Hollywood Legend: Donna Reed

By: Mike McCrann

For millions of Americans Donna Reed will always be Donna Stone from her wildly successful TV show or Mary Bailey from the classic It's A Wonderful Life. But she was so much more. Donna Reed was a real beauty who possessed a natural talent that would win her an Academy Award for her portrayal of a prostitute in From Here To Eternity.

Born on a farm in Dennison, Iowa, Donna Belle Mullenger moved to L.A. to attend Los Angeles City College. While in school she appeared in several stage productions and was signed to a long term contract with MGM. After the usual starlet roles in several Mickey Rooney films, Reed's co-starred opposite Robert Walker in See Here, Private Hargrove. This war time film made Donna Reed and Robert Walker stars.

She followed with The Picture of Dorian Gray (in the good girl part, not the showy role that went to Angela Lansbury) and the great John Ford classic They Were Expendable.

In 1946 Donna Reed was lent to RKO to play the role of her life in Frank Capra's It'a A Wonderful Life. Donna was way down on the list of actresses up for the part but many bigger names like Ginger Rogers and Olivia de Havilland had turned it down. We can thank the movie gods that Capra chose Donna Reed as she was/is the epitome of natural beauty and radiance. Co-starring James Stewart in the performance of his life, the movie has entered the pantheon of American film classics.

When this didn't lead to more great roles back at MGM, Donna left for a contract at Columbia Pictures. When Hollywood heard that wholesome Donna Reed had been cast as a prostitute in From Here To Eternity, there was shock. But she surprised everyone by winning the 1953 Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Donna_reed_2 Donna Reed became a true superstar when she  moved to television starring in The Donna Reed Show. Running for eight years, this popular show cast her as the wife of a pediatrician and the mother of two children.

Surprisingly, farm girl Donna Reed vocally opposed the war in Vietnam and helped form the Another Mother for Peace movement. When she died of cancer at the age of 65 in 1986, the world lost one of its most beautiful and complex artists. From farm girl to anti war activist, Donna Reed was a gorgeous woman and a fine actress. Every year Donna Reed's hometown in Iowa hosts the Donna Reed Festival and her Academy Award is on permanent display.

Essential Donna Reed

They Were Expendable

This great John Ford classic co-starred John Wayne and Robert Montgomery as PT boat pilots on the Philippines during the fall to the Japanese. Donna played the nurse Sandy and was totally radiant even though she wore nothing but military fatigues.

It's A Wonderful Life

What can you say about a movie that has gone from a semi hit (not a total flop as always reported) to being a Christmas classic. Remove all your preconceptions and the hype and just concentrate on the romance between Donna Reed and James Stewart.

From Here To Eternity

Director Fred Zinnemann cast against type in this film with both Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed playing roles miles away from their earlier work. As Alma "Lorene" Burke, Reed sizzled in her scenes with Montgomery Clift.