Wholesomeness, thy name is Donna Reed. The early history of television sitcoms overflows with a variety of clean-cut families—the Nelsons, the Cleavers, the Andersons, etc.—but we dare you to find a family as wholesome as the fictional clan at the center of The Donna Reed Show. For eight years, the Stone Family brought their always-perfect lives into the homes of television viewers each week on ABC.
Donna Reed starred as Donna Stone, the dedicated homemaker of the Stone clan. Her husband, Alex, was a pediatrician and the father of their two children, teenage Mary and pre-teen Jeff. The family lived in an attractive suburb called Hilldale, where their next-door neighbors were Dr. Dave Kelsey and his wife Marge. Episodes revolved around typical suburban-family affairs: school, dating, illnesses, and the telling of little white lies. However, nothing ever got so complicated that Donna or Alex couldn’t work it out by the episode’s end.
As the youngest members of the Stone family matured, they added teen-idol value to the show. Both Paul Peterson and Shelley Fabares had brief singing careers that paralleled their acting work: Peterson hit the pop charts with “She Can’t Find Her Keys” (featured in an episode of the show) and “My Dad,” while Fabares had a number-one hit on the Billboard charts with “Johnny Angel,” written by the show’s music composer, Stu Phillips.
The show is also notable for being an early female-guided hit. Much like Lucille Ball before her, Reed played an important role in the ongoing development of her show. She served as one of television’s earliest female executives, frequently going behind the camera to aid the production and direction of the show on an uncredited basis. For her acting, Reed was nominated several times for the Emmy Awards and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Female Television Performer in 1962. The show also won several awards from various women, youth, educational and medical groups.
Fabares left the show in 1963, explained by having her character go off to college. The Stone family very quickly picked up another child in the form of Trisha, an orphan that they adopted after she “chose” them to be her family. She was played by Patty Petersen, who happened to be the real-life sister of Paul. The show continued successfully for another three years until its cancellation in September of 1966. During this time, it racked up an astonishing 274 episodes.
The Donna Reed Show represents television’s concept of an idealized sitcom family at its finest. The parents were wise and always found time for the children, the children were always neat and well-behaved, and the concept of family always triumphed in the end. Qualities like these make The Donna Reed show an enduring treasure.
USA / ABC – Screen Gems – Todon – Briskin / 275×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 24 September 1958 – 3 September 1966
Theme Music: Happy Days by William Loose, John Seely
Donna Reed as Donna Stone
Carl Betz as Alex Stone
Shelley Fabares as Mary Stone
Paul Petersen as Jeff Stone
Patty Petersen as Trisha Stone
Bob Crane as Dave Kelsey
Ann McCrea as Midge Kelsey
Candy Moore as Bebe Barnes
Daryl Richard as Smitty Smith
Janet Languard as Karen
Kathleen Freeman as Celia Wilgus
Candy Moore as Bibi Barnes
Sandy Descher as Susanna
Tommy Ivo as Herbie Bailey
Jerry Hawkins as Scott Simpson
Rhys Williams as Donna’s Uncle Fred
Gladys Hurlbut as Donna’s Aunt Belle