8 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘The Donna Reed Show’
At a time when essentially all family sitcoms revolved around the father figure (Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet), The Donna Reed Show was different. Airing on ABC from 1958-66, the series placed Donna Stone (Reed) at the center of the domestic front (Mother Knows Best was briefly considered as a title) in an effort to demonstrate how demanding the role of a stay-at-home wife really was. The show was well received, peaked at No. 16 and earned Reed several Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe for Best TV Star — Female. Here are eight things you (probably) didn’t know about The Donna Reed Show.
Milton Berle almost got the show canceled. The series initially went up against his popular Texaco Star Theater, and The Donna Reed Show’s ratings were poor. ABC almost pulled the plug but instead moved it to a different night, and ratings improved.
In the ’50s, moving to television was a risky move for a movie star. Reed and her husband Tony Owen followed the leads of other ex-movie stars Lucille Ball (with Desi Arnaz) and Loretta Young (with Tom Lewis) and produced the show under the banner of their own production company, Todon Productions.
Someone involved with the show was a baseball fan. Guest stars included Los Angeles Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale, New York/San Francisco Giants and New York Mets Hall of Fame centerfielder Willie Mays, and New York Giants and Chicago Cubs manager (and former player and Hall of Famer) Leo Durocher.
The show’s siblings could sing. Costar Shelley Fabares, who played Reed’s teenage daughter Mary, debuted her single “Johnny Angel” in a 1962 episode called “Donna’s Prima Donna.” The song hit No. 1 and sold over a million copies. Paul Petersen, who played Mary’s younger brother Jeff, released his own single the same year. His tune “My Dad” made it to No. 6.
Donna and Tony bought Petersen a new car after he crashed his Pontiac Grand Prix during filming of the series. It was a Volkswagen Bug.
In 1963, Fabares asked for a reduced role so she could pursue film opportunities. Petersen’s real-life sister Patty was cast as a runaway orphan the family adopts after Mary leaves for college.
Ratings peaked after the series added Bob Crane to the cast in Season 6. Crane played a neighbor and friend of the family’s, Dave Kelsey, and was so popular he eventually received billing in the opening credits. He was on the show for two years before leaving to star in Hogan’s Heroes.
Controversy over the show emerged years after its original run ended. Reed and women’s liberation supporters of the 1970s didn’t see eye to eye on it. The latter accused the series of showcasing an unrealistic portrait of a modern woman and a stereotype of the impossibly perfect wife and mother. Reed felt otherwise and said the show was noteworthy for having a strong, healthy woman as a lead and the focal point of storylines that weren’t like a soap opera.