in the 1950s, and the other in the nostalgia-minded 1970s. Their characters were significantly unencumbered by problems worse than Eddie Haskell's obsequious charm, or the exploits of the greaser-with-a-heart-of-gold, Fonzie.
The widespread attention garnered by the deaths of these beloved TV legends has shown that there is still an audience that cares passionately about the lives and work of these greats. The rise of available online video makes it possible for old footage to be relevant and new again, and the increase of social media tools allows fans to share rare clips with their friends and followers.
So, what did we really know about June Cleaver? She wore pearls, did charity work, liked to decorate cakes and read magazines. And Howard Cunningham? He owned a hardware store, wore a fez to his lodge meetings, and read the paper. Both were convenient sounding-boards for their kids and both usually offered advice tempered with understanding.
Just browsing through the comments posted alongside our interviews with the Mrs. Cleaver and Mr. C., you can see how their deaths stirred up strong emotions from nostalgic boomers. Postings like this were seldom seen in the early days of our ventures online, but now they are prevalent features of public mourning. A few examples:
"Here I am, a black man 50 years old and watched every episode after school. I just thought the world of Barbara Billingsley! Even as there were no blacks on the show it was still the most wholesome and appreciated show I ever saw on TV. She was so sweet, classy, even tempered and made living in America so much fun. A piece of American history that will never be forgotten. You could watch just one episode and be hooked for life, RIP Barbara, we all love you."
"She was so great it was like losing a mother rest in peace lady Barbara we will miss you..."
"I loved Mr C. he was my 2nd Dad. Happy Days was the Best TV sitcom made in the 70's."<
"Yeah man," early Happy Days? Essential viewing every Tuesday night. Tom's role of Mr. C was the dad everyone wished they had. Thanks for the laughs Tom ! R.I.P."
That's just a small selection of the digital outpouring of love. Comments like this aren't limited to these two greats. So far, the most trafficked online mourning session in our archives surrounds an interview with George Carlin -- the last major interview before his death in 2008.
Below the radar, social media has changed the way we engage in the news about our public figures. It's made our nostalgia more public, and with services like Facebook and Twitter, allows it to go viral among our friends. Best of all, these tools give people the opportunity to share footage and memories of figures we grew up with, celebrating the lives of those who have made a difference. It's nice to know that Billingsley and Bosley, those two iconic TV parents, lived long enough to see the start of it all.