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Arts & Life

Remembering Donna Reed 100 Years Later

Donna Reed
Turner Classic Movies

Donna Reed, the legendary Hollywood actress and Iowa native, is often remembered for playing charming and tender characters throughout her television and film career.

Her success in Hollywood earned her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award and four Emmy nominations.

She was born 100 years ago today, on Jan. 27, 1921, on a farm near Denison, Iowa. From those humble beginnings, she became a film icon, celebrated for her skill as an actress and for her charitable foundation supporting the performing arts.

Her decades-long acting career started in 1941, when she appeared in three movies, including “Shadow of the Thin Man,” with William Powell and Myrna Loy. She soon shared the screen with other Hollywood legends, including Lionel Barrymore, Mickey Rooney and John Wayne (another Iowa native) before she made a lasting impression alongside Jimmy Stewart in Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

After a few more films playing Hollywood’s “nice girl,” including “Faithful in My Fashion” (1946), “Green Dolphin Street” (1947) and “Trouble Along the Way” (1953), she finally broke typecast. In a surprising role as a prostitute, Reed delivered a moving performance in the Best Picture winner “From Here to Eternity” (1953), netting her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Reed later made a career for herself in television, starring as a loving housewife and mother in “The Donna Reed Show,” which aired from 1958 to 1966. Her role in the popular sitcom earned her four Emmy Award nominations and one Golden Globe Award.

She retired from the screen for over ten years to raise her children and engage in political activism against the Vietnam War. She returned only for a few TV roles in the early 1980s, but was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in late 1985. Reed died from the illness a few months later on Jan. 14, 1986, just 13 days before her 65th birthday.

Her talent lives on in the many roles she played, both on-screen and off. Through the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts, young students continue to receive performing arts scholarships, and her hometown of Denison honors her legacy annually at the Donna Reed Festival.