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Academy Award-winning actress – for From Here To Eternity (1953) – Donna Reed became the star of this television sitcom in 1958.
The series was one of US television’s most popular domestic comedies, and the beautiful Ms Reed became one of America’s favourite TV personalities.
Reed played Donna Stone, an all-American stay-at-home wife and mother, whose husband, Alex (Carl Betz) was a work-at-home paediatrician in the small town of Hilldale.
The Stones had three children, Mary, Jeff and Trisha.
Mary (Shelley Fabares) first attended Hilldale High School then an unnamed college. She frequented the Blue Lantern, a burger and soft drink place and after dances, she and her friends hung out at Kelzey’s Malt Shop. Her favourite place for dancing was the Round Robin.
Jeff (Paul Petersen) had perfect pitch but no other discernible musical talent. As a kid, he put on puppet shows for his friends with a marionette named Bongo and attended Hilldale High School.
Bebe Barnes (Candy Moore) was his girlfriend and Smitty (Darryl Richard) was his best friend. Jimmy Hawkins played a series of Jeff’s other friends: George Haskell, Jerry Hager, Jerry Scott and Scotty Simpson.
Trisha (Patty Petersen), a young girl whose parents had died was being raised by her uncle, Fred Hawley (Charles Carlson), who had hired a woman to care for her.
One day, while the Stones were playing touch football in a nearby park, Trisha (who was longing for a family) attached herself to them. When Donna and Alex met Fred and Fred learned that Trisha was not happy with him, he allowed the Stones to adopt her.
The family suffered through all the usual domestic trials and tribulations – such as measles, problems with boyfriends and girlfriends, academic struggles, fibs etc – that were common in family-oriented TV comedies of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The show’s theme music, Happy Days, introduced viewers to a half-hour of delightful, wholesome TV entertainment, and even TV critics agreed that The Donna Reed Show was well worth tuning in to see.
The show remained high in the ratings for an impressive eight years, making it one of American television’s longest-running sitcoms.
Also appearing regularly on the show were Kathleen Freeman as the Stones’ nosy neighbour, Mrs Wilgus; Harvey Grant as Jeff’s friends Philip and Bob Crane and Ann McCrea as the Stones’ friends and neighbours, Dr Dave and Midge Kelsey.
At the height of the show’s popularity, both Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen launched singing careers and recorded several hit teenybopper singles, including Johnny Angel (Fabares) and My Dad and She Can’t Find Her Keys (Petersen).
Reruns of The Donna Reed Show appeared as early as 1964 and ran concurrently with first-run shows until 1968 – a first for television comedy.
Dr Dave Kelsey