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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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The ambitious couple sought to translate Reed's film talent into success in the increasingly influential medium of television. With the demise of her motion picture career, Todon Productions launched The Donna Reed Show (1958-66), which provided the perfect vehicle to display the actress as the picture of sophisticated charm. In 1958,
the family sitcom premiered and Reed came to personify the quintessential mother of suburban America. The series enjoyed an eight-year run, during which she received four Emmy nominations.
After ABC retired the series in 1966, Reed's career predominantly consisted of minor parts in forgettable TV projects. However in 1984, she signed a three-year contract to play the juicy role of Miss Ellie on the popular TV series Dallas. After only one season, she was unceremoniously fired from the hit show. Infuriated by her abrupt dismissal, she successfully sued the production company for breech of contract.
On a personal level, Reed led a far more complex life than the characters she played. During the 1970s, she was a fervent anti-nuclear weapon and anti-war activist, co-chairing the protest organization "Another Mother for Peace."
In 1986, the resilient actress lost her two-year bout with pancreatic cancer; she died in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 64. Later that year, friends and family created The Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts, which awards scholarships to young people studying the Arts.
Reed's first two marriages, to makeup artist William Tuttle and producer Tony Owen, ended in divorce. Upon her death, she was survived by her third husband Grover Asmus, whom she married in 1975.
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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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