Donna Reed (born Donna Belle Mullenger; January 27, 1921 – January 14, 1986) was an American actress. Her career spanned more than 40 years, with performances in more than 40 films. She is well known for her role as Mary Hatch Bailey in Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life. In 1953, she received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Lorene Burke in the war drama From Here to Eternity.
Reed is known for her work in television, notably as Donna Stone, a middle-class American mother and housewife in the sitcom The Donna Reed Show (1958–1966), in which her character was more assertive than most other television mothers of the era. She received numerous Emmy Award nominations for this role and the Golden Globe Award for Best TV Star in 1963.
Reed was born Donna Belle Mullenger on a farm near Denison, Iowa, the eldest of five children.
In 1936, while she was a sophomore at Denison High School, her chemistry teacher Edward Tompkins gave her the book How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book is said to have greatly influenced her life.
After graduating from Denison High School, Reed decided to move to California to attend Los Angeles City College on the advice of her aunt. While attending college, she signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with the condition of finishing her education first.
In 1941 after signing with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Reed made her film debut in The Get-Away opposite Robert Sterling. MGM soon changed her name to Donna Reed, as there was anti-German feeling during World War II.
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 (1942). She also had a support role in The Human Comedy (1943) with Mickey Rooney, a big film for MGM. That year, she was married to make-up artist William Tuttle, but the marriage only lasted two years.
Her "girl-next-door" good looks and warm onstage personality made her a popular pin-up for many GIs during World War II.
In 1945 after divorcing her first husband, Donna Reed married producer Tony Owen. They raised four children together, with the two older children being adopted.
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.
Reed later said it was "the most difficult film I ever did. No director ever demanded as much of me."
Back at MGM she appeared in Green Dolphin Street (1947) with Lana Turner and Van Heflin, a big hit.
In June 1950 Reed signed a contract with Columbia Studios.
In 1953, Donna Reed played the role of Alma "Lorene" Burke, girlfriend of Montgomery Clift's character in the World War II drama From Here to Eternity (1953). The role earned Reed an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
But the qualities of her parts did not seem to improve afterwards.
In 1954, she returned to MGM to act in The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)which starred Elizabeth Taylor.
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 on ABC and Reed won a Golden Globe Award and earned four Emmy Award nominations for her work on the series.
When The Donna Reed Show ended its run in 1966, Reed took time off from acting to concentrate on raising her children and engaging in political activism. She returned to acting in the late '70s, appearing in some TV movies.
In 1971, Donna Reed and her second husband Tony Owen divorced after 26 years of marriage.
Three years later, Reed married Grover W. Asmus (1926–2003), a retired United States Army colonel. They remained married until her death in 1986.
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 illness three months earlier and told it was at a terminal stage.