For 8 seasons, The Donna Reed Show provided Baby Boomers with a sort of Mother Knows Best amid a ton of family sitcoms focused on the father.
Cast as Donna Stone, Donna presided over a family with the proverbial sweet and lovely oldest daughter, Mary (Shelly Fabres) and mischievous, mildly rebellious son, Jeff (Paul Peterson).
Her TV husband Alex, played by Carl Betz, was a pediatrician who worked out of their home! Can you imagine any pediatrician doing that today? Also, can you imagine any pediatrician living in such modest accommodations?
The location for the show was the town of Hilldale. But in what state Hilldale was located was never mentioned.
At its peak, the show attempted to duplicate the success Ricky Nelson was having on the pop charts. Both Fabres and Peterson did find chart success with “Johnny Angel,” “She Can’t Find Her Keys” and “My Dad.” But neither really built credible singing careers.
The show also provided a launch pad for Bob Crane. He was a popular L.A. deejay who wanted an acting career. He was cast as Alex’s doctor buddy, Dave Kelsey. From there, Crane was able to land the title role in Hogan’s Heroes.
In The Donna Reed Show’s 6th season (1963), the Stones adopted an orphan named Trisha. For an orphan, she bore a strange resemblance to the Stone’s son. That’s because in real life, she was his sister Patty Peterson. Maybe Dr. Stone wasn’t so wholesome after all.
As the 60s wore on, we started wanting our sitcoms with more gimmicks, like witches, genies and flying nuns; so, Donna Reed called it a day in 1966.
A few things you may not have known about Donna Reed:
- She was a pin-up during WWII and saved over 300 letters she received from GIs in a shoebox.
- She once milked a cow on the set of It’s a Wonderful Life to win a bet with Lionel Barrymore.
- She replaced Barbara Bel Geddes on Dallas & successfully sued the show when Bel Geddes returned and she was fired.
- When Nickelodeon acquired the reruns rights to The Donna Reed Show, that’s what inspired them to create Nick at Nite!
- You can still find her recipe for bundt cake online