Sunday, February 12, 2017

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Best Supporting Actress



A Best Supporting Actress Winner Went from Oscar's Bad Girl to Perfect TV Mom


Richard Burton is quoted as saying every actor wants an Oscar so that he'll know how his obituary will begin.  That almost wasn't true of Donna Reed. Her TV fame very nearly overshadowed her Academy Award. When the lady died in 1986, her NY Times obit referred to her as "Oscar Winner and TV Star." The Los Angeles Times story began by mentioning her Oscar but acknowledged she "found her wildest success as the ideal TV wife and mother."

As a "vid kid" who grew up in front of the TV, I knew Donna Reed as the perfect sitcom mom. From 1958 to 1966, she starred on The Donna Reed Show as Donna Stone, wife to a handsome pediatrician, mother to Mary and Jeff and Trisha, champion folder of laundry, volunteer at every charity bazaar.

As wife of the producer, Tony Owens, and co-owner of the show's production company, ToDon, the show made her a great deal of money, both first run and in syndication. It also garnered her three Emmy Award nominations.

Lorene & Maggio & their Oscars
While I knew she'd made a film or two (It's a Wonderful Life had become a holiday staple) I was surprised and delighted to learn one of my childhood faves had once been a bona fide movie star. This first came to my attention when she took over for Barbara Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie on Dallas. When Donna gave interviews to publicize her new role, she was asked about her famous film roles and her Oscar.

"Cool," I thought. Doing a little research, I learned that she had won for Best Supporting Actress for From Here to Eternity, a movie I hadn't yet seen. All I knew about it was that it was a war epic featuring a clinch between Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster in the surf. I figured Donna won her Academy Award playing a nurse or something.

Or something, indeed!

Donna Reed made her way to Oscar by playing Lorene, one of the girls who works in the New Congress Club. In 1953, the filmmakers were not able to refer to the club as an Oahu brothel, so Lorene is never explicitly called a hooker, but there's no doubt about what kind of comfort she provides the troops.

Lorene is sad and smart. She doesn't like the life she's leading and hopes to marry a "proper" man and lead a "proper" life. It's not too great a stretch to say that Lorene dreams of the domestic bliss enjoyed by Donna Stone.

Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) falls head-over-heels in love with her. She gives him the acceptance that he longs for, but isn't getting, from the men in his company. After Prew kills a man -- and is injured himself -- in a knife fight, he goes AWOL and hides out with Lorene. While he's recuperating, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. Even though Lorene desperately tries to dissuade him, he insists on rejoining his company ... and is killed for his efforts.

I believe she won her Oscar for her last scene, leaving Hawaii by ship for the Mainland. She finds herself standing next to Deborah Kerr, who is also heading home alone. Sedately clad in a suit befitting that "proper" life she longs for, Lorene concocts a fiction about her life in Oahu. Prewitt wasn't her john, he was her fiance. He wasn't an Army private, he was a fighter pilot. He wasn't a deserter killed by friendly fire on the beach, he died a decorated war hero. As she shares this fairytale in a dull voice, watching Hawaii drift away, we realize how shattered she is. She's been destroyed by Prew's death, by the attack on Pearl Harbor, and most of all, by the life she led in Oahu.

Another actress might have played it weepy. That would have made this moment conventional ... and forgettable. Instead it's Lorene's controlled, flat voice and defeated dry eyes I remember. She's the perfect portrait of tearless agony.

For more posts about Oscar, visit Paula's Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen and  Outspoken and Freckled.


  1. Indeed, the Academy had no choice after Ms. Reed gave us that final scene.

  2. Donna Reed had so much range, as a true actress should- but in ways you can only experience if you have seen the variety of her roles. So many folks only know her from her tv show or as Mary Hatch/Bailey. But from Here To Eternity really showcased her abilities. I agree, it's that final scene especially. Thanks again for joining our blogathon!

  3. Great post. I always dig it when you find someone you knew mostly from TV and find that they did way different stuff on the big screen.

  4. Wonderful post. I first met Donna exactly in From Here to Eternity, and her role was a juicy one. That ending was perfect, and very poignant.
    Thanks for the kind comment!