Donna Reed


Actor
Donna Reed

About

Also Known As
Donna Adams, Donna Belle Mullenger
Birth Place
Denison, Iowa, USA
Born
January 27, 1921
Died
January 14, 1986
Cause of Death
Pancreatic Cancer

Biography

As the star of her own ABC sitcom between 1958 and 1966, Donna Reed epitomized selfless American motherhood, but her crowning achievement had been winning an Academy Award for playing a prostitute. Reed specialized in girl-next-door types after signing with MGM in 1941. Her role as a courageous Navy nurse in John Ford's "They Were Expendable" (1945) brought her to the attention of Frank ...

Photos & Videos

They Were Expendable - Behind-the-Scenes Photos - John Ford
See Here, Private Hargrove - Publicity Stills
Lassie Come Home - Behind-the-Scenes Stills

Family & Companions

William Tuttle
Husband
Makeup man.
Tony Owen
Husband
Producer. Second husband, produced "The Donna Reed Show," married 1945, divorced 1972.
Grover Asmus
Husband
Army colonel. Married 1975.

Bibliography

"In Search of Donna Reed"
Jay Fultz, University of Iowa Press (1998)
"Donna Reed: A Bio-Bibliography"
Royce, Brenda Scott, Greenwood Press (1990)

Notes

Co-chaired the anti-Vietnam organization Another Mother for Peace in 1970.

Biography

As the star of her own ABC sitcom between 1958 and 1966, Donna Reed epitomized selfless American motherhood, but her crowning achievement had been winning an Academy Award for playing a prostitute. Reed specialized in girl-next-door types after signing with MGM in 1941. Her role as a courageous Navy nurse in John Ford's "They Were Expendable" (1945) brought her to the attention of Frank Capra, who paired her with James Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). Long before it was canonized as a holiday classic, Capra's paean to small-town American life was written off as a failure, prompting the producers of the baseball biopic "The Stratton Story" (1949) to drop Reed from the cast when Stewart signed on. Reed rebounded with a role in Fred Zinnemann's "From Here to Eternity" (1953) and took home an Oscar for playing a hooker entangled in a tortured relationship with army private Montgomery Clift. Disappearing from public life after the cancellation of "The Donna Reed Show," the actress returned in 1984 to replace Barbara Bel Geddes for a season on the prime time ABC soap opera "Dallas" (1978-1991). Reed succumbed to pancreatic cancer early in 1986. The reevaluation of "It's a Wonderful Life" boosted Reed's posthumous Hollywood stock, drawing new fans to her signature roles and to an appreciation of her unique blend of beauty, intelligence and unflappable poise.

Donna Reed was born Donna Belle Mullenger in the small Iowa town of Dennison on Jan. 27, 1924. The first-born of five children, she grew up on her father's farm and was raised with her siblings in the Methodist faith. Reed attended Denison High School, graduating at the top of her class and winning the title of Beauty Queen. She had hoped to attend college with an aim toward becoming a teacher, but the family lacked sufficient funds to send her. On the advice of an aunt, Reed headed for Los Angeles, where secretarial courses at Los Angeles City College cost five dollars a semester. While a student at LACC, Reed participated in campus dramatics and was crowned Campus Queen. Scouts from the Hollywood studios began making offers of a contract but Reed insisted on finishing her secretarial studies, interested more in the promise of steady work as a stenographer and its median salary of $15 per week.

Reed was signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1941. That same year, she made her feature film debut as Donna Adams in the crime drama "The Get-Away." A remake of "Public Hero No. 1" (1935), the film found Reed's Irish-American nice girl Mary Theresa O'Reilly torn between loyalty to her gangster-on-the-lam brother Dan Dailey and the stirrings of love for undercover fed Robert Sterling. Additional wholesome roles followed in "Shadow of the Thin Man" (1941), with the actress cast as the girlfriend of murder suspect Paul Clarke, and opposite Mickey Rooney in "The Courtship of Andy Hardy" (1942), for which MGM played up Reed's childhood past by announcing that they would film the feature's trailer on the Mullenger family farm. Reed reteamed with Rooney for "The Human Comedy" (1943), while also appearing with Lionel Barrymore in both "Calling Dr. Gillespie" (1942) and "Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case" (1943), spin-offs of MGM's popular cycle of hospital films sparked by "Young Dr. Kildare" (1938).

An atypical role for Reed was as the Spanish heroine of "Apache Trail" (1942), opposite Lloyd Nolan and William Lundigan as a pair of outlaw brothers. She enjoyed third billing in Albert Lewin's Academy Award-winning "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1945), an adaptation of the novel by Oscar Wilde. Cast as the upright love interest of star Hurd Hatfield, Reed was overshadowed by Angela Landsbury's Golden Globe-winning turn as a dance hall singer who gets the worst of Dorian Gray. During World War II, her corn-fed Iowa beauty proved popular with U.S. troops stationed overseas and she played her part in the war effort by dancing with serviceman at the Hollywood Canteen. Between 1943 and 1945, Reed was married to makeup man William Tuttle. Obtaining a quickie divorce in Mexico, Reed married producer Tony Owen.

It was Reed's performance as a Navy nurse in John Ford's "They Were Expendable" (1945) that earned her consideration for the female lead in "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946). Capra had initially approached Jean Arthur and Ginger Rogers for the role of Mary Hatch, dutiful wife of James Stewart's beleaguered small-town hero. When both actresses turned him down, feeling the part was not dynamically proportionate to their star status, Capra requested that Reed be loaned from MGM to RKO Radio Pictures. Not an immediate success, "It's a Wonderful Life" attained cult status with the lapse of its copyright and repeat TV broadcasts. Next up, Reed was Lana Turner's sister in "Green Dolphin Street" (1947), a melodrama set against New Zealand's 1845 Maori uprising. She had been cast opposite Van Johnson in "The Stratton Story" (1949) but when Johnson was replaced by James Stewart, the film's producers dropped Reed in favor of June Allyson, fearful of reteaming the stars of the then-failed "It's a Wonderful Life."

At Paramount Pictures for Lewis Allen's flashback-driven "Chicago Deadline" (1949), Reed played comely murder victim Rosita D'Ur, whose sad tale comes to light through the pains of reporter Alan Ladd. Signed with Columbia Pictures, she appeared in Phil Karlson's "Scandal Sheet" (1952), as a resourceful newspaper reporter who helps colleague John Derek unmask Manhattan's Lonelyhearts Killer as their own editor-in-chief, Broderick Crawford. Reed seemed miscast as the aristocratic lover of pirate John Payne in the swashbuckler "Raiders of the Seven Seas" (1953) but her next assignment was a career changer. Tapped to appear with actor Aldo Ray in a screen test for Fred Zinnemann's "From Here to Eternity" (1953), Reed walked away with the role of Alma, a prostitute involved in a tortured love affair with a nonconformist army bugler - a role that went to Montgomery Clift. Among the film's many Academy Awards was one for Reed, as Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

Despite her Oscar win in a gritty role that was at impressive odds with her onscreen reputation for wholesomeness, Reed had difficulty capitalizing on her success. She enjoyed work in a few hit films, among them the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis vehicle "The Caddy" (1953) and "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (1954), which featured Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson as leads. As the Shoshoni guide Sacajawea, she nursed explorer Charlton Heston to health and interracial romance in "The Far Horizons" (1955), but she was reduced to tears and hand-wringing as the anguished mother of a kidnapped child in "Ransom!" (1956) with Glenn Ford. Cutting her losses on the big screen, Reed turned to the medium of television to make her next big career move.

"The Donna Reed Show" (ABC, 1958-1966) cast the 34-year-old actress as the quintessential TV mom, a loving wife and mother with an indispensable cache of tender words and good advice. Developed and produced by Reed with husband Tony Owen, the sitcom was not an instant hit with viewing audiences but ratings improved when it was shifted from Wednesdays to Thursday nights. By 1963, the series was among television's Top 25 shows, its popularity aided by hit songs recorded by Reed's juvenile co-stars Shelley Fabares and Paul Peterson. Between 1959 and 1962, Reed received four Emmy award nominations, and in 1963, she took home a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series.

Retreating to private life after the 1966 cancellation of her show, Reed stayed out of the limelight for more than a decade. An outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, she co-chaired the political advocacy group Another Mother for Peace. In 1971, Reed and Owen were divorced. In 1979, she returned to acting with a starring role in the NBC telefilm "The Best Place to Be," playing a lonely widow who takes her first uncertain steps toward a new beginning. In ABC's "Deadly Lessons" (1983), she was the autocratic and somewhat suspect headmistress of an exclusive finishing school plagued by a serial killer. In February 1984, Reed appeared in a two-hour special episode of "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986).

That same year, the producers of "Dallas" (ABC, 1978-1991) brought Reed in as a replacement for Barbara Bel Geddes, who had quit the primetime soap opera over unmet salary demands. Reed slipped easily into the role of oil matriarch Eleanor "Miss Ellie" Ewing, varying the characterization enough to make the part her own. The series' ratings remained consistently high during Reed's single season and at the end of her first year, her year contract was expanded to encompass two more. Yet when Bel Geddes approached the series' producers about returning to "Dallas," Reed was unceremoniously fired. Suing for breach of contract, Reed collected $1.25 million in damages. In December 1985, Reed was rushed to L.A.'s Cedars Sinai Hospital for treatment of a bleeding ulcer. A diagnosis was made of advanced pancreatic cancer. Given only a limited life expectancy, she was released from the hospital on Christmas Eve to be with her family. On Jan. 14, 1986, Reed succumbed to the disease, dying two weeks short of what would have been her 65th birthday.

By Richard Harland Smith

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Deadly Lessons (1983)
Miss Wade
Pepe (1961)
The Whole Truth (1958)
Carol Poulton
Beyond Mombasa (1957)
Ann Wilson
The Benny Goodman Story (1956)
Alice Hammond
Backlash (1956)
Karyl Orton
Ransom! (1956)
Edith Stannard
The Far Horizons (1955)
Sacajawea
The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)
Marion Ellswirth
Three Hours to Kill (1954)
Laurie Mastin
They Rode West (1954)
Laurie MacKaye
From Here to Eternity (1953)
Alma, also known as Lorene
The Caddy (1953)
Kathy Taylor
Gun Fury (1953)
Jennifer Ballard
Trouble Along the Way (1953)
Alice Singleton
Raiders of the Seven Seas (1953)
Alida
Hangman's Knot (1952)
Molly Hull
Scandal Sheet (1952)
Julie Allison
Saturday's Hero (1951)
Melissa
Chicago Deadline (1949)
Rosita Jean d'Ur
Beyond Glory (1948)
Ann Daniels
Green Dolphin Street (1947)
Marguerite Patourel
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Mary Hatch [Bailey]
Faithful in My Fashion (1946)
Jean Kendrick
They Were Expendable (1945)
Lt. Sandy Davyss
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Gladys Hallward
Gentle Annie (1944)
Mary Lingen
See Here, Private Hargrove (1944)
Carol Holliday
Thousands Cheer (1944)
The Human Comedy (1943)
Bess Macauley
Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case (1943)
Marcia Bradburn
The Man from Down Under (1943)
Mary Wilson
The Courtship of Andy Hardy (1942)
Melodie Nesbit
The Bugle Sounds (1942)
Sally Hanson
Apache Trail (1942)
Rosalia Martinez
Mokey (1942)
Anthea Delano
Calling Dr. Gillespie (1942)
Marcia Bradburn
Eyes in the Night (1942)
Barbara Lawry
Babes on Broadway (1942)
Secretary
The Get-Away (1941)
Maria Theresa O'Reilly
Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
Molly [Ford]

Cast (Special)

The American Film Institute Salute to Frank Capra (1982)
Performer

Cast (Short)

Screen Actors (1950)
Herself
Personalities (1942)
Herself

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

The Best Place to Be (1979)

Life Events

1941

Made first feature film appearances

1958

Played Donna Stone on the long-running ABC sitcom, "The Donna Reed Show"

1958

Played last leading role in a feature, "The Whole Truth"

1960

Last feature film appearance, a cameo in the star-studded box office bomb, "Pepe"

Photo Collections

They Were Expendable - Behind-the-Scenes Photos - John Ford
Here are several behind-the-scenes photos of John Ford directing the wartime drama They Were Expendable (1945), starring John Wayne, Robert Montgomery, and Donna Reed.
See Here, Private Hargrove - Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills from MGM's See Here, Private Hargrove (1944), starring Robert Walker and Donna Reed. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Lassie Come Home - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Lassie Come Home (1943), starring Lassie and Roddy McDowall.
Backlash - Publicity Stills
Backlash - Publicity Stills
Backlash - Scene Stills
Backlash - Scene Stills
Backlash - Movie Posters
Backlash - Movie Posters
Green Dolphin Street - Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken to help publicize MGM's Green Dolphin Street (1947), starring Lana Turner, Van Heflin, and Donna Reed. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
From Here to Eternity - Movie Posters
Here are a few original release movie posters for From Here to Eternity (1953), starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, and Donna Reed.
Trouble Along the Way - Movie Posters
Here are a few original movie posters from Warner Bros' Trouble Along the Way (1953), starring John Wayne and Donna Reed.
Shadow of the Thin Man - Donna Reed / Asta Publicity Stills
Here is a series of publicity stills taken of Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) co-star Donna Reed playing with Asta, her canine co-star from the film.
The Picture of Dorian Gray - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), starring George Sanders and Hurd Hatfield. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Ransom! - Donna Reed Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos of Donna Reed taken to help publicize MGM's Ransom! (1956). First is a series of Donna Reed shopping at a department store, follwed by a few photos of Reed modeling clothes.
The Last Time I Saw Paris - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from MGM's The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), starring Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson, and Walter Pidgeon. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Donna Reed - MGM Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills of Donna Reed, taken while under contract to MGM.
Mokey - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from MGM's Mokey (1942), starring Donna Reed and Bobby (Robert) Blake. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Ransom! - Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken to help publicize MGM's Ransom! (1956), starring Glenn Ford and Donna Reed. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
It's a Wonderful Life - Lobby Card Set
Here is a lobby card set from Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Courtship of Andy Hardy - Kapralik Trade Ad
Here is a trade ad for MGM's The Courtship of Andy Hardy (1942), starring Mickey Rooney. The art is by mixed-media caricaturist Jaques Kapralik. Trade Ads were placed by studios in industry magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

Videos

Movie Clip

See Here, Private Hargrove (1944) - Fort Bragg Date Bureau Robert Walker, the innocent title character, thinks Mulvehill and Esty (Keenan Wynn, George Offerman) have sold him a legit date through their bogus "date bureau" with widely-admired Carol (Donna Reed), whose uncle (Grant Mitchell) takes pity, in See Here, Private Hargrove, 1944.
Green Dolphin Street (1947) - The Tide May Not Wait None of the principals appear here (except Donna Reed and Lana Turner, as the sisters Patourel, in a portrait) but MGM’s intentions are declared, Dame May Whitty oversees the convent on the fictional Channel Island of St. Pierre, a boffo SF/X backdrop and a visit to Gladys Cooper as the mom, in the 1947 disaster melodrama Green Dolphin Street.
Green Dolphin Street (1947) - I Think I'll Be A Smuggler! The dazzling Patourel sisters (Lana Turner as Marianne, Donna Reed as Marguerite), on the fictional Channel Island of St. Pierre in the 1840’s, are observed by Van Heflin (as Timothy Haslam, with Ramsey Ames), then picnic with their handsome unorthodox new neighbor William (Richard Hart), early in MGM’s disaster-melodrama Green Dolphin Street, 1947.
Green Dolphin Street (1947) - I'm Bold And Scheming Introduction of the sisters Patourel, on a fictional Channel Island ca. 1840, Donna Reed as Marguerite with their mom (Gladys Cooper), and Lana Turner as self-assured (and brunette!) Marianne with papa (Edmund Gwenn), noticing the arrival of a hunky new neighbor (Richard Hart), not knowing yet that his father was her mother’s major first love, early in MGM’s Green Dolphin Street, 1947.
Green Dolphin Street (1947) - It Must Be St. Peter Donna Reed as 1840-something Channel Islander Marguerite is distraught over the (Spoiler!) consecutive deaths of her parents, wakened by the waves at the foot of the cliff-side convent, chooses to approach (though it’s not strictly necessary) through the old smuggler’s cave, thus a dramatic sequence for the MGM special effects team, in Green Dolphin Street, 1947.
Green Dolphin Street (1947) - Big Sea A big earthquake from MGM special effects wizards A. Arnold Gillespie and Warren Newcombe has already begun in what by now must be 1850-something New Zealand, Van Heflin is rescuing Lana Turner while Richard Hart, her husband on a nearby riverboat, is slow to recognize what the natives sense, in Green Dolphin Street, 1947.
They Were Expendable (1945) - Mr. Ryan's Guest Navy nurse and almost-girlfriend Sandy (Donna Reed) joins Rusty Ryan (John Wayne), his superior Brickley (Robert Montgomery) and cohorts for dinner and sentiment in the Philippines, in John Ford's They Were Expendable, 1945.
Scandal Sheet (1952) - Open, Blood All Over! Cracking opening to director Phil Karlson's Scandal Sheet, 1952, in which unscrupulous reporter McCleary (John Derek) gets gory details from a witness who thinks he's a cop.
Scandal Sheet (1952) - Thinking People Like It Too At their newspaper's "Lonely Hearts Ball," writer Julie (Donna Reed) sees boyfriend Steve (John Derek), photographer Biddle (Henry Morgan) and editor Chapman (Broderick Crawford) in Phil Karlson's Scandal Sheet, 1952.
Scandal Sheet (1952) - Stop The Presses! Audience knows but reporter McCleary (John Derek) doesn't, that editor Chapman (Broderick Crawford) is the killer in the murder story he's pitching in Phil Karlson's Scandal Sheet, 1952, from a Samuel Fuller novel.
Ransom! (1956) - Nurse In A Taxi Businessman Dave (Glenn Ford), at first angry that his son forgot their play-date, grows alarmed when wife Edith (Donna Reed) takes a disturbing call, trouble brewing in Ransom!, 1956.
They Were Expendable (1945) - Rather LIke Back Home Mostly on her initiative, Navy nurse Sandy (Donna Reed) and her recovering patient Lt. Ryan (John Wayne) have danced into seclusion during a party at the hospital, when his boss Brickley (Robert Montgomery) interrupts, on Corregidor, 1941, in John Ford's They Were Expendable, 1945.

Trailer

Caddy, The - (Original Trailer) Jerry Lewis hits the links while Dean Martin sings "That's Amore" in the comedy hit The Caddy (1953).
Far Horizons, The - (Original Trailer) Fred MacMurray and Charlton Heston play Lewis & Clark, setting off for The Far Horizons (1955) for President Jefferson.
Trouble Along the Way - (Original Trailer) A famous football coach (John Wayne) uses underhanded means to turn a bankrupt college's team into winners in Trouble Along the Way (1953).
Babes On Broadway - (Original Trailer) Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney "put on a show" in Busby Berkeley's Babes On Broadway (1941).
Shadow of the Thin Man -- (Original Trailer) Nick and Nora Charles find murder at the race track in Shadow Of The Thin Man (1941), the fourth of the "Thin Man" comedy mysteries.
Whole Truth, The - (Original Trailer) Stewart Granger is accused of murdering his mistress and it is up to wife Donna Reed to prove him innocent in The Whole Truth (1958).
Last Time I Saw Paris, The - (Original Trailer) A writer recalls his turbulent marriage to an expatriate heiress in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954), starring Elizabeth Taylor.
Eyes In The Night - (Original Trailer) Blind detective Duncan Maclain (Edward Arnold) gets mixed up with Nazi agents when he tries to help an old friend in Eyes In The Night (1942).
Man from Down Under, The - (Original Trailer) A World War I veteran (Charles Laughton) sneaks two orphans back to his native Australia in The Man From Down Under (1943).
Courtship of Andy Hardy, The - (Original Trailer) A teenager dates a girl whose parents' divorce is being decided by the local judge - his father in The Courtship of Andy Hardy (1942) starring Mickey Rooney.
Mokey - (Original Trailer) Newlywed Donna Reed tries to deal with her troubled stepchild Robert Blake in Mokey (1942).
Bugle Sounds, The - (Original Trailer) Old-time cavalry sergeant Wallace Beery's resistance to change could cost him his post in The Bugle Sounds (1942).

Family

Penny Jane Owen
Daughter
Adopted.

Companions

William Tuttle
Husband
Makeup man.
Tony Owen
Husband
Producer. Second husband, produced "The Donna Reed Show," married 1945, divorced 1972.
Grover Asmus
Husband
Army colonel. Married 1975.

Bibliography

"In Search of Donna Reed"
Jay Fultz, University of Iowa Press (1998)
"Donna Reed: A Bio-Bibliography"
Royce, Brenda Scott, Greenwood Press (1990)

Notes

Co-chaired the anti-Vietnam organization Another Mother for Peace in 1970.