More than ten years after her death, Donna Reed remains a cultural icon, loved and scorned. She personified the ideal homemaker on television. In the movies she was the archetypal sweetheart and wife. The only time she played a fallen woman, in From Here to Eternity, she won an Academy Award. Her work has lived on in saturation reruns of The Donna ...
More than ten years after her death, Donna Reed remains a cultural icon, loved and scorned. She personified the ideal homemaker on television. In the movies she was the archetypal sweetheart and wife. The only time she played a fallen woman, in From Here to Eternity, she won an Academy Award. Her work has lived on in saturation reruns of The Donna Reed Show and the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life. But who was Donna Reed? Perhaps no celebrity of her symbolic importance is so little known. Moving from the backroads of Iowa to the mansions of Bel Air, Jay Fultz goes in search of the woman behind the image. In Search of Donna Reed reveals a woman whose intelligence and force of character often put her at odds with the roles she portrayed both on and off screen. Reed, always angered by the treatment of women in Hollywood, turned political activist in middle age, confronting for the first time the arrogance of power. She was, said writer Barbara Avedon, a feminist before there was a feminist vocabulary. But she eludes any label. This first biography of Donna Reed also contains the first extended discussion of her television show. The personal richness that Reed brought to her television role has been filtered out in the caricature perpetuated by pop critics. In the media "Donna Reed" is Donna Stone distorted as a female-manque who wears pearls and high heels around the house. But Donna Reed's long hold on viewers depends on irreducible qualities that have nothing to do with this fixed image, as Fultz suggests. He follows her development from Iowa farm girl to apprentice in Hollywood to mature juggler of the demands of family and career to antiwar activist. Drawing on Reed'sletters and on interviews, Fultz looks for what was real in a very private person without discarding what is romantic in any pursuit of a public one. He shows why the rich and principled life of Donna Reed matters in this more cynical time.
Publishers Weekly, 1998-05-04 "Donna Reed probably came closer than any other actress to being the archetypal sweetheart, wife and mother," asserts Fultz, in this workmanlike biography. Probably best known as Mary in It's a Wonderful Life, the Iowa-born Reed (1921-1986) embodied the "nice" girl and the "good" woman in most of her films, although she earned an Oscar for her portrayal as a (rather sanitized) prostitute in From Here to Eternity. When film roles dwindled in the late 1950s, Reed turned to television and, with her producer husband, Tony Owen, developed The Donna Reed Show, which became a solid hit and ran for eight years. With the Vietnam War escalating in the 1960s, Reed, long a staunch Republican, began to move closer to the political center; as the mother of two sons of draftable age, she was committed to the antiwar effort. Her return to TV in the 1970s was marred by her unhappiness over what she saw as slipshod TV production and, later, her bitterness over her unexplained firing from Dallas in 1985. It was her last role, as she died in January 1986 of pancreatic cancer. The prose is often awkward ("Donna's two sons would be fodder for the Viet maw" or "Social life resumed in Sunny Cal"), and Fultz's efforts to characterize Reed as a feminist seem somewhat arbitrary, although in later life she did become more politicized. But what comes through most clearly is the image of a traditional woman committed to family?i.e., Donna Reed. (June) FYI: Fultz has served as editor of Univ. of Nebraska's Bison Books and was the primary source for A&E's Biography presentation of the life of Donna Reed. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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