The good, the bad fiction mothers (Not every mom can be June Cleaver)

Loved: Marge Simpson

Loathed: Cinderella’s stepmother

Mothers are powerful influences in the entertainment world.

From the doting June Cleaver of “Leave It To Beaver” to the evil Margaret White in Stephen King’s novel, “Carrie,” mothers have played primary roles in dozens of TV shows, movies and books through the years.

Some mothers are loved. Some are loathed. Either way, they are memorable.

Here are some of the best and worst mothers in fictional TV, movie and literature just in time for Mother’s Day on Sunday, May 8.


• Carol Brady — One of the most famous TV mothers of all time, Mrs. Brady, played by Florence Henderson, had to juggle the needs of six children of different ages and interests. (And please remember we are talking about her on screen, not off.) Sure, the children had their fair share of trouble, but Mrs. Brady and her husband always were there to guide and help the children as a group and individually.

• Mrs. “Marmee” March — If an idyllic mother existed, she could be the one. Portrayed in Louisa May Alcott’s novel, “Little Women,” Mrs. March is principled and loving, protective yet open-minded. Despite living in the 19th century, “Marmee,” as she is called by her daughters, pushes her children to think for themselves. Plus, she weathered that whole pickled lime nonsense with motherly wisdom.

• Kala — Orphaned as an infant, Tarzan is adopted by Kala, an adult ape, after both lose loved ones in horrific incidents with a tiger. Like any great mother, Kala teaches Tarzan, protects him and stands up for him no matter what in the 1999 Walt Disney movie. Kala did not care that Tarzan was a human. She saw a baby who needed to be loved, and she was up for the job.

• Clair Huxtable — A mother and successful lawyer, Mrs. Huxtable proved women could do it all ... at least on “The Cosby Show.” Mrs. Huxtable, played by Phylicia Rashad, mixed humor with class and morals as she balanced the role of influential mother, high-powered attorney and loving wife.

• Lily Potter — If you can think of her without bawling, consider Harry Potter’s loving mom: She protected Harry with an impenetrable spell of motherly love, then flung herself in front of a fatal spell that Lord Voldemort aimed at baby Harry. Every time he looked in a mirror, Harry saw her in his own green eyes, and when he thought he was at the end, she came to him and ... OK, we’re going to need a minute here.

• June Cleaver — Sweet? Check. Nice? Check. Lover of needlepoint? Check. Mrs. Cleaver, played by Barbara Billingsley, was the TV mom who always had dinner on the table and never missed a school function. She loved her boys, and they knew it. And TV viewers never questioned Mrs. Cleaver’s ability to discipline and lead.

• Morticia Addams — Perhaps no one had a more nontraditional life than Morticia Addams, but that did not stop the homemaker from adding stability and love to the sitcom “The Addams Family.” Played by Carolyn Jones in the 1960s TV show and Anjelica Huston in the 1991 movie, Morticia Addams kept her immediate family, as well as Lurch and Uncle Fester, in line and as safe as possible.

• Fraulein Maria — Really, she would have made a terrible nun. Fraulein Maria, a character based on real person and made famous by Julie Andrews in the 1965 musical “The Sound of Music,” was a fantastic mother-figure and later stepmother to the von Trapp children. As the children’s governess, Fraulein Maria comforted, guided, nurtured and loved each child as her own. She had the grace to play the role. Plus, she could sing a top-notch lullaby.

• Marge Simpson — Well-known for her blue hair and a rough voice, the fictional matriarch of “The Simpsons” on FOX is a devoted mother. Mrs. Simpson isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t stop her from hugging, showing her pride and laughing about her husband and three children.

• Shirley Partridge — Not every family has a psychedelic school bus. Then again, not every family is the basis for the TV show, “The Partridge Family.” Mom Shirley Partridge, played by Shirley Jones, was a widowed mother of five, who encouraged her children to have dreams and helped fulfill them. Raising five children is never easy, but Shirley Partridge cared enough about her children to do her best.


• Margaret White — Oh, boy. Physically and emotionally abusive, Margaret White from the novel and movie “Carrie” denied her daughter love and acceptance, bullied her with religious zealotry inspired by a philandering husband, uttered the term “dirty pillows” (don’t ask) and stabbed Carrie with a butcher knife after prom. Thanks, Mom! Carrie’s telekinesis wrought appropriate vengeance, though.

• Norma Bates — Domineering and just creepy, even in death Norma Bates played a key role in turning her son, Norman Bates, into a demented serial killer, in both Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 movie “Psycho” and Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel. That is powerful motherly influence, but not in a good way.

• Cinderella’s stepmother — The word “wicked” comes to mind when describing Walt Disney sweetheart Cinderella’s stepmother. And “wicked” is not a term of endearment for anyone, particularly a mother. Cinderella was driven to a life of manual labor and dissatisfaction because her stepmother didn’t love or even like her. In fact, this stepmother tries to keep Cinderella away from all good, including true love.

• Jocasta — The wellspring for a million mommy issues, this queen of Thebes and Mother of the Year defied orders from her husband, King Laius, to kill their baby son, Oedipus. Instead, she ordered a servant to do it, but he didn’t, either. Later, in keeping with an oracle’s prophecy, the adult Oedipus killed King Laius and married Jocasta. She hung herself when she found out their relation, but still: Did Oedipus have any choice but to gouge out his own eyes? No. Read all about it in Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King.”

• Corinne Dollanganger — Shoving a child, or all four children, into an attic for years is not nurturing or gracious and that’s what mother Corinne Dollanganger did in V.C. Andrews’ novel “Flowers in the Attic.” A life of attic seclusion drove the children into physical and emotional despair, which led to unrealistic dialogue, a tragic death and That One Scene. You know the one. Then, there is the fact Corinne tried to kill them.

• Eleanor Iselin — Angela Lansbury won a Golden Globe award for her portrayal of Eleanor Iselin in the 1962 movie, “The Manchurian Candidate.” However, she would have won no mothering award, as her character brainwashed her son into killing people for her gain.

• Hansel and Gretel’s mother — In the 1812 Brothers Grimm fairy tale, “Hansel and Gretel,” the siblings’ mother plots to leave the children in the woods, so she doesn’t have to feed them or have the expense of caring for them. In other adaptations, the mother is portrayed as a stepmother, but the results are the same.

• Kate McCallister — Not once, but twice, Mrs. McCallister goes on a family vacation and forgets to take with her one very important item: her youngest son, Kevin. Played by Catherine O’Hara in the 1990 “Home Alone” movie and 1992 “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” Mrs. McCallister loves her son and feels guilty about leaving him, but come on. Does a good mother leave her son behind? Twice?

• Medea — Most women whose spouses leave them for younger, prettier new wives wreak revenge by setting the lout’s clothes on fire, say, or maxing his credit cards. But not in Greek mythology! When Medea’s husband, Jason — of “and the Argonauts” fame — left her for a princess named Glauce, she killed her and Jason’s two children, Mermeros and Pheres. Geez, lady. Infanticide? What’s wrong with eating a bunch of ice cream then writing a memoir?

• Mrs. Lift — Played by Anne Ramsey in the 1987 movie, “Throw Momma From the Train,” Mrs. Lift, was as menacing a looking mother as there ever was. She was abusive and mean, but, at least in this movie, comical. Ramsey pulled mean mother duty twice, though. She also played the domineering and crime-loving Mama Fratelli in the 1985 movie “The Goonies.”

— By Melinda Mawdsley and Rachel Sauer


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