January 27, 1921 – January 14, 1986
Today (5/2/07) I wrote this story for Leeza Gibbons’s Hollywood Confidential Mother’s Day show, which is why this reads like a bio. Leeza is big supporter of me, and Dearly Departed Tours. I asked her today about Heather Mills. I had to. Leeza, whom I believe would be honest, told me she only knew Heather as nice, and caring. Heather adores the daughter she had with Paul, and even phoned Leeza several times after being kicked off Dancing with the Stars. So there you are, I’m honestly rethinking my opinion of the skank. Heather, not Leeza. Anyway, back to Donna.
In 1921, Donna Belle Mullenger was born in Iowa in a town of 3000, and right after high school she left for the bright lights of Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming a clerical worker. While in LA City College, she appeared in a few plays and won the award of Campus Queen in 1940. After seeing her photograph in the paper, THREE studios pursued her. According to her studio bio – Donna put Hollywood on hold until she completed her degree, then MGM signed her.
Her first film was The Get Away, and she went on to perform in such classics as The Picture of Dorian Gray and of course, It’s a Wonderful Life. More info here.
She won an Academy Award for her performance in From Here to Eternity, and moved on to a very successful 8 year run on television with the Donna Reed Show.
After her show ran its course, she semi retired to raise her children. In the late 60s, she shocked America by becoming an activist, speaking out against the Vietnam war, and in the 70s, protesting nuclear power.
She enjoyed popularity with a new generation when she was cast as Barbara Bel Geddes replacement in the Night Soap DALLAS – when Bel Geddes took ill (heart issues). Fortunately for Bel Geddes, she recovered and unfortunately for Reed, returned to work in less than a year. Reed filed a lawsuit to be reinstated in the cast, but lost out. As a consolation, she was awarded one million dollars.
Divorced twice, Donna was married to retired Army Col. Grover Asmus, and the two lived in a very modest bungalow just around the corner from the famous Witch’s House in Beverly Hills.
Here is another view circa 1997.
Again, Beverly Hills has no historical society. I know Donna Reed hardly merits a preservation order, but others certainly do.
In late 1985 she was admitted to Cedars Sinai Medical Center for bleeding ulcers, and upon further exploratory surgery, cancer was found.
On January 14, 1986, she succumbed to pancreatic cancer in her home, with her husband at her side.
She was only 64 years old.
She is buried in Westwood Memorial Park, where her neighbors include Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood and Dean Martin.
A museum honoring Donna exists in Iowa. My pal Brian told me that Donna’s Oscar actually made a solo appearance at the Iowa State Fair.