Donna Reed

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Donna Reed
Donna Reed in The Picture of Dorian Gray trailer.jpg
from the trailer for The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
BornDonna Belle Mullenger
(1921-01-27)January 27, 1921
Denison, Iowa, U.S.
DiedJanuary 14, 1986(1986-01-14) (aged 64)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Pancreatic cancer
Resting place
Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Years active1941–1985
Spouse(s)William J. Tuttle (m. 1943; div. 1945)
Tony Owen (m. 1945; div. 1971)
Grover Asmus (m. 1974–86)
Jump to: navigation, search
Donna Reed
Donna Reed in The Picture of Dorian Gray trailer.jpg
from the trailer for The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
BornDonna Belle Mullenger
(1921-01-27)January 27, 1921
Denison, Iowa, U.S.
DiedJanuary 14, 1986(1986-01-14) (aged 64)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Pancreatic cancer
Resting place
Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery
Years active1941–1985
Spouse(s)William J. Tuttle (m. 1943; div. 1945)
Tony Owen (m. 1945; div. 1971)
Grover Asmus (m. 1974–86)

Donna Reed (January 27, 1921 – January 14, 1986) was an American film and television actress and producer.

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 1984–85 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.

Early life[edit]

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]


Donna Reed as Mary Hatch and James Stewart as George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life.

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.

Her "girl-next-door" good looks and warm on-stage personality made her a popular pin-up for many GIs during World War II. She personally answered letters from many GIs serving overseas.[5]

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]

The Donna Reed Show[edit]

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]

Later career[edit]

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 the 1984–85 season of the television series Dallas, Reed replaced Barbara Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie Ewing. 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.[15] Reed failed in attempts to stop the 1985–86 season from going into production while she tried to get herself reinstated in the role of Miss Ellie,[15] and she sued for breach of contract, later settling out of court for over $1 million.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Reed, Tony Owen, and their four children in 1959. Standing is Penny Jane; seated from left are Tony, Jr., Mary and Tim.

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.

Three years later, Reed married retired United States Army Colonel Grover W. Asmus. They remained married until her death in 1986.[1][17]

Political views[edit]

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."[19][20]

In addition to being an opponent of the Vietnam War, Reed also opposed nuclear power plants. She supported Democratic anti-war Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential election.[21]


Donna Reed's grave

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 earlier. Her remains are interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.[16][22]


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".[23]

Reed's hometown of Denison, Iowa, hosts the annual Donna Reed Festival.[24] Reed's childhood home was located on Donna Reed Drive in Denison but was destroyed by a fire in 1983.[25]

Reed's Academy Award is on display at W.A. McHenry museum house in Denison, Iowa.[26]

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Donna Reed has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1610 Vine Street.

In May 2010 Turner Classic Movies honored Reed as their star of the month[27] which saw Mary Owen pay a special tribute to her mother.[28]

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."[29] 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."[29]


1941The Get-AwayMaria Theresa 'Terry' O'ReillyAlternative title: The Getaway
1941Shadow of the Thin ManMolly
1941Babes on BroadwayJonesy's SecretaryUncredited
1942The Bugle SoundsSally Hanson
1942The Courtship of Andy HardyMelodie Eunice Nesbit
1942MokeyAnthea Delano
1942Calling Dr. GillespieMarcia Bradburn
1942Apache TrailRosalia Martinez
1942Eyes in the NightBarbara Lawry
1943The Human ComedyBess Macauley
1943Dr. Gillespie's Criminal CaseMarcia BradburnAlternative title: Crazy to Kill
1943The Man from Down UnderMary Wilson
1943Thousands CheerCustomer in Red Skelton Skit
1944See Here, Private HargroveCarol Holliday
1944Gentle AnnieMary Lingen
1945The Picture of Dorian GrayGladys Hallward
1945They Were ExpendableLt. Sandy Davyss
1946Faithful in My FashionJean Kendrick
1946It's a Wonderful LifeMary Hatch BaileyAlternative title: Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life
1947Green Dolphin StreetMarguerite Patourel
1948Beyond GloryAnn Daniels
1949Chicago DeadlineRosita Jean D'Ur
1951Saturday's HeroMelissaAlternative title: Idols in the Dust
1952Scandal SheetJulie AllisonAlternative title: The Dark Page
1952Hangman's KnotMolly Hull
1953Trouble Along the WayAlice SingletonAlternative title: Alma Mater
1953Raiders of the Seven SeasAlida
1953From Here to EternityAlma "Lorene" BurkeWinner: Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1953The CaddyKathy Taylor
1953Gun FuryJennifer Ballard
1954They Rode WestLaurie MacKaye
1954Three Hours to KillLaurie Mastin
1954The Last Time I Saw ParisMarion Ellswirth/Matine
1954The Ford Television TheatreLydia CampbellEpisode: "Portrait of Lydia"
1955The Far HorizonsSacajaweaAlternative title: The Untamed West
1955Tales of Hans AndersonEpisode: "Wee Willie Winkie"
1956The Benny Goodman StoryAlice Hammond
1956Ransom!Edith StannardAlternative title: Fearful Decision
1956BacklashKaryl Orton
1956Beyond MombasaAnn Wilson
1957General Electric TheaterRaynaEpisode: "Light from Tormendero"
1957SuspicionLetty JasonEpisode: "The Other Side of the Curtain"
1958The Whole TruthCarol Poulton
1958–66The Donna Reed ShowDonna Stone275 episodes
1974Yellow-Headed Summer
1979The Best Place to BeSheila CallahanTelevision movie
1983Deadly LessonsMiss WadeTelevision movie
1984The Love BoatPolly/Gwen2 episodes
1984–85DallasMiss Ellie Ewing Farlow24 episodes

Awards and nominations[edit]

1953Academy AwardBest Actress in a Supporting RoleFrom Here to EternityWon
1963Golden Globe AwardBest TV Star – FemaleThe Donna Reed ShowWon
1964Golden Apple AwardsMost Cooperative Actress
1959Emmy AwardBest Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy SeriesThe Donna Reed ShowNominated
1960Emmy AwardOutstanding Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead or Support)The Donna Reed ShowNominated
1961Emmy AwardOutstanding Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead)The Donna Reed ShowNominated
1962Emmy AwardOutstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead)The Donna Reed ShowNominated
2004TV Land AwardsThe Most Irreplaceable ReplacementDallasNominated
2006TV Land AwardsThe Most Irreplaceable ReplacementDallasNominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Donna Reed Biography (1921–1986).
  2. ^ Field, Eunice. "My Story is Not for Children—or Prudes". 
  3. ^ Scott Royce, Brenda (1990). Donna Reed: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 2. ISBN 0-313-26806-1. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Rohter, Larry. "Dear Donna: A Pinup So Swell She Kept G.I. Mail," New York Times. May 25, 2009.
  6. ^ Scott Royce, Brenda (1990). Donna Reed: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 5. ISBN 0-313-26806-1. 
  7. ^ Phillips, Gene D. (1999). Major Film Directors of the American and British Cinema. Lehigh University Press. p. 118. ISBN 0-934223-59-9. 
  8. ^ Olson, James Stuart (2000). Historical Dictionary of the 1950s. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 82, 83. ISBN 0-313-30619-2. 
  9. ^ " "". 
  10. ^ "Don’t Call The Donna Reed Show 'Situation Comedy'". 
  11. ^ Gilbert, Tom (2011-12-27). "Donna Reed's show reflects an era when mother, too, knew best". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  12. ^ a b Rona Barrett Remembers Donna Reed (1921–1986) on YouTube
  13. ^ "Life was better in ‘Donna Reed' world". 
  14. ^ "Donna Reed Biography (1921–1986)". Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  15. ^ a b "Donna Reed Loses Bid for 'Dallas' Role". The New York Times. 1985-06-19. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  16. ^ a b "The Television Generation Mourns Its Favorite Surrogate Mother, Tough but Tender Donna Reed". People. 1986-01-27. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  17. ^ Scott Royce, Brenda (1990). Donna Reed: A Bio-bibliography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 7. ISBN 0-313-26806-1. 
  18. ^ "Her New Role: A Mother for Peace". Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved 24 January 2013. 
  19. ^ "Donna Reed Is Dedicated To Peace Effort"
  20. ^ Hevly, Bruce William; Findlay, John M. (1998). The Atomic West. University of Washington Press. p. 208. ISBN 0-295-97716-7. 
  21. ^ Kauffman, Bill (2011-12-29) Iowa Votes for Peace, The American Conservative
  22. ^ Donna Reed at Find a Grave
  23. ^ "Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts". Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  24. ^ Whye, Mike (2004). The Great Iowa Touring Book: 27 Spectacular Auto Trips. Big Earth Publishing. p. 37. ISBN 1-931599-35-1. 
  25. ^ Fultz, Jay (1998). In Search Of Donna Reed. IA: University of Iowa Press. ISBN 0-87745-625-9. 
  26. ^ "Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts". Retrieved 2010-05-04. 
  27. ^ "Now Playing: Donna Reed – (TCM Original) May 2010". Retrieved 2010-05-03. 
  28. ^ "Now Playing: Donna Reed: Star of the Month – (TCM Original) Mary Anne Owen". Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  29. ^ a b King, Susan (2011-12-26). "Classic Hollywood: 'The Donna Reed Show'". Los Angeles Times. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]