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Actress Donna Reed charmed audiences in the film It's a Wonderful Life and on television's The Donna Reed Show.
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Donna Reed was born Donna Belle Mullenger on January 27, 1921, in Denison, Iowa. Her show business career was launched when her college photo appeared in the Los Angeles Times, attracting the notice of agents and studio executives. She went on to star in such films as It's a Wonderful Life, and her TV sitcom The Donna Reed Show ran for eight seasons on ABC. She died of pancreatic cancer in 1986.
Actress. Born Donna Belle Mullenger (she would later change it to Donna Reed), on January 27, 1921, in Denison, Iowa. The oldest of five children, the 16-year-old Reed left America's heartland to attend secretarial school at Los Angeles City College. When she was named Campus Queen of the local college, her photograph appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. The striking beauty was inundated with offers from agents and studio executives. Reed signed with the prestigious Feldman-Blum agency, after which she gave an impressive screen test for MGM, who signed her to a studio contract.
Reed first gained a foothold in show business, in 1941, with supporting roles in the thriller Shadow of the Thin Man, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy; and the musical Babes on Broadway, featuring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. The two projects proved to be auspicious debuts, winning Reed attention and positive notice. Shortly after, she landed a succession of more substantial parts in popular features, such as Calling Dr. Gillespie (1942) and See Here, Private Hargrove (1944). In 1945, she was featured in her first mainstream role as Gladys Hallward in the film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's haunting novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was a box office success despite mixed reviews from critics.
After several years of grooming by MGM in bland studio fare, Reed was lent out to Frank Capra's Liberty Films for the independent picture, It's a Wonderful Life (1946). The film, which featured Reed as Jimmy Stewart's wife (Mary Hatch Bailey), barely got off the ground at the box office, but went on to become a perennial holiday favorite.
Limited to squeaky-clean parts, Reed endured several more years of unrewarding projects. However in 1956, she staged a remarkable comeback when she was cast in the prized role of Alma, the dancehall prostitute in From Here to Eternity (1953). Featuring the stellar cast of Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr and Frank Sinatra, the film swept the 1954 Oscars securing a total of eight wins, including a Best Supporting Actress Award for Reed.
In spite of Hollywood's prestigious acknowlegement, Reed's career remained stagnant. As a result, Donna and her husband Tony Owens decided to launch their own production company, Todon Productions.
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Explore our collection of Best Supporting Actress Oscar winners, including Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie, Penelope Cruz, Octavia Spencer, Juliette Binoche, Marisa Tomei and Whoopi Goldberg. View full biographies, photos and videos, only at Biography.com.
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In the early days of television, actresses of the small screen often reflected the traditional roles of women in society. TV moms of the 1950s managed to keep a tidy home; serve as an attentive ear to family troubles; and have dinner waiting—all while keeping every hair in place. Jane Wyatt epitomized the archetypal housewife and mother on Father Knows Best, while Donna Reed made running a household look easy on The Donna Reed Show. These women, and many more like them, laid the groundwork for future female acting roles, and served as inspiration to the women watching at home.
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