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Donna Reed was born Donna Belle Mullenger on a farm in Iowa in 1921. She won a local beauty pageant as a teen, and then went to college in Los Angeles. While in college she was in some plays, and was seen by MGM scouts, and was signed to a contract, but she finished college before making her first movie in 1941. After some small roles she essentially played the female lead in The Courtship of Andy Hardy, but she mostly appeared in secondary roles in many MGM films (they put her in 18 movies in five years). During WWII she was very popular with soldiers, both because she really looked like the "girl next door" and because she personally replied to many letters from GIs. A big break came in 1946 when she was loaned to RKO as the female lead of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. That led to better roles than she had had before, but in mostly forgettable movies. In 1953, she played the key role of Alma 'Lorene' Burke in Fred Zinnemann's From Here To Eternity (winner of the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for this film). In the novel, the character was a prostitute, but most of the steamy aspects of the novel had to be drastically changed in order to bring it to the screen in those much more innocent times, and the character became a bizarre "hostess" at a club, and it made sense to cast squeaky clean Donna Reed in the role. Reed and the entire movie were much praised, and she won the Best Actress Oscar. But her roles didn't get much better, and she began to do some TV, and in 1958 she got her third big break when she starred in The Donna Reed Show, as one of the quintessential housewives and stay at home moms of the 1950s, Donna Stone (the show was somewhat over-shadowed by the equally popular Father Knows Best, but both shows had very appealing casts and covered very similar ground). Reed had one more time in the spotlight in 1984, when she agreed to replace Barbara Bel Geddes in the role of Miss Ellie in the very popular TV show Dallas after Bel Geddes quit the show. When Bel Geddes agreed to come back a year later, Reed was fired, and she sued the shows producers and settled for over a million dollars! She passed away in 1986 at the age of 64 from pancreatic cancer.
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