We Should All Be Like Donna Reed

Donald Trump said something interesting the other day. It wasn’t about the pandemic, the upcoming election, or how frightening everything is right now. Nope, he said that the women reporters “aren’t like Donna Reed.” Hmm. Well, this is true. Many don’t have her flipped up hair, the practical dresses. But here’s the deal: Donna Reed (who would’ve been 100 next year) probably would’ve been sewing up masks, sending food to first responders, and rooting the women asking the hard questions. She was that type of person.

Mr. Trump probably doesn’t remember the role that won Donna Reed an Oscar: Lorene, the sex worker who has a thing for Montgomery Clift’s Robert E. Lee Prewitt in the adaptation of James Jones’ novel From Here to Eternity. Lorene tries to support Prewitt as he wrestles with his conscience about not joining a boxing tournament and the murder of his best friend. He probably doesn’t remember she played Mary Hatch Bailey, the loyal wife in It’s a Wonderful Life, who with husband George (James Stewart) faced down mean Mr. Potter. Odds are, Trump might’ve watched the movie and thought “Geez, why are they hating on Potter? He looks like a swell guy!”

It’s easy, as Lorelai and Rory Gilmore did in the Gilmore Girls episode “That Damned Donna Reed,” to dismiss Reed as a cheerful housewife cleaning windows and dinner on the table at six. This is what Trump wants women reporters to be: happy and supportive, not asking the hard questions. What he might not know is this: Reed developed the show with then-husband Tony Owen and screenwriter William S. Roberts. Reed’s Donna Stone was yes, a housewife. But she was also smart, funny, and other than Lucille Ball was the second woman to have a show named for her. It wasn’t The Carl Betz Show (who played the husband) No, Donna Reed was the star, and proud of it. She told the Chicago American Sunday TV Roundup “We have proved on our show that the public really does want to see a healthy woman, not a girl, not a neurotic, not a sexpot…I am so fed up with immature ‘sex’ and stories about kooky, amoral, sick women.” Not sure how Lorene would feel about this, but Reed knew what she wanted to present to the country. She also arranged for her hours to be shortened around the sixth season, so she could have more time with her family.

When the show ended, Vietnam was starting to get ugly. Reed was a Republican but when her son Tony turned eighteen, she knew he could be drafted. With Barbara Avedon, a writer for TDRS (and later co-created Cagney and Lacey) they created the activist group Another Mother For Peace. One of their first actions was a Mother’s Day card which soon would be duplicated and end up in many a dorm room in the late sixties early seventies: a picture (Done by artist Lorraine Art Schneider) of a sunflower on a yellow background. Written in black was this simple phrase: War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Congressmen received countless cards. They launched letter-writing campaigns and made appearances at colleges to try and stop the war. Later on, Reed also came out against nuclear weapons. She was resisting war in all forms, and, in Mitch McConnell’s words, persisting.

This is part of a movie AMFP produced called Another Family for Peace, spotlighting Peg and Gene Mullen who lost their son Michael to Friendly Fire:


In 1984, Reed came out of retirement. She was offered the role of Miss Ellie on Dallas. Actress Barbara Bel Geddes had quadruple bypass surgery the year before and decided to leave the show. The producers replaced her with Reed. When I was a kid watching the show, I knew Reed wasn’t a good fit. The directors didn’t give Reed good notes or help her capture Miss Ellie’s warmth, her kindness.

Her third husband Grover Asmus (as told to E! The True Hollywood Story) told her to quit. She refused, then continued with the show. If I had been writing the show, I might’ve had Reed be a social-climbing matron challenging JR for valuable oil fields. However, Reed thought she was going to return for another season. Instead, she found out that Bel Geddes was coming back as Ellie and Reed was fired. I don’t blame Bel Geddes. I blame the producers who treated Reed terribly. Reed, however, decided not to just sit there and take it. She sued to halt production of the show-the the second-highest-rated series of the country at the time, to shoot scenes involving Miss Ellie. When she lost that battle, she sued the show for breach of contract. She settled for one million dollars. Four months later, she found out she pancreatic cancer. She died on January 14th, 1986.

So here’s the deal: the reporters are not letting anything get by them. They’re standing up for what they believe in. They’re doing what DJ Mama O’Shea did on her KPFA radio show: Shouting out and fighting back. They’re not taking anything lying down.

In short, they’re acting like Donna Reed.

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