Italian postcard by Bromofoto, Milano, no. 1213. Photo: Edizioni Economiche Romana.
Belgian postcard, no. 3112. Photo: Metro Goldyn Mayer.
Belgian postcard, no. 3128. Photo: Donna Reed in Green Dolphin Street (Victor Saville, 1947).
How to Win Friends and Influence People
Donna Reed was born Donna Belle Mullenger on a farm near Denison, Iowa, in 1921. She was the daughter of Hazel Jane and William Richard Mullenger. The eldest of five children, she was raised as a Methodist.
In 1936, while she was a sophomore at Denison (Iowa) High School, her chemistry teacher Edward Tompkins gave her the book 'How to Win Friends and Influence People'. Upon reading it she won the lead in the school play, was voted Campus Queen, and was in the top 10 of the 1938 graduating class.
After graduating from Denison High School, 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, although she had no plans to become an actress.
After receiving several offers to screen test for studios, Reed eventually signed with MGM. Reed made her film debut in The Get-Away (Edward Buzzell, 1941). She had a support role in Shadow of the Thin Man (W. S. Van Dyke, 1941) and in Wallace Beery's The Bugle Sounds (S. Sylvan Simon, 1942).
Like many starlets at MGM, she played opposite Mickey Rooney in an Andy Hardy film, in her case the hugely popular The Courtship of Andy Hardy (George B. Seitz, 1942). Reed starred in the drama Calling Dr. Gillespie (Harold S. Bucquet, 1942), featuring Lionel Barrymore, and Apache Trail (Richard Thorpe, 1942).
Then she did a thriller with Edward Arnold, Eyes in the Night (Fred Zinnemann, 1942). Reed had a support role in The Human Comedy (Clarence Brown, 1943) with Mickey Rooney, a big film for MGM. She was one of many MGM stars to make cameos in Thousands Cheer (George Sidney, 1943). Produced at the height of the Second World War, the film was intended as a morale booster for American troops and their families.
Her "girl-next-door" good looks and warm onstage personality made her a popular pin-up for many GIs during World War II. She personally answered letters from many GIs serving overseas. She was in the Oscar Wilde adaptation The Picture of Dorian Gray (Albert Lewin, 1945) and played a nurse in John Ford's They Were Expendable (1945), opposite John Wayne.
MGM was very enthusiastic about Reed's prospects at this time. Reed was top-billed in a romantic comedy Faithful in My Fashion (Sidney Salkow, 1946) with Tom Drake which lost money. MGM lent her 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.
Back at MGM, she appeared in Green Dolphin Street (Victor Saville, 1947) with Lana Turner and Van Heflin. It was a big hit. Reed was borrowed by Paramount to make two films with Alan Ladd, Beyond Glory (John Farrowm 1948), where she replaced Joan Caulfield at the last moment, and the Film Noir Chicago Deadline (Lewis Allen, 1949). In 1949 she expressed a desire for better roles.
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W 467. Photo: Paramount.
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W 488. Photo: M.G.M. Donna Reed, Richard Hart, and Lana Turner in Green Dolphin Street (Victor Saville, 1947).
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 669. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
From Here to Eternity
In 1950, Donna Reed signed a contract with Columbia Studios. She appeared in two Film Noirs which teamed her with John Derek, Saturday's Hero (David Miller, 1951), and Scandal Sheet (Phil Karlson, 1952). Reed was the love interest of Randolph Scott in the Western Hangman's Knot (Roy Huggins, 1952), then was borrowed by Warner Bros for the comedy Trouble Along the Way (Michael Curtiz, 1953) with John Wayne. She was loaned out to play John Payne's love interest in Raiders of the Seven Seas (Edward Small, 1953).
Reed played the role of Alma "Lorene" Burke, the girlfriend of Montgomery Clift's character, in the World War II drama From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953). The role earned Reed an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for 1953.
However, the qualities of her parts did not seem to improve: she was the love interest in The Caddy (Norman Taurog, 1953) with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis at Paramount; the Western Gun Fury (Raoul Walsh, 1953) with Rock Hudson; and the Western Three Hours to Kill (Alfred L. Werker, 1954) with Dana Andrews.
Reed returned to MGM to act in the romantic drama The Last Time I Saw Paris (Richard Brooks, 1954) with Elizabeth Taylor. Reed began guest-starring on television shows such as The Ford Television Theatre, Tales of Hans Andersen, General Electric Theater, and Suspicion.
She continued to appear in features, usually as the love interest, in The Benny Goodman Story (1956) with Steve Allen, playing Goodman's wife; Ransom! (Alex Segal, 1956) as Glenn Ford's wife; the Western Backlash (John Sturges, 1956), with Richard Widmark. In Kenya, she filmed Beyond Mombasa (George Marshall, 1957), with Cornel Wilde. She was injured while making the film. In England, she shot The Whole Truth (John Guillermin, 1958), with Stewart Granger.
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 wife of pediatrician Alex Stone (Carl Betz) and mother of Jeff (Paul Petersen) and Mary Stone (Shelley Fabares). Reed was attracted to the idea of being in a comedy, something with which she did not have much experience. She also liked playing a wife. The show ran for eight seasons. Reed won a Golden Globe Award and earned four Emmy Award nominations for her work on the series.
Later in her career, Reed replaced Barbara Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow in the 1984–1985 season of the television melodrama Dallas. When she was abruptly fired upon Bel Geddes' decision to return to the show, she sued the production company for breach of contract.
From 1943 to 1945, Donna Reed was married to make-up artist William Tuttle. After they divorced, in 1945 she married producer Tony Owen. They raised four children together: 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 Grover W. Asmus, a retired United States Army colonel. They remained married until her death in 1986.
Donna Reed died of pancreatic cancer in Beverly Hills, California, in 1986, 13 days shy of her 65th birthday. Her remains are interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, Minden/Westf., no. 1631. Photo: Columbia. Donna Reed and Rock Hudson in Gun Fury (Raoul Walsh, 1953).
Belgian collectors card by De Beukelaer, Anvers/Antwerpen (Antwerp), no. A 29. Photo: Paramount.
American arcade postcard.
Vintage collectors card. Photo: Paramount.
Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.