Donna Reed’s TV show was a hit in the late’ 50 ‘and ’60s, and she was also famous for her Oscar-winning role in the 1953 film “From Here to Eternity.” But a role she played off-screen was nearly lost to time. Martha Teichner discovered it:
“It’s a Terrific Life” season is here again, starring (along with Jimmy Stewart) Donna Reed. The backstory of this 1946 Christmas classic is The second world war, just over and still haunting its cast (and the country).
For Mary Owen, Donna Reed’s daughter, the war and the film will constantly be connected.
Every year, before some provings, she checks out letters her mother got from soldiers and sailors throughout WWII:
“It’s for individuals of your character and quality that we are defending. Regards, Pvt. Joseph F. Dastoli”
Owen discovered the letters after her mom died in 1986– more than 350 of them, carefully saved for more than 40 years.
service members from World War II. Household Image” It was great to read them simultaneously, “Owen stated, “due to the fact that it captured, practically like, the pin-up culture. These women were nearly like talisman that these males were pinning up in their barracks to obtain them through the war, and to remind them exactly what they’re defending.”
Only Twenty Years old when the United States entered The second world war in 1941, Reed– in addition to the rest of Hollywood– joined the war effort. On Sept. 16, 1942, she composed to her life-long pen friend:
“I’m investing 10%, however I feel that isn’t really much. So this week, I signed up with the Hollywood Canteen, which allows me to entertain soldiers at the Hollywood USO a minimum of one night a week, for 3 hours.”
It was for servicemen just. In between 1942 and 1945, more than 3 million came to see the biggest names in show service. Stars didn’t just place on programs; they served meals, signed autographs, and danced with anybody who asked.
Actress Marsha Hunt, now 100, was a routine on Saturday nights. Teichner asked her, “Was it lovely to you, or was it unpleasant to be touched by many people?”
“No, I understood; it was fame,” said Hunt. “They were dancing with popularity, not with Marsha Hunt.
“It was a benefit to be amongst them, and to offer them a lift of morale, which it definitely did. I think there may’ve been some pride in it, due to the fact that you weren’t sure that any of them would ever get home. Therefore, you did that little thing, you signed your ridiculous name, and it appeared to matter to them and to their folks back house.”
Virtually everyone who composed to Donna Reed wanted a signed photo. Soldier Glenn Peterson matured 30 miles from Denison, Iowa, where Reed was from. She signed a picture, “To Glenn, my neighbor from Iowa.”
The Trip.” MGM Jerry Peterman, a volunteer archivist at the Donna Reed Foundation for the Carrying Out Arts in Denison, showed Teichner an image of the farmhouse where Reed was born, her moms and dads standing at the front gate.The farmhouse
is gone now, however Donna Reed, the farm girl who won herself an Oscar (for “From Here to Eternity”) and starred on TELEVISION in “The Donna Reed Program,” is everywhere in Denison.
“It was always the ‘woman next door,'” said Peterman, who added Reed’s wholesome image was real.
Owen checked out another letter from the troops, dated August 18, 1944: “We think you are the normal American lady, someone whom we want to come home to!!!!!”
One group of soldiers composed that they desired her to be their “Squadron Angel.”
Others wrote, “We have what we call the ‘Tunnel Club,’ and we’ve chosen you Miss Tunnel 1944.” (“Not everybody can say that!” Owen chuckled.) “The Tunnel Club is composed of five lonesome officers of this Ack Brigade, who sleep in a tunnel under the remains of an Italian Rental property.”
CBS News They likewise sent bad poetry …
“To prove our adoration real,
to show our love is deep,
this photo shows your precious name
decorates our faithful jeep.”
And in some cases, their brave, jokey letters belied their fear:
“With you as our film girlfriend, I picture we’ll survive.”
Lt. Norman Klinker didn’t. Like Donna Reed, he was from Denison, Iowa. He ‘d gone to Harvard Law School. He wrote from the battlefield:
“Tough and bloody and filthy as it is at times, there is none of that grim and concerned feeling so rampant in war pictures. It’s a matter-of-fact life we live and talk here. And here for the very first time no one has the ‘jitters.'”
Klinker was eliminated in January 1944 in Italy. His dad, a local judge, passed away six days after getting the news about his only son.
Those old shoeboxes Mary Owen found were filled with the hopes and fears and fantasies of soldiers whose dreams of Donna Reed were a gift whose worth she understood, and treasured.
“Dear Private Davidson, You say that I am ‘the sort of woman you ‘d like to come home to.’ That is the finest compliment I have actually ever been paid.”
For more information:
- “It’s a Terrific Life” on Blu-Ray and DVD, and streaming by means of iTunes