from the trailer for The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
|Born||Donna Belle Mullenger
January 27, 1921
Denison, Iowa, U.S.
|Died||January 14, 1986
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery|
William J. Tuttle (m. 1943; div. 1945)
Donna Reed (January 27, 1921 – January 14, 1986) was an American film and television actress.
With appearances in over 40 films, Reed received the 1953 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Lorene Burke in the war drama From Here to Eternity. She is also well known for her role as Mary Hatch in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). She worked extensively in television, notably as Donna Stone, an American middle class mother in the sitcom The Donna Reed Show (1958–1966), in which she played a more prominent role than many other television mothers of the era and for which she received the 1963 Golden Globe Award for Best TV Star - Female.
Later in Reed's career she replaced Barbara Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie Ewing in the 1984 season of the television melodrama, Dallas, and sued the production company for breach of contract when she was abruptly fired upon Bel Geddes' decision to return to the show.
Reed was born Donna Belle Mullenger on a farm near Denison, Iowa, the daughter of Hazel Jane (née Shives; 1899–1975) and William Richard Mullenger (1893–1981).1 The eldest of five children, she was raised as a Methodist.2 After graduating from Denison High School, Reed planned to become a teacher, but was unable to pay for college. She decided to move to California to attend Los Angeles City College on the advice of her aunt. While attending college, she performed in various stage productions but had no plans to become an actress. After receiving several offers to screen test for studios, Reed eventually signed with MGM, but insisted on finishing her education first.3
After signing with MGM in 1941, Reed made her film debut that same year in The Get-Away, opposite Robert Sterling. Billed in her first feature as Donna Adams, MGM decided against the name and changed it to Donna Reed.4 She starred in The Courtship of Andy Hardy and had a supporting role with Edward Arnold in Eyes in the Night (1942). In 1943, she appeared in The Human Comedy with Mickey Rooney, and They Were Expendable in 1945.
In 1945, she struggled with an English accent and with a passive, underwritten role as Gladys Hallward in the first cinema adaptation of the Oscar Wilde novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
In 1946, she was lent to RKO Pictures for the role of Mary Bailey in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. The film has since been named as one of the 100 best American films ever made by the American Film Institute and is regularly aired on television during the Christmas season.6
Following the release of It's a Wonderful Life, Reed appeared in Green Dolphin Street (1947) with Lana Turner and Van Heflin, and Scandal Sheet (1952). In 1953, she played the role of Alma "Lorene" Burke, and girlfriend of Montgomery Clift's character in the World War II drama From Here to Eternity. The role earned Reed an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for 1953.7
From 1958 to 1966, Reed starred in The Donna Reed Show, a television series produced by her then-husband, Tony Owen. The show featured her as Donna Stone, the housewife of pediatrician Dr. Alex Stone (Carl Betz) and mother of Jeff (Paul Petersen) and Mary Stone (Shelley Fabares). It ran for eight seasons on ABC.8 Reed won a Golden Globe Award and earned four Emmy Award nominations for her work on the series.
Reed described her show as, "[...] a realistic picture of small town life—with an often humorous twist. Our plots revolve around the most important thing in America—a loving family."9 In the show, Reed's character, Donna Stone, is a loving mother and wife, but also a strong, smart woman with feelings and a sense of humor.10 However, some feminists criticized the show, asserting that it propagated the image of a subservient housewife. In a 1979 interview, Reed, who had raised four children, responded to the criticism, "I played a strong woman who could manage her family. That was offensive to a lot of people."11 In a 1984 television interview, Reed said of her show, "I felt that I was making, for women, a statement. This mother was not stupid. She wasn't domineering, but she was bright and I thought rather forward-thinking, happily married."12
In a 2008 interview, Paul Petersen (who played Jeff Stone in the series) explained, "That's what the show was really about, the importance of family. That's where life's lessons are transmitted, generation to generation. There's a certain way in which these are transmitted, with love and affection." Petersen also stated that "The Donna Reed Show depicts a better time and place. It has a sort of level of intelligence and professionalism that is sadly lacking in current entertainment product. The messages it sent out were positive and uplifting. The folks you saw were likable, the family was fun, the situations were familiar to people. It provided 22-and-a-half-minutes of moral instructions and advice on how to deal with the little dilemmas of life."13
When The Donna Reed Show ended its run in 1966, Reed took time off from acting to focus on raising her children and political activism. She returned to acting in the 1970s, appearing in various guest spots in television series and television movies.14
In 1984, she replaced Barbara Bel Geddes, who had decided to step down from her role as Miss Ellie Ewing in the television series Dallas in the 1984-85 season. Of the show, Reed explained in a 1984 interview, "One of the main reasons Dallas is successful is the family. They all stick together. They may squabble but they pull for one another and they live under one roof which is really tribal and it's not true anymore! And I think deep down, everyone misses that."12 When Bel Geddes agreed to return to the role for the 1985-86 season, Reed was abruptly fired. She sued the show's production company for breach of contract15 and later settled out of court for over $1 million.16
From 1943 to 1945, Reed was married to make up artist William Tuttle. In 1945, she married producer Tony Owen (b. 1907–d.1984), with whom she raised four children: Penny Jane, Anthony, Timothy, and Mary Anne (the two older children were adopted). After 26 years of marriage, Reed and Owen divorced in 1971.
Reed, who was a registered Republican, was interested in politics. Her interest peaked during the Vietnam War when she became concerned that her oldest son, Tony, might be drafted. In a 1971 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Reed said, "In the beginning, we felt [Tony] should serve his country in a noncombatant role. But he wouldn't even accept that, feeling the whole thing was immoral. He didn't trust the government or the military. I've learned a lot from Tony."18 In 1967, Reed became a peace activist and co-chaired the anti-war advocacy group, Another Mother for Peace. The group's slogan was, "War is not healthy for children and other living things."1920
Donna Reed died of pancreatic cancer in Beverly Hills, California, on January 14, 1986, 13 days shy of her 65th birthday. She had been diagnosed with the terminal illness three months prior. Her remains are interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.16
In 1987, Grover Asmus (Reed's widower), actresses Shelley Fabares and Norma Connolly, and numerous friends, associates, and family members created the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts. Based in Reed's hometown of Denison, the non-profit organization grants scholarships for performing arts students, runs an annual festival of performing arts workshops, and operates "The Donna Reed Center for the Performing Arts".22
In a 2011 article in the Los Angeles Times, actress Shelley Fabares (who played Mary Stone on The Donna Reed Show) stated, "[Donna Reed] definitely became my second mother. She was a role model and remains so to this day. I still periodically hear her voice in my head when I am making a decision about doing something, I hear her urging me on to make the stronger decision of the two. I just adored her."28 Fabares also described Reed as "a real Iowa girl. There is a bedrock decency to people in the Midwest. They are thoughtful and ready to help you if something needs to be done. She never lost that Midwest girl."28
|1941||The Get-Away||Maria Theresa 'Terry' O'Reilly||Alternative title: The Getaway|
|1941||Shadow of the Thin Man||Molly|
|1941||Babes on Broadway||Jonesy's Secretary||Uncredited|
|1942||The Bugle Sounds||Sally Hanson|
|1942||The Courtship of Andy Hardy||Melodie Eunice Nesbit|
|1942||Calling Dr. Gillespie||Marcia Bradburn|
|1942||Apache Trail||Rosalia Martinez|
|1942||Eyes in the Night||Barbara Lawry|
|1943||The Human Comedy||Bess Macauley|
|1943||Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case||Marcia Bradburn||Alternative title: Crazy to Kill|
|1943||The Man from Down Under||Mary Wilson|
|1943||Thousands Cheer||Customer in Red Skelton Skit|
|1944||See Here, Private Hargrove||Carol Holliday|
|1944||Gentle Annie||Mary Lingen|
|1945||The Picture of Dorian Gray||Gladys Hallward|
|1945||They Were Expendable||Lt. Sandy Davyss|
|1946||Faithful in My Fashion||Jean Kendrick|
|1946||It's a Wonderful Life||Mary Hatch Bailey||Alternative title: Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life|
|1947||Green Dolphin Street||Marguerite Patourel|
|1948||Beyond Glory||Ann Daniels|
|1949||Chicago Deadline||Rosita Jean D'Ur|
|1951||Saturday's Hero||Melissa||Alternative title: Idols in the Dust|
|1952||Scandal Sheet||Julie Allison||Alternative title: The Dark Page|
|1952||Hangman's Knot||Molly Hull|
|1953||Trouble Along the Way||Alice Singleton||Alternative title: Alma Mater|
|1953||Raiders of the Seven Seas||Alida|
|1953||From Here to Eternity||Alma "Lorene" Burke||Winner: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|
|1953||The Caddy||Kathy Taylor|
|1953||Gun Fury||Jennifer Ballard|
|1954||They Rode West||Laurie MacKaye|
|1954||Three Hours to Kill||Laurie Mastin|
|1954||The Last Time I Saw Paris||Marion Ellswirth/Matine|
|1954||The Ford Television Theatre||Lydia Campbell||Episode: "Portrait of Lydia"|
|1955||The Far Horizons||Sacajawea||Alternative title: The Untamed West|
|1955||Tales of Hans Anderson||Episode: "Wee Willie Winkie"|
|1956||The Benny Goodman Story||Alice Hammond|
|1956||Ransom!||Edith Stannard||Alternative title: Fearful Decision|
|1956||Beyond Mombasa||Ann Wilson|
|1957||General Electric Theater||Rayna||Episode: "Light from Tormendero"|
|1957||Suspicion||Letty Jason||Episode: "The Other Side of the Curtain"|
|1958||The Whole Truth||Carol Poulton|
|1958–66||The Donna Reed Show||Donna Stone||275 episodes|
|1979||The Best Place to Be||Sheila Callahan||Television movie|
|1983||Deadly Lessons||Miss Wade||Television movie|
|1984||The Love Boat||Polly/Gwen||2 episodes|
|1984–85||Dallas||Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow||24 episodes|
|1953||Academy Award||Best Actress in a Supporting Role||From Here to Eternity||Won|
|1963||Golden Globe Award||Best TV Star – Female||The Donna Reed Show||Won|
|1964||Golden Apple Awards||Most Cooperative Actress||
|1959||Emmy Award||Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series||The Donna Reed Show||Nominated|
|1960||Emmy Award||Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead or Support)||The Donna Reed Show||Nominated|
|1961||Emmy Award||Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead)||The Donna Reed Show||Nominated|
|1962||Emmy Award||Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead)||The Donna Reed Show||Nominated|
|2004||TV Land Awards||The Most Irreplaceable Replacement||Dallas||Nominated|
|2006||TV Land Awards||The Most Irreplaceable Replacement||Dallas||Nominated|
- Donna Reed Biography (1921-1986). filmreference.com
- Field, Eunice. "My Story is Not for Children--or Prudes". donnareedshow.com.
- Scott Royce, Brenda (1990). Donna Reed: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 2. ISBN 0-313-26806-1.
- Monush, Barry (2003). Screen World Presents the Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors: From the Silent Era to 1965. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 628. ISBN 1-55783-551-9.
- Rohter, Larry. "Dear Donna: A Pinup So Swell She Kept G.I. Mail," New York Times. May 25, 2009.
- Scott Royce, Brenda (1990). Donna Reed: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 5. ISBN 0-313-26806-1.
- Phillips, Gene D. (1999). Major Film Directors of the American and British Cinema. Lehigh University Press. p. 118. ISBN 0-934223-59-9.
- Olson, James Stuart (2000). Historical Dictionary of the 1950s. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 82, 83. ISBN 0-313-30619-2.
- " "DonnaReedShow.com".
- "Don’t Call The Donna Reed Show 'Situation Comedy'".
- Gilbert, Tom (2011-12-27). "Donna Reed's show reflects an era when mother, too, knew best". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Rona Barrett Remembers Donna Reed (1921-1986) on YouTube
- "Life was better in ‘Donna Reed' world".
- "Donna Reed Biography (1921-1986)". biography.com. Retrieved 2008-11-01.
- "Donna Reed Loses Bid for 'Dallas' Role". The New York Times. 1985-06-19. Retrieved 2008-11-01.
- "The Television Generation Mourns Its Favorite Surrogate Mother, Tough but Tender Donna Reed". People. 1986-01-27. Retrieved 2008-11-01.
- Scott Royce, Brenda (1990). Donna Reed: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 7. ISBN 0-313-26806-1.
- "Her New Role: A Mother for Peace". Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
- "Donna Reed Is Dedicated To Peace Effort"
- Hevly, Bruce William; Findlay, John M. (1998). The Atomic West. University of Washington Press. p. 208. ISBN 0-295-97716-7.
- Kauffman, Bill (2011-12-29) Iowa Votes for Peace, The American Conservative
- "Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts". donnareed.org. Retrieved 2008-11-01.
- Whye, Mike (2004). The Great Iowa Touring Book: 27 Spectacular Auto Trips. Big Earth Publishing. p. 37. ISBN 1-931599-35-1.
- Fultz, Jay (1998). In Search Of Donna Reed. IA: University of Iowa Press. ISBN 0-87745-625-9.
- "Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts". donnareed.org. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
- "Now Playing: Donna Reed -- (TCM Original) May 2010". tcm.com. Retrieved 2010-05-03.
- "Now Playing: Donna Reed: Star of the Month -- (TCM Original) Mary Anne Owen". tcm.com. Retrieved 2010-05-26.
- King, Susan (2011-12-26). "Classic Hollywood: 'The Donna Reed Show'". Los Angeles Times.
- Fultz, Jay (1998). In Search of Donna Reed. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press. ISBN 0-87745-625-9.
- Tucker, David C. (2007). The Women Who Made Television Funny: Ten Stars of 1950s Sitcoms. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-7864-2900-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Donna Reed.|
- Donna Reed at the Internet Movie Database
- Donna Reed at the TCM Movie Database
- Donna Reed at AllMovie
- Donna Reed TCM Star of the Month May 2010
- The Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts
- The Donna Reed Show
- Photographs and literature