In Search of Donna Reed

In Search of Donna Reed

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“Based on extensive interviews and research, Jay Fultz's biography engagingly traces Donna Mullenger Reed's life from a rural Iowa childhood to stardom in film (It's a Wonderful Life) and television (The Donna Reed Show) to her sometimes surprising later years.”—Charles Maland, University of Tennessee

“I fell in love with Donna Reed while viewing her as an army nurse in a scene of They Were Expendable. I never fell out of love in the years I interviewed her as an AP reporter. Jay Fultz has captured the real Donna, her wisdom and her Iowa spunk, in a work of scholarship—and love.”—Bob Thomas, Associated Press

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-manqué 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's letters 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.

Table of contents: 



1. From Iowa

2. To California

3. Learning with Leo

4. A Wonderful Life

5. To Eternity

6. From Eternity

7. The Donna Reed Show

8. After the Show